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.
I 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.
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.~