How to Teach Sweets in Moderation

Updated on September 03, 2010
S.D. asks from Austin, TX
22 answers

My almost 3 year old daughter is a great eater for the most part - loves her veggies, fruits, and even a plain rice cake. I want to teach her sweets in moderation and not have them be completely off limits. They were off limits for me growing up and the first thing I did when I went to college was eat every forbidden food I could get my hands on. My freshman 15 was more like 40. My daughter has recently discovered how yummy birthday cake, ice cream, etc. are. I am really fumbling for how to teach "occasional" and "once in a while" to her. I think these concepts are just over her head right now. We do model good eating habits, but I'd like something better to tell her when she asks for chocolate repeatedly than just no. Any great ideas?

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answers from Austin on

Just like most things, instead of saying "no," just say that you can have some when we ... (think of the next opportunity that you would allow her to have some). And then add that it is not healthy to eat it everyday. Keep it short and simple.

Do the same for playing with something that is not appropriate at that time. Say that you can play with that when .... I think we say "no" way too often and then they just think it is a word that limits their fun instead of there being a reason like safety or health.

Sounds like you are doing a great job!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

GO out to eat sweets, like to a bakery or candy store. So it is a treat and a trip, but it is also something you only do occasionally.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Seattle on

Phrases that I used a lot were :

- You already had a treat today. Remember? You had _______. Tomorrow, if you like, sure.

- Absolutely! But only a little. It's a treat.

Treats range from

- fruit with _____ , including pies and tarts, but also creme fraiche/ honey yogurt/ whipped cream/ candied (plain fruit isn't a treat, BUT we eat fruit seasonly, so different types are treat-like as they come into season).

- brownies/ cakes/ other bakeable items

- chips/ fast food/ prepackaged whatever (aka savory treats)

- holiday fair (latkes, puddings, nog, "happy" cake -aka bday cake-, mochi, etc.)

- hotweather treats (icecream, mochi icecream, popsicles, etc.)

- cold weather treats (ciders, mac'n'cheese, etc.)

At 8yo, it's stuck. We usually have at least one treat a day, but at any point from breakfast to bedtime. And only one, because tomorrow is another day to look forward to. We'll see how everything else goes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Austin on

You're on the right track. Sweets and treats should be "special" food for little people. Only keep on hand what you will allow, and set limits. Maybe Saturday could be a day when you have treats. Maybe one little thing a day with a snack or meal as dessert. Decide what and when, then just keep telling her what the rules are when she asks. "No, its not time for chocolate now. We'll have a piece after dinner," or however you want to space it. Just be calm and specific, and you'll do fine. Birthday parties are a whole other issue of course. If you're there for the party, just keep her to one piece of cake and one scoop of ice cream.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

Maybe don't keep it in your home unless its a special occasion. Then if she doesn't see it then she won't ask for it. I don't know if you keep it at your home or not, but that's the only thing I can think of.



answers from Phoenix on

I allow sweets once a week and I get the healthier versions of sweets from Sprouts that are organic etc. They know they don't have dessert every night but when I go shopping, I always get treats. You can just say "You can have cake on Friday..." That way you're not saying no or denying her but telling her when she gets her chocolate. She's my kind of girl!! I LOVE chocolate!!



answers from Houston on

Sweets were not off limits to me growing up. I think that is why I never did the freshmand 15 and in general have been able to control my weight.

With that said, I did not really grow up with tons of fruit in my house so for the most part my daughter gets a much more healthy breakfast and lunch than I ever did.

I will say during the week I stay on the healthy side but every Friday we go out to eat w/ my parents and for the most part, I let my 2.5 year old get whatever she wants in moderation. She usually has some type of chicken nuggets or spaghetti and if the restaurant offers fruit or veggies instead of fries, I order that but when it comes to dessert time, I let her and my parents go for it. She can have whatever she wants as long as she ate most of her meal.

On the weekends, I am not as strict since we are so structured during the week due to my husband and I both working. I buy the GoGurts, yogurt in a tube, and I freeze them. She thinks they are ice cream so on the weekends if she has been playing outside and has been really good she gets "ice cream" as a snack.



answers from Honolulu on

It is the 'habit' you teach them... .and what is in the household...

AND when she starts school... you will have to contend with TONS of other food influences and other kids eating things... and when kids Moms bring in sweets for their kids birthdays etc.
Its fine.
Don't have to police each sweet she eats... unless she has medical problems.

