It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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Entries in Candy (16)


Self-Control, Kids and Candy

By now, I'm assuming, you've read—or heard about—the recent New York Times article, The Lure of Forbidden Food by Tara Parker-Pope.

Source: The New York TimesI posted it on my Facebook Page.

If you don't know about this article, here's the gist: Forbidding foods makes them more appealing to your kids.

In other words, forbidding candy is a great way to make your kids crave it. (Would this work for broccoli? And has anyone tested this yet?)

According to Brandi Rollins, a Penn State postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study:

“Restriction just increases a child’s focus and intake of the food that the parent is trying to restrict.”

Personally, I'm surprised that restriction is something researchers are still researching. I've never read a study that shows anything other than the fact that making any food completely off limits is a mistake. Still...

In my experience, the place where parents need help is figuring out what to do instead of restricting undesirable foods.

So here's the help you crave! (Does this mean that help was previously restricted??)

1) Instead of focusing on one bad food, focus on teaching your children proportion.

Proportion is one of the three habits that translates everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. (Variety and moderation are the other two habits.)

Proportion: Eating foods in relation to their healthy benefits. In other words, "We eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables more frequently than we eat cookies." It's as simple as that.

The reason proportion works with kids (and with adults too) is that it's like an umbrella: all foods fit under it. That way you don't have to remember different "rules" for different foods.

For more on proportion read The Outsized Problem of Pizza: It Takes Up Too Much of the Pie.

2) Give your children concrete guidelines about which foods you consider to be regular treats, and which ones you consider to be occasional treats.

For a good description of this read, Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Regular treats might be something like juice or sweetened yogurt, which kids can have in limited quantities on a daily basis.

Occasional treats are things like candy and ice cream.

The more specific you can be with these guidelines the more easily your kids will be able to comply.

I recommend telling kids they can have one treat per day. That means, if they're having the occasional treat, they cannot have the regular treat. It's a trade off.

3) Don't get hung up on when your kids eat their treats. If you give them control over when, they're much less likely to fight you on how much.

Parents make the big decisions; kids make the small decisions. Sharing control is the key to happiness.

This is the idea behind the candy drawer. If you don't think you can trust your child to live within the rules, you have a self-control issue, or an honesty issue. You don't have an eating issue.

Read Lollypops Whenever They Want? and Coping with Party Favor Candy for Kids.

4) Remember that your kids are kids.

  • Given a choice between a treat now and a treat later, most children will choose, "now." That's not a reason to NOT give them a choice. Giving kids the choice shares control, and helps children develop self-control. Read Marshmallows Make You Smart!
  • Most children, even those who want to live within the rules, will forget what they've already eaten. So don't be surprised if a child who has had a treat earlier in the day still asks for one in the evening. Gently remind your child that she's had her treat. Better yet, use a visual marker--like a magnet on the fridge--that signals when the treat has been eaten. 

5) Don't be authoritarian about proportion.

There will be days when your child has a treat in the morning and then you go to a playdate and is offered another treat. Some days it might make sense to remind your child that he's already had his treat. Other days, it might make sense to let your child have a second one.

And that thought brings me to...

6) Remember that this is a learning process.

  • Keep your eye on the longterm prize of teaching proportion and candy-management.
  • Don't worry when your kids make mistakes—just like you don't worry when they put their shoes on backwards or don't brush every tooth just right. Mistakes are learning opportunities in progress.

If you have a specific question about how to teach proportion, how to manage sweets and treats, or alternatives to restriction, leave a comment and I'll respond as quickly as I can.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Kid Eats Q&A: My Child is Preoccupied with Treats

Ever heard the advice that treats should be a sometimes food?

Of course you have. When it comes to nutrition advice, eating treats occasionally—or sometimes—is the mantra.

I've even offered this advice myself when discussing the principle of proportion. Read Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

But what if telling your kids that treats are a sometimes food is a strategy that can backfire?

That's what happened to Nicole. She writes about her 4 year old daughter, "She is always asking, When can I have this? And, Can I have more of this?"

Nicole's daughter asks so frequently that Nicole has even begun to wonder if her daughter is food obsessed. I don't think so, and that's what I told Nicole. I think her daughter is suffering from the ambiguity of sometimes.

Sometimes seems arbitrary to kids.

If you never know when sometimes will be, it helps to ask about it...a lot. For more on this read You Can't Make Me Eat It!

Structure is the antidote to arbitrary.

I advised Nicole to decide what sometimes means. Can her daughter have a treat once a day? Three times per week? Once a week?

Read A Cookie a Day...

Sharing control is the way to eliminate control struggle.

Next I advised Nicole to give her daughter control over when she eats her sweets and treats. Read Lollypops whenever they want?

Then, use real life to teach the concept of sometimes.

Stick to the rule...but not so strictly that the rule becomes an issue. 

Scenario 1: You have a birthday party coming up so you work with your daughter to plan for that even and to incorporate on of her treat moments into the party. 

