So, your child is obsessed with sugar? It can start to make you cringe when they ask for things like ice cream and other sweet foods constantly. And then you can feel like you must have done something wrong!
If you’re worried that they’re having too much sugar and not enough healthy food, you’re probably wondering how to turn things around. Here I have 10 tips on how to handle the sugar obsession and help reduce their desire for sweets.
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Question: How to handle a child who is obsessed with sugar?
So my question is I have a five-year-old who’s super healthy. She grew up eating just all the healthy things. We were in a healthy season in our life and with our second child almost three, he did not have as much healthy food. So now you can definitely see when she’s asking for carrots and ranch & he is asking for a popsicle. So what are ways that we can break the need for sugar or the desire for sweeter things and when he doesn’t eat his veggies at night at dinner, what are some ways that we can transition some effective ways into getting him to eat healthy now.
There’s three main things that I want to address here.
- The difference between the two children’s food preferences
- How to tackle the sugar cravings
- What to do if they won’t eat any veggies
Why some kids prefer sugary foods
Part of this is genetic. Yes, we are all born with tendencies to like certain tastes more than others. But both genetic and environmental factors play a role in food likes and dislikes.
Studies have found that twins who grew up being fed the exact same still have different preferences. So even if you feed your kids the exact same way, they’re not necessarily going to enjoy the same foods.
And this is purely anecdotal, but I’ve found that my own kids have very different likes. I didn’t give my son a single sugary treat in his first 2 years of life, yet he greatly prefers sweets now. My daughter is the opposite. She doesn’t really care about sweet foods. Her ideal breakfast is bacon, eggs, and cheese, while my son would choose a donut.
But this doesn’t mean that you have no control over it. Here are some ways to prevent your child from being obsessed with sugar.
10 ways to help if your child is obsessed with sugar
- Serve fruit often.
- Sometimes we think we need to limit fruit because of the sugar. But serving fruit often can actually help meet that craving for sweets. Fruit is filled with nutrients, so don’t worry about the sugar there. Always have a variety of fruit on hand in the kitchen.
- Balance meals with protein and fat.
- Don’t go low carb.
- Kids do need carbs to grow. And it’s their brain’s preferred source of quick fuel. Chances are, they will crave sweets if you intentionally aim to limit carbs. So I don’t recommend ever giving your kid a low carb diet, unless specifically directed by a doctor. For help with knowing how much to give, check out this post on the food pyramid for toddlers.
- Avoid grazing.
- Grazing is one of the biggest appetite killers. When kids have a low appetite, they’re more likely to gravitate towards sweets and snacks instead of healthier options.
- Ensure good sleep hygiene.
- When you’re tired, your body wants quick energy. And sugar is quick energy! So it’s a good idea to make sure they are getting enough restorative sleep.
- When 2+, allow some treats freely.
- It’s best to start incorporating treats when they’re at least 2 years old. When they’re under 2, it’s much easier to avoid, and without consequence. But around 2 years old they are more in tune with what’s going on around them. They may feel deprived if they see others enjoying treats and you never allow it. The goal is to avoid micromanaging. Like you can give them the whole cookie or the whole ice cream bar, you don’t have to feel like you can only give them ½ or a small piece. It’s not going to make a big difference in their overall health if they have a bit more sugar than you’d ideally like. What’s more important is that they don’t feel deprived, because that leads to stronger cravings. I think as adults we often don’t realize that they feel the same way we do. If we tell ourselves we can’t have the cake, we want it even more. Kids are the same way. If you are too restrictive with sweets, they want it more.
- You may have to revise your feelings on how much is enough or too much dessert. You may end up having to allow a little more than what you’d ideally like IN ORDER for them to ask for it less. I know it seems counterintuitive, but if it doesn’t feel like forbidden fruit, they won’t fixate on it as much.
- Always include safe foods at meals.
- Sometimes they’re genuinely hungry and just craving calories and know that sweets are a way they like to get that energy. Make sure you always have 1-2 options at a meal that they like and can fill up on, in case they are picky and have a hard time filling up at meals.
- Manage your reaction when they ask for sweets.
- We want to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. Part of that means allowing treats without placing a value judgment on it. No eye roll, no comments like, “you always want treats,” or, “I can’t believe you want more.” Even though we know some foods are more nutritious than others, it doesn’t make them bad, or you a bad parent, when they want treats. This goes hand in hand with tip #6. You want to freely allow treats sometimes without making them feel guilty about it.
- If you’re wondering how often to allow treats, read this post.
- They may like control over when they have a treat.
- Some kids obsess about it if they don’t know when they will be able to get a treat. It’s okay for you to let them choose with lunch or dinner, for example.
- Help make it predictable.
- This goes along with #9. We often like knowing what’s coming, and most toddlers do too. I have a free daily schedule printable where you can draw in a daily treat on that. So not only do they get to choose when they have it, but they will feel secure that it’s definitely going to happen when you said it is. They like being able to see what the day includes.
And a bonus tip: use no added sugar recipes for your little ones! These only use fruit as sweeteners, but still feel just as special as a regular treat.
I don’t LOVE artificial sweeteners for toddlers so I wouldn’t just switch over to that. I don’t have a solid recommendation on how much is safe for them, or how often they are safe to use. We just don’t have the research yet for some of the newer alternatives like stevia and monk fruit. Also, they’re MUCH sweeter than traditional sugar, like 100s of times sweeter. So your little one can get used to that crazy sweet taste.
Sugar alcohols can be gut irritating so you want to look out for that too, like xylitol and erythritol. Bloating, gas, diarrhea, zero fun.
What if they won’t eat veggies?
If you’ve been around awhile you probably know what I’m going to say – veggie nutrition = fruit nutrition! Both fruit and veggies have:
Fruits are plants, just the same way veggies are. You don’t need to fear the sugar in fruit because it helps with that sweetness craving, and also it comes wrapped up in a beautiful nutritious package.
Here are some quick tips:
- Serve veggies before dinner (as an appetizer)
- They’re more likely to eat veggies when they aren’t competing with other foods
- Make it fun and low-pressure with the veggies. Some ideas:
- Giraffe eating lettuce: tell them to pretend to be a giraffe munching a leaf
- Water broccoli drip: ask them if they can catch water droplets in their mouth from a broccoli floret that they dip in a cup of water. A lot of times they will take a bite of the broccoli after!
- Use a green bean to “paint” on a plate with a condiment or sauce
And have patience. It can take awhile to come around to veggies!
If they’re a truly picky eater, grab my free picky eater starter guide with the first 4 steps to take for a picky eater. When you get the starter guide, you’re also going to get the exact steps to follow to introduce a new veggie without them having a meltdown straight to your inbox with the Kickstart Picky Wins email series.
Free printable: daily visual schedule for toddlers