Children love sweet tasting foods, and as any parent knows, growing independence and testing boundaries can lead to many battles over which foods your child will eat. So many parents strive to emphasize healthy eating habits and nutritious food, only to be faced with kids who would prefer cookies over eggs for breakfast. New research from the University of Washington and the Monell Center shows nature rather than nurture might be the reason for your child’s love of sweets.
Findings reported in the journal Physiology & Behavior found a relationship between children’s increased desire for sweets and their growth rate. When growth is rapid, calorie demands increase as a biological need. Researches speculate children are programed to like sweet taste because it is a high energy source. Studies found as children’s physical growth slowed their preference for sweets declined as well.
As parents it is important to teach moderation when it comes to sweets rather than keeping them entirely off limits; constant denial can lead to obsession. When your child is looking for sweets provide sweet options which are also healthy such as green smoothies, apple slices, sweet potatoes, yogurt, and trail mix. The American Heart Association recommends children limit their sugar intake to 3-8 tsp (12-32g) daily, depending on their age and calorie needs. This allows for small treats on occasion but should not be an every day occurrence.
Avoid keeping a cookie jar or displaying sweets in plain sight. Instead display fresh fruit at eye level. Avoid attracting extra attention to sweets such as declaring “ice cream time” or using sweets as a reward. Be a great role model by eating healthy foods with your children and limiting your sweets consumption.
When helping your child with food selections provide questions with limited choices such as “would you like strawberries or apples” rather than open ended questions such as “what would you like to eat”. If your child insists on sweets firmly but patiently provide an alternative “you cannot have cookies but you can have apples with peanut butter”. Standing your ground and remaining consistent is important.
It is a parents’ job to provide a range of healthy foods, but it is the child’s responsibility to choose what to eat and how much. Using food as a reward or pressuring children to clean their plates interrupts their ability to recognize their body’s cues. Focus on providing sufficient energy from nutrient dense foods, creating pleasant family mealtime, and offering a range of options for your child to select from.