When my oldest daughter was 7, she would save her candy for weeks, eat one little piece at a time, and always ask before she ate any. On the other hand, her little sister, 2, would yell "canny, canny" and eat it until she was stuffed.
Candy is the focus of many special days such as Easter, Valentines, Christmas and Halloween. Millions are spent advertising candy and store displays, in-school sweet shops and vending machines make it easily accessible. Sweets not only cost money when you buy them, but they also contribute to tooth decay and result in costly dental bills. How do you limit your child's intake of sweets without becoming the meanest parent in the neigborhood?
Education is the key. Teach your child about nutrition using a conversational style rather than lecturing. Talk about foods, what's in them, why some are good for your body and others aren't. Talk about why it's important to care for their bodies and teeth. My nephew recently learned about the problem of dentures when his grandfather coughed so hard his false teeth flew out and went under the car. My nephew didn't think it was funny when everyone laughed at Grandpa as he wondered out loud how they would feel, "if they coughed so hard their teeth came out!" Encourage your child to brush their teeth after every meal. Flossing is also essential to good tooth care.
Limit sugar intake from birth by offering foods that are low in sugar. Emphasize vegetables and whole grains. Serve fresh fruits instead of sweet desserts, toast without jam, unsweetened fruit juice rather than sweetened drinks and pop. Don't use sweets as a treat or reward for good behavior or finishing a meal.
Serve sweets at mealtime when increased saliva helps clean teeth. Offer nutritious between meal snacks such as popcorn, vegetable sticks, low sugar, fiber rich muffins or cookies, and fresh fruit.
Set a good example by eating sweets when your children aren't around. Reduce the amount of sweets you buy and try not to store them in the house. You might surprise yourself and lose those few extra pounds you've been working on for the last year.
Limit the importance of candy. For parties and other occasions, give novelty store items such as jazzy pencils, notepads, erasers, jewelry, small vehicles, puzzles, games, stickers, rubber insects, dinosaurs and collector cards.
"Friday is Gum Day". To save constant pestering to buy junk food and chewing gum, we chose Friday as treat day at our house. The kids buy something of their choice on Fridays. If they ask for something on another day, I just say, "Friday is Gum Day." My youngest daughter grew up with "Friday Gum Days' and I didn't realize she thought it was a universal concept until one day, when she was 4, she wondered what kind of gum her friend Alison would be having. When asked how she knew Alison would be having gum that day, she replied, "Well, it's Friday and Friday is Gum Day." Although we make exceptions, our Friday Gum Day has been a useful way to limit junk food. The thought of losing gum day for that week is enough motivation to discourage pestering.
Avoid problems at the grocery store checkouts by buying a non-sweet treat such as a new roll of tape, glue stick, book, magazine, socks, hair accessory, collector card or soap to make bubbles with. A consistent "No" without any exceptions or arguments and, doing like one mother of three little boys, leaving them all at home when you grocery shop will save a lot of pestering.
Like all other challenges of parenting, what works with one child will not work with another. When you consider the huge cost of dental repair, taking good care of teeth by limiting sweets is well worth the effort.
Maxine Sprague is a parent, author and educator living in Edmonton, AB. She is the author of three books including her latest, Super Easy Bag Lunches
The Learning Center Press
Box 82016, GMO#2
Edmonton, AB T6J 7E6
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