My kids have just learned that 'sweets' is a special treat. NOT a buffet.
And they know, just 1 or 2 is all.
It does NOT have to be all or nothing.
And it is not everyday.

good luck,



answers from Victoria on

every month (except for August) has a holiday. she can have a big treat on the holidays. for the week days when she is asking for a treat give her a healthy snack like yougart covered raisins or organic fruit snacks. being an over weight child i agree with your occasional treats instead of never or every day (like me).



answers from Missoula on

I agree with other posters who have said that modeling the behavior is probably going to be the most effective thing you can do.
My son is also almost 3 and we talk about foods in terms of "big and strong foods" and "sometimes" foods. He knows that tomatoes fall into the former category, cupcakes into the latter. I keep some treats in the house, and he gets treats a few times per week. Sometimes when he asks he gets something sweet, sometimes he gets "sorry, no treats right now, would you like an apple?" It seems to be working, sometimes when treats are offered my son declines.
Good luck.



answers from San Antonio on

You never know: while my son enjoys sweets and candy, a little goes a long way for him. He never wants more than a couple pieces of candy at one time, and he has been very good at accepting limits. His real addiction is for those fruit snacks, and I tell him, "One in the morning and one at night." He will often ask for more, but I just repeat the rule, and he gets it. On the other hand, if he pesters me too much, I tell him that he won't get any fruit snacks at all until he can learn to abide by the rules.

I think if you just set some guidelines and make them clear to her, she'll probably follow. By the way, I think you're smart to want to teach her sweets in moderation, rather than forbidding them altogether.


answers from Norfolk on

There is all the time food, and then there is sometimes food. Like fair food (cotton candy, curly fries -stuff that's sinfully good, but you only eat it once a year when a fair comes to town. Birthday cake (only on birthdays once a year), Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, etc. When she asks for chocolate, agree with her it's yummy, but tell her it's a sometimes food and since you just had some it will be awhile before she can have it again. Too much of even a good thing can make you sick. (When my son was about 3, he asked why he couldn't have birthday cake every day. I told him a birthday every day would make him 10 yrs old by the end of the week and I didn't want him growing up that fast!)
Additional - I had to look up 'freshman 15' (gaining 15 lbs your 1st year in collage). I didn't eat particularly well in collage, but I was hiking across 3 campuses with 50 lbs of books in my backpack. If anything, I lost weight. My weight gain happened once I got my 1st professional job after collage (programmer - a sit down job). Everyone in our office averaged about a 5 lb gain a year.



answers from Austin on

Sweets are treats in our house and not something she gets everyday. She gets them if she eats a really good dinner (she tends to be a picky eater) or if she's been especially good at school or atm potty training. We let her choose one treat which ranges between a cookie, popcicle, or a piece of dark chocolate. When we give her the treat I make it a point to ask her if she knows why she's getting one. However, some days, usually on a weekend, I will take her somewhere special for a treat just because so she doesn't feel like she always has to do something.

I love the fact that I can take her to the grocery store, right by the candy isle and she will ask "what's that" and I say "junk food". She says "may I have some" and I say "nope, you don't really need any since you get treats
and she doesn't argue or throw a tantrum.

Oh, my DD is 2 1/2 and we've been doing this for a while.



answers from Dallas on

We always had candy in the house growing up and it was no big deal. So when mom would ask us if we wanted a piece of candy or something else to snack on, 99% of the time we choose ranch dip and cut up veggies or cut up peaches. even now I have mini size candy in the house but it is no big deal. I eat a piece about once a week. Holloween growing up we were allowed toeat as much as we wanted and the most we ate that night was 3 mini pieces. We also had diet coke and soda in the house and always choose water or sometimes apple juice. I think the only time we wanted an soda was for a root bear float about once a month. we could have it more but did not want to.



answers from Kansas City on

my parents were the opposite, we could eat whatever sweets we wanted. When I went to college, I craved veggies and had a salad every night! :-)

We are candy lovers, and we generally have some kind of candy in a bowl. Our daughter can have some if she cleans her plate at dinner. If not, she knows she won't get any. Since she doesnt have it often, she doesnt seem to crave it, but she does like it when she gets it. Especially birthday cake, but that's my fav too. :-)


answers from Los Angeles on

Just tell her, she is old enough to catch on. I call all things sugar "treats". When she asks for treats I just tell her that treats are not for every day, they are for once in a while, that we can't eat lots of treats because they aren't good for us. I will continue to explain it this way. I know she will catch on though she may still request them incessantly.



