All my life I was told by my parents that sweets are not good for your health because they cause cavities in your teeth. It never affected me because I thought that after eating sweets if I brush my teeth properly then the cavities won't be there.

Only after I turned 32, I studied the real reason why refined sugar is bad for health, and side effects of preservatives etc. Refined sugar is addictive.

The explanations I read were totally scientific. I am not a science student myself so found it difficult to understand. Nevertheless I trusted these sources because they were credible.

Ever since I have replaced refined sugar with jaggery. I eat junk food only when there is not any other food to eat. I try to restrict myself as much as I can.

The toddler is now 2 years 4 months old. She asks for sweets to her father whenever she goes out with him, and he complies.
I don't and she knows this and doesn't ask me for sweets.

After a few more years she will be able to talk and understand the human language properly and she will have friends too. She will eats sweets, chips, and other nonsense.

So, at that time when I tell her not to eat junk food, how should I explain why?

Saying no without explanation never worked with me. I won't expect the child to follow orders without knowing why.

If I fail to tell her why, my order will not have much effect on her. She might not eat junk food in my presence due to fear but she will eat in her friend's presence because she doesn't know any reason why she shouldn't eat especially when everyone around her is eating junk food.

  • 2
    In your parents defense, its only in the past few years that we have begun really studying the effects of sugar and processed food in our diets. When you were a child your parents may not have known that sugar was so unhealthy.
    – user7678
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 12:55

6 Answers 6


I have a slightly Zen answer to this, which is that you shouldn't say an absolute "no" to sweets. Limit the amounts, by all means, only to specific occasions if possible. But do not categorically say no.

The problem with making something forbidden is that it makes it much more desirable, especially to children but also to adults. There is a type of snack that my daughter really likes, but she knows she only gets it when we are on the way back from hiking, which is about once a month. That way, when she occasionally asks for it somewhere else, we can say "you know we only eat that when we come home from hiking", instead of saying "No, you're not allowed to eat that".

As for the explanations, I've always told my girls that in order to grow up strong and healthy they have to do three things:

  1. Eat well
  2. Sleep well
  3. Play well

It is absolutely true, of course, and isn't too complicated for them.

As an aside, there is a clear distinction in our family between eating (which means eating food) and noshing (which means eating junk/sweets). Once that distinction is made, it simplifies the explanations of everything around the subject.

  • 2
    I like the fact you use different words to describe different things - we all need to do that in many areas.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 20:52

It's difficult even for teenagers and adults to understand and acknowledge the fact that too much sweets are bad for one's health (and weight).

At 2yo you can try explaining - you will or will not succed in that. But the most important thing is to limit the amount of sweets to an absolute minumum (ie. special occasions like family visits or birthdays).

It's a more general problem - it also applies to tv, computer, smartphone, tablet, consoles - and all other things which children love but are (in smaller or larger amounts) bad for their health.

Therefore, I think it's your husband you should focus your efforts on. Children will always want what they like and it's your and your husband's responsibility to ensure they get it in reasonable amounts, especially if a reasonable amount is none.

Our daughter loves playing duplo games on my tablet. At first, when we discovered it and let her play, she cried - and cried hard - when the game was over and we took the tablet. We explained that she can play, but just one game at once. We tried again two days after - she cried again. On the third day she was sad and wanted more, but didn't cry. After a few weeks of one-game-per day and a lot of explaining, she voluntarily gives me back the tablet after we finish the game. She doesn't want to, I can see it, but she does. The downside is that she will, everyday, remember to ask for the tablet to play on. I guess that such consistency on her side is not a bad thing, though.

In your case, it'll be harder, since youd daughter already has "bad" habits established. But you can and will succeed if you remain consistent. Offer something instead, an apple, grape, orange. Even raisins or candied fruits will be better. Dried apple slices are a great snack too.

By the time she reaches 4-5 years she already either will or will not have healthy eating habits established. If your husband continues to give her sweets on demand, she definitely will not. In that case there will be little any explaining can do.

By the age of 5 she will be able to compare her body with other children. Most likely some of them will be fat. However terribly that sounds, comparing her to those children may be effective. It will be difficult to both show her that being fat is bad and not make her judge and dislike those children. Showing positive examples may be effective too, though there are also risks. She may either try to eat less sweets and do some sports, or decide that it's too hard and drop sports completely.

Summing up - when that time comes, you will have to think about what kind of person she is, is she strong-willed or not, does she have high self-esteem or not. Those factors will help you decide what kind of approach of explaining to take. All those things, in my opinion, should only be an addition to having healthy habits which were introduced consistently by her parents through the years.