  • Now you're at the party. Normally your daughter gets one treat but there is candy, ice cream and cake. Instead of trying to limit her to one of these, I would "bend" the rule and allow her to have what she wants—knowing this will push her over her normal allotment.
  • After the party, talk to your daughter about how many treats were at the party and tie it into the planning you and she do so that the lesson to plan for sweets and treats begins to take hold.

Scenario 2: Your daughter has already had her 3 treats for the week adn you end up at a playdate and everyone is eating cookies. What do you do? Tell your daughter she can't have any cookies? No!

  • Whisper in her ear that you know she's already had her treats but that she can have a cookie if she wants one (or even two).
  • Then, sometime later, talk about unplanned events, how often they occur, and why that's a reason not to eat sweets and treats every day. You're planning for sometimes!

Think your child is too young to have this kind of conversation?

Let's evesdrop on Nicole and her daughter talking in the car on the way to the store:

  • Nicole's Daughter: Can I have a cookie from Harris Teeter?
  • Nicole: Sure.
  • Nicole's Daughter: Can I have one or two?
  • Nicole: How many do you think you should have?
  • Nicole's Daughter: Probably one.
  • Nicole: OK.


  • Nicole's Daughter: If I have that cookie then I can't have ice cream tonight.
  • Nicole: Why?
  • Nicole's Daughter: Well because I already had the cookie.
  • Nicole: Right, one treat is enough.

For more on this topic read Help! My Kid is Food Obsessed! 

It's something to think about. It might even be something to read about!

 I discuss all of these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Ditch the Switch Witch

Worried you'll be fighting everyday for the next week (month?) over how much candy your kids can eat? The solution is simple.

Don't fight.

And don't get rid of the candy. Even if you do it nicely with a Switch Witch.

Instead, teach your kids to manage their stash.

Getting rid of the candy is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Next year on Halloween (or next month at Thanksgiving, or the next month at Christmas, or anytime your child goes to a birthday party) you'll have to fight all over again.

Do you really want to be stuck in this candy-fighting rut month after month, year after year?

That's why you've got to think beyond the immediate meal/day/candy bag.

Think of Halloween as the universe giving you a gift.

I know, it hardly feels like a gift, unless by gift I mean a massive headache. But hear me out.

Halloween is an excellent opportunity for you and your children to practice boundaries, cooperation, self-control, greed, and a host of other important skills.

I've written about this before, so maybe you're familiar with my theme...every time you feed your kids you're teaching them something. The only question is, what are you going to teach them?

If you think dumping your kids' candy will teach them the evils of sugar, think again.

It's more likely they'll learn other lessons, such as:

  • Candy has power.
  • Mom is going to dump my candy later, I better gorge now.
  • Feel guilty when you eat candy.
  • It's best to eat candy when you're full.
  • You can't be trusted to exercise self-control around candy.

You can't be trusted to exercise self-control around candy? Who want to teach kids that?

For more about these unintended lessons, read The How-to-Control-Your-Kids'-Candy-Consumption Con

The Switch Witch only seems like an improvement over dumping.

I know, if you invite the Switch Witch into your home you're probably dying to tell me how happy your kids are to get their toys (or whatever the Switch Witch switches). But it still teaches your kids that candy has power--what else prompts parents to buy their kids toys on a regular Tuesday or Friday?--and all the other unintended lessons listed above. (And also something about materialism...but that's a topic for another day.)

No matter how you look at it, the Switch Witch is controlling, not teaching.

What's next? A toy for not eating that second piece of pie at Thanksgiving? A bike to "buy back" candy canes at Christmas? (I exaggerate, but you get my point.)

You've got to think beyond the immediate moment and teach your kids lessons for a lifetime.

The key is to set up some rules that both you and your kids can live with.

So go ahead a negotiate. That's right. Talk to your kids, whatever their ages.

Throw out your ideas and listen to theirs. How many candies per day is reasonable? You might think one; they might think 20, and you might compromise. How about:

Four candies the day after Halloween? Three candies the next day? Two the following and one every day thereafter?

Whatever you decide, know that the decision-making process will teach your children to reflect on the issue, not just fight against your rules.

The discussion will also teach your kids that you respect their opinions—even if they have the "silly" opinions of a three year old because they're...well...three!

Don't underestimate the value of reflection and respect.

Let your children be the keepers of their candy. 

Don't hide it away. I suggest you dump the candy into a candy drawer. Breaking up the Halloween "set" eliminates the goal to "conquer" the entire stash (especially as Halloween candy gets mixed with birthday candy, etc.)

The candy drawer also teaches your child trust and responsibility.

For more on the merits of the candy drawer read Lollypops Whenever They Want? and Coping with Party Favor Candy for Kids.

Use a visual system (check marks, refrigerator magnets) for recording when  your kids have had their candy.

A visual system will help keep your kids honest. Plus, young children really do have trouble remembering what they did earlier in the day.

If—and only if—your children prove that they can't be trusted to stick to your agreement (you've agreed upon two candies per day and they keep sneaking three or four more) then it's OK to be the keeper of the candy for awhile.

But keep teaching about self-control, honesty, keeping agreements, etc.

And, if you absolutely must lighten the load...

Consider A Better Buy-Back.

Then, read But What Are You Going to Do With All That Candy?

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~