answers from Dallas on

We call treats a "sometimes" food. And we just mention how it's nice to have, but our bodies wouldn't like it all the time. Now that my son is 4 1/2 we can talk more seriously about healthy choices. He seems to be understanding it very well, it's funny to hear him try to explain it to his 22 mo sister.



answers from Washington DC on

I think it is not so much what you say, but how you live. Don't deny her sweets and make them "forbidden fruit" but don't keep sweets in the house either. Make sweets something for parties and eating at restaurants and going to a carnival, etc. And even then, you have to enforce "occasional." Now that my oldest is 6, it seems like she has a party or event every day!!! We probably eat dessert out once every 10 times we go out to eat. Yes, sometimes I will say, "it's a nice day, let's go for ice cream" and then it is truly a surprise and treat and I think my kids appreciate that. It is really a matter of not being afraid to say "Oh we had dessert last time so not tonight." I am the mom and I get ot make those decisions.

I do discuss healthy eating with her, but I do that more in relation to regular meals. I talk about why what we are eating for dinner is healthy, and I will say things like "whole fruits have sugar but that is better than white sugar." So she is learning about healthy eating, but I am not ruining every dessert by taliing about how many calories it has. I think I rambled quite a bit, but I guess I want to say that modeling the behavior is probably far more important than justifying it.



answers from San Antonio on

I don't think she's too young to learn this behavior. My dd loves sweets, she's 7, and because we've always taught her to make good choices, from the beginning, she'll often say no to sweets on her own. She's been carrying a chocolate chip cookie around (in a wrapper) in her luch box all week. We let her go nuts on candy for Halloween (and she tires of it) other than that, we only occasionally allow her to have it. For the first two years, we gave her none. Not even when grandma waved a lollipop in her face was she allowed to accept it. First we taught her to say no. Then we let up and allowed her to have the occasional sweet. Now she makes decisions about moderation. My son is pretty similar, but we weren't as strict with him in the first 2 years. He's 3.5 now and likes sweets, but doesn't go nuts. He knows there are limits and he knows why. I explain the science behind all of these things to my kids. The one upshot is they really understand science and how their bodies work and the "why" behind what I say.

Good job for wanting to teach moderation. Good luck to you.



answers from Spartanburg on

Well, you could be describing my kids! They eat great food, and genuinely enjoy veggies, but let me tell you my oldest loves her sweets. Honestly, the fact that tonight at dinner she ate her green beans and tomatoes first and said, "Mom these green beans are so yummy" and then ate her spaghetti goes a long way with me. My kids eat sweets or treats (usually just once, after dinner) every day, same as me... and they know that treats are for after "real food that helps you grow". Both my husband and I enjoy and eat fruits and veggies and did when we were kids but we also eat "junk" and for us the important thing is that our kids know the difference between the two, not that they never have it. My parents always served balance meals and we had lots of fresh food but we also had soda and candy and I learned in middle school how awful I felt if I ate "fake food" and no "real food" just thru trial and error... I didn't have an issue when I went to college, I had already experimented...



answers from San Antonio on

I like Liisa's answer. Making things forbidden attracts some people to that thing like crazy.

First model healthy eating, and focus on keeping healthy things in the house.
Involve your daughter in grocery shopping:

"today we need 3 fruits and 3 vegetables, some bread and cheese from the store..... "

And next time you go buy the fruits and vegetables and ask her to pick a special treat.

Have her help in the kitchen. The kitchen and preparing meals is a great opportunity for teaching!

Setting the stage when young is great! Starting about about 3, I was modeling and talking about eating healthy foods to my kids.
We even started "one soda per week" when they were in Kinder. (I was amazed how many parents would let their small kids drink lots of soda. whoa!)
Now they are all in HS or college and they still drink "one soda a week."
If they are hanging out with friends, and the friends are pounding Pepsi or that horrible Monster, Red bull stuff, they will drink water.
At least for now....I did what I could do while they were growing and their brains were developing.



answers from Houston on

I bake our own cookies and make healthy dessert like items. Have you tried yogurt parfaits, banana cookies or something similar? Desserts do not have to be processed junk items. I refuse to buy most things processed.

You can alter recipes and use applesauce instead of butter, whole wheat flour instead of white, decrease the amount of sugar, etc, etc.

I also find if I am the one making the dessert and putting time into it; I do not crave them very often because it takes time, effort and additional planning to alter an recipe.

Good luck to you.

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