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For a pre-adolescent child, what strategies can I use to control the quantity of sweets and junk food that make it into his diet?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

My first answer comes from the addiction treatment, and says this: Don't bring the enemy into your home. That is to say, don't have sweets and junk in the house, or buy them for the children when outside. Opportunity is necessary for any crime.

The second answer goes to motive. If the child is full and satisfied, she'll eat less junk. A nutritionist I know has this advice for anyone who comes to him: Don't try to remove bad food, instead add good food. If you eat healthy, nutritious meals with a good balance of fibre, carbs and nutrients, your body won't require extra sugar, so you won't crave sweets. This is true for adults as well as children.

It's very difficult to have sweets after a good meal, though it's quite easy after you've over-eaten.

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Darn it, you beat me to the "you can't eat it if it's not there!" comment. :-) –  afrazier Mar 30 '11 at 18:20
    
I wish I could +2 this one. Two great points! –  Daniel Standage Mar 30 '11 at 19:16
    
+1 This is exactly what we did, now my older kid knows what is junk food and what is not. He actually prefers water to anything else at this point. –  MichaelF Apr 27 '11 at 1:51
    
I couldn't agree more. Out of sight, out of mind. –  bobobobo Jan 1 '12 at 22:46
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@BBM: Hopefully, by the time they're of an age where they've got their own pocket money and the opportunity to spend it apart from you, they'll have learned healthy habits. That's getting into other aspects of parenting (e.g. "teen rebellion") that this question isn't really targeted at. The same thing goes for the teeth cleaning comment, as long as they've learned good oral hygiene habits, they should do a decent enough job of keeping their teeth clean, but is dependent on their luck with oral health. Some people simply need to take better care of their teeth than others. –  afrazier Jan 3 '12 at 15:14

Unless there is an associated health issue, don't try to restrict them completely. Try to teach them that eating a candy bar, drinking a soda, having a piece of cake, or eating a donut is okay. The key is to teach them that these types of food should only be eaten once in a while, a treat is not an everyday event.

As a household restrict sweets to a once a week special event. We have a fancy dessert every Sunday evening with our supper. We try to not eat sweets any other time during the week.

Update to clear up misunderstanding in comments:

Sunday desserts: We do NOT have high sugar desserts every Sunday night. Instead here is the list of a few of our favorites.

  • Low sugar cake with a homemade fruit syrup (no added sugar) poured over top
  • A piece of high quality chocolate on top of Banana soft serve
  • Homemade fruit cobbler with a small amount of sugar
  • Baking powder biscuits with a bit of sweetener added and warmed pureed peaches on top
  • A simple fruit salad with cool whip on top
  • Homemade bran or blueberry muffins with a bit of butter and honey

Yes we have routinized Sunday dessert in our house, I consider it a family tradition. It is something to look forward to each week. In reality the sugar mostly comes from cooked down fruit and a bit of honey.

If someone in our house is having a birthday then we have cake. Usually it is a boxed cake and for frosting we use sugar free Cool Whip mixed with a box of pudding.

We do not restrict them from all sugar but we keep most processed foods with added sugar out of our house. Everyone looks forward to our Sunday desserts and tries to come up with ideas. The challenge then is to try to find a healthier version that tastes good and is still considered a treat.

When we are not at home we teach moderation, and when someone (Grandpa) offers them candy we are teaching them to have a bit and turn down the rest or save it for later.

We do not count calories in our house. Instead we mostly eat foods that are healthy, with the occasional pizza and wings thrown in.

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I downvoted this. First, I don't think sweets should be routinized. They will come to expect them, every week, and I don't think that's good because it's like a craving, or something you have to wait for. Second I'm afraid of this to become gorging. Remember, the important thing is quantities, not really frequencies. One lollipop a day never really hurt anyone (25 cal). Eating 600 cal worth of sugar on Sunday night will probably all get converted to fat overnight. Your ideal situation is 0 calorie net gain (ie spend all calories you consume every day.) –  bobobobo Jan 2 '12 at 1:33
    
If every day is in balance, except Sunday nights, then you will have net weight gain. –  bobobobo Jan 2 '12 at 1:34
    
@bobobobo I added to my post to clarify our Sunday dessert tradition. –  Amy Patterson Jan 2 '12 at 15:47
    
+1 to counter @bobobobo .. looking forward to dessert 1 meal a week is hardly making it routine, in fact it is just the opposite. This approach seems like a great way to get the kids into the habit of not expecting sweets routinely. –  tomjedrz Jan 3 '12 at 5:02
    
+1 after the update. It might have seemed a bit too allowing before, but it sounds very reasonable now. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 3 '12 at 7:36

Besides "don't bring the enemy into your home", which is an excellent tip, when you do treat them, buy them reasonable quantity, out-of-home sweets. For example, you might buy each one donut on the way back from somewhere, not a dozen.

Although this is more expensive, that's kind of the point. Don't buy sweets often, and you won't waste a lot of money on them (see them this way).

I really think the whole "buy more, it's cheaper!!" that stores/donut shops do totally needs to be ignored when it comes to sweets. Do not go for bulk, discount bargains for sweets. Just buy enough to make them happy, and don't buy more just because it's cheaper per unit or seems like a good deal.

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Fantastic advice in the midst of this consumerist world! Buying in bulk is usually good, but this is a notable exception. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 2 '12 at 8:28
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I think that buying in bulk is only good if you have the self control to moderate consumption. It doesn't matter if you're buying steaks, bread, or ice cream. I know for me if it's in my house I'll probably eat it, whatever it is. –  afrazier Jan 2 '12 at 22:07
    
Well, steaks require preparation. Ice cream can be pulled out and simply "gone" in seconds. No bulk means not overstocking, which supports "don't bring the enemy into your home." Buying in bulk is like buying an entire army for you to fight against when they continuously want more. –  bobobobo Jan 8 '12 at 0:15

One important thing is to model good eating behavior as the parent. If you're constantly snacking on junk and gorging yourself at meals, your children will learn the same behavior.

Make sure that other caretakers are on board as well, or else they'll undermine your efforts.

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Agreed, this is what I have done... –  MichaelF Jun 10 '11 at 11:42
    
excellent point - since our son started eating breakfast with me, I abandoned my bread with jam and hazelnut spread, which I often took for breakfast before, and took cheese or sausage instead - a good thing for both of us :-) –  BBM Jan 3 '12 at 8:36

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