Friday, October 14, 2011

How Do You Handle Treats For Your Kids?

I love a good sandwich for lunch. I especially love a sandwich with potato chips. Before I cleaned up my pantry I bought a 10 ounce bag of kettle chips about every other week. Today that seems excessive. I only buy them for special occassions now, a car trip or special picnic, a party, you know, something that feels out of the ordinary. After the inital shock to DH's system we no longer miss them. They are an awesome indulgence on occasion. Kettle Chips or Dirty Chips are the preffered brands because they fry in safflower, peanut or sunflower oil. These oils are not generally from genetically modified plants. Avoiding GMO's is our reason to avoid most fried foods. Most standard brands fry in soybean oil. Over 90% of the soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified.

The last time I bought potato chips I saw some troubling behavior from the Things. For lunch I gave them a meat, a cheese, a vegetable and some chips. It was an okay amount for a toddler, 4-5 chips. They ate the chips and clamoured for more!!

The conventional wisdom surrounding feeding young children is that they should be offered a variety of foods from a variety of food groups. When offered real foods they will choose among them and eat what they need. It is also believed that treats can be offered every now and again. Life should be enjoyed and banning foods can leading to hoarding behaviors. Furthermore many nutritionists suggest allowing a child to have as much as he or she wants of the food that is offered. If sweets and treats are offered less often, say 2-3 times per week, even a double serving of cake shouldn't be enough to wreck a good diet. I do all of these things. We limit sweets, I offer different simple meals with a variety of components, and we encourage the kids to eat until they want to stop, but that doesn't mean that the 'Feeding Sun' is always shining in our house.

There is nothing wrong with eating potato chips every now and then. I would go as far as to say that eating them even once a week will probably not make any noticible difference in your health or waistline. When I eat chips I like them along with other foods as part of a larger healthier meal. When my kids eat chips they sometimes go overboard. Or like the day in question, they refuse other food.

Upon the tantrums, that day, I told them that the chips were a treat and that they were part of a larger meal that they now needed to eat. I said that they could have more chips after they finished more of their meal. Thing 1 complied and earned more chips. Thing 2 did not and melted into a puddle on the floor.

Kids don't come with a developed standard operating system. They don't know that chips ought to be limited while salad should not. Heck some adults don't get that either. I have come to realize that treats of both the salty and sweet variety are probably best left to the end of a meal. Children younger than 5 don't always have the wherewithal to eat certain foods in moderation. You probably can't trust your toddler to eat a reasonable portion of anything that is super special and amazingly delicious like potato chips. If you don't want your kids eating too much, it is best just to not serve that treat. Or at least to do so less often and after a meal where you feel good about EVERY item that is served.

But that doesn't address the issue of portion control. I do not agree that we should offer foods and then just allow kids to just eat to their heart's content whenever given the opportunity. Sorry, I just don't buy it. This country has a massive cultural portion control problem. Suggesting that super young kids be allowed to make the call on how many pieces of cake they should eat is ludicrous. Yes, we do want them to each as much good healthy foods as they need while going through a growth spurt. And no, we do not want to encourage hoarding behaviors. BUT, I don't see anything wrong with telling your three year old 'You already had your piece of cake, if you are still hungry here are some carrots.' Your child might throw a fit. If you find the fit so unnerving or unacceptable then don't serve the cake. Or, you can choose this to be a teaching moment and allow him both the cake and the fit. Most kids will 'get it' after a while, cake is a special cherished item not a free-for-all.

I have grown to despise the term 'everything in moderation' because there are clearly foods that should not be eaten in moderation, like vegetables and fresh water. Vegetables are always a 'green light' food in my mind. Go to town. Stuff your face. Every diet I know of is in need of greens. No need to moderate there. Then again, animal protein is also a food that you need for health. (Sorry vegetarians and vegans, I really am....I am willing to listen if you are willing to school me!) But one does not need too much animal protein and again, going overboard doesn't support good health. And then there is junk food. A little won't hurt you, but you don't need it and too much can be detrimental. So this BS idea of everything in moderation doesn't really make much sense. Vegetables should not be eaten in moderation, they should be embraced. Cake and cookies should be eaten in moderation, it is okay to limit them.

Our kids NEED us to teach them which are green light foods, yellow light foods and red light foods. They need us to present a family culture in which everyone only eats one piece of cake. It will not warp your kid to tell them, 'you have had enough candy'. There are many cultures that do well in teaching their young 'how to eat', ours ain't one of 'em. As children get older they begin to adopt the behaviors that they have been repeatedly shown. Don't you want them to feel confident in heathy choices with few mixed messages? Of course there will be times when they go overboard and have too much sweet or rich food. At that point, their bodies negative reaction will only reinforce the lessons of moderation that you the parent will have already put in place.

How do you handle treats with your children?

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays, Real Food Wednesdays and Healthy 2day Wednesdays


  1. When the kids were younger we used to have treats once in a while in our home. But now that my daughter's days are filled with school and playdates, we've essentially cut out all processed foods in the home. I know my daughter shares her friend's cookies at snack time and when we go to friend's houses for playdates the snacks they serve are typically not healthiest, but I do not restrict what is eaten. I don't want them to build a complex about junk food where they want to hoard it, but I also am not going to pretend at home that I believe in eating it (even in moderation). At this point my kids don't even expect the junk to be in the home and they don't ask for it and at school and friend's houses I believe they enjoy eating the treats but they understand that the food does not help their body's stay healthy. My daughter is famous for saying that the treat she had at her friend's house was yummy but not good for her body and when she asks why they eat those sugary treats we explain that different houses have different rules. I also try to use my own eating habits as an example for the kids. Right now all these things work, but ask me in a month and it may be totally different. Just trying to feel our way through the sticky cloud of corn products that surround us everyday.

  2. We limit my 5yr old to one treat per day. So if we go by Starbucks on the weekend and he chooses a chocolate milk, that means no dessert after dinner or other treats later in the day. It is a standing rule in our house that if he doesn't finish his dinner, then he can't have dessert. We leave it up to him whether or not he wants to eat or finish his dinner, and don't remind him about dessert or bribe him with it. Some nights he eats everything and some nights only a few bites. Dessert is usually one or two small pieces of chocolate, unless we have ice cream or very occasionally cookies or cupcakes (usually brought home from a party). At other people's houses we don't tell him he can't have chips or other treats, but we do limit the amount of what he can have because as you said in your post, little kids aren't always good at self-managing how much of a treat to have. Again, if he's had cake and ice cream at a birthday party that day or we've gone out for ice cream after lunch on a weekend, then no dessert of other sugary treats that day.

  3. I love this post! You gave your reasoning & what you do in these types of situations, and gave us a glimpse into your life.

    Thanks again for linking up with Healhty 2day Wednesdays!

  4. I have ten kids and have seen my fair share of these battles. I think the best way to keep the kids from asking for treats is to never have them in the house. I might buy decent chips for a picnic, but they are not staple. Our kids have learned that there is always cheese cubes (which I cut), crispy nuts, water kefir, apples with peanut butter and other options always available. They are taught that these are treats and know that this is what is available.

    We were at a pot luck and my kids attacked the veggie platter. People were shocked. They are so used to eating the way we do that while they did eat other things, they are still drawn the veggies.

    Oh, and I try not freak out too much are parties. If it is too much of a forbidden item, I am afraid I will run them right to it!

  5. Well, I don't have children, but as an adult, I found one of the hardest things to give up was my potato chips. I never liked the kettle chips, I was full bore on eating Ruffles have Ripples and the like. And like Lay's likes to advertise, you can't eat just one -- it was true in my case. When I extended my food journey about a year ago to include a goal of weight loss, I simply had to go that one cold turkey. It wasn't just enough to eat pastured meats and visit farmers' markets.

    I think your concept that if chips are to be served, they should be after the child is satiated. Provide the healthy stuff first, watch them eat up, and occasionally provide/allow the other things. That way these things don't become the Forbidden Fruit. I can decide for myself that chips are verboten, for me -- but in the ultimate scheme of things, I can't decide this for anyone else.

    One thing I loved seeing is that my nieces, when young, while they tended to refuse cooked veggies, they were all over the raw veggie platters!