  • 1
    Saying no without explanation never worked with me. I won't expect the child to follow orders without knowing why. If I fail to tell her my order will not have much effect on her. she might not eat in my presence but she will eat in her friends presence because she doesn't know any reason why she shouldn't eat specially when everyone around her is eating. Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 8:33
  • I'm saying that there are certain things you virtually can't explain to children, especially things which have long-term effects. Like eating too much sweets. It's not the typical "don't touch the oven", which will have immediate effect if the child doesn't obey. It's still your responsibility to limit the sweets. And yes, your daughter will occasionally eat sweets with friends, but she won't do it everyday with her father. Besides, by the time she stays alone with friends she will be older and explaining will be more likely to have an effect.
    – Dariusz
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 9:02
  • Besides, by the time she stays alone with friends she will be older and explaining will be more likely to have an effect. Yes, that is the time my question is about. Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 9:17
  • 5
    It's possible to eat badly and not be fat (e.g., a fast metabolism, or a more serious problem like bulimia), and also to eat well and not be thin. My daughter's underweight, so if I told her junk food would lead to weight gain she'd cheerfully turn to the chips until she got the butt she wants. My point is, using that as a motivator is potentially ineffective in addition to a lot of other risks (at worst, eating disorders and a lifetime obsession with weight -- which is an unreliable indicator of health at best).
    – Acire
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 10:36
  • 5
    I think having your child compare their bodies to others will do way more harm than help. It's teaching them to be concerned about how they look in comparison to others, which is the beginnings of where body image issues find from, and that looks are an indicator of health (which it's not necessarily, and making that assumption about others is bad), and also it could be inadvertently encouraging them to think negative things about others due to their appearance without even knowing them, which could potentially lead to bullying.
    – user14172
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 17:07

I believe the "why" is best explained by experience and example. And that example should be you and your husband.

At 2 years old, your daughter doesn't have the attention span to listen to all the research on why sugar is bad for you. And even if she did, she doesn't have the foresight at that age to realize that healthy habits now lead to a healthy body, both now and years down the road. (Many adults "know" those things too, yet many of us still have a hard time getting out and exercising or whatever.) One thing she does understand, and love, is you. And she wants to be like you. My mom and dad always told us growing up "If you want to be strong like mommy (or daddy) you need to eat healthy things (like vegetables, etc.)." Use that while you can. It is far and away the best motivation for small children until they get to the age where they can appreciate that actions have consequences (especially ones that aren't immediate).

When she gets older, she will get her hands on junk food. Friends, family, school, it's going to happen. It is impossible to avoid being confronted with it, so I believe it is better to teach her control and restraint instead of outright forbidding junk food. This is something she won't learn just because you tell her, you have to show her. As I grew up, we always had some junk food in the house. We also always had plenty of healthy stuff too. And I saw my parents eating the healthy stuff when they snacked. That's not to say they didn't eat cookies or cake too, just not as much. And I picked up on that. I also got told more than a few times that I had had enough sweets for one day and that if I was hungry to get an apple or a cheese stick. Both of those contributed to me having better eating habits as I got older.

Also, experience is a powerful teacher. I'm going to bet I'm not the only kid who ever binged on Halloween candy (or cookies or something). I remember it was pointed out to me that the tummy-ache and all the other not so good feelings were a result of over eating junk. And that was a potent lesson to watch what I ate.

Foster an atmosphere of trust at home where they feel comfortable telling you anything, including what they ate while they were away from home. If you forbid all junk food all the time, they will never tell you when they do for fear of getting in trouble. If they never feel comfortable telling you that they ate 2 gallons of ice cream with their friend at a sleep over, you both get robbed of a teaching / learning opportunity.

All of this hinges on being a good example of healthy eating and self-control. No parent in the history of ever has been able to get away with the "do what I say, not what I do" explanation for long. Also, expect your child to not be perfect at it. We had to learn from our mistakes and less than perfect choices. Try to guide her so she doesn't, but allow her understanding when she does.

  • Completely agree with experience. This definitely requires the child to be a certain age, but a 5+ year old can easily connect the dramatic difference in energy and mood to their recent unlimited intake of cake and candy and pizza...
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 15:28

The truth will help, as follows.

Sweets have pros and cons.


  1. Tastes good

  2. Some candy has caffeine, which causes a little boost


  1. Appetite is satiated so less healthy foods are eaten. This will hurt in the long run. Each day is part of the long run.

  2. Sticky sweet candy sticks to the teeth and causes tooth decay. Note: Non-sticky sweets pose relatively little risk to teeth because the sugar does not stay long in contract with the teeth.

  3. Some sweets cause pimples, esp for teenagers.

  4. Cost

  5. Some candies are mostly artificial (all chemicals).

  6. Candy makers do research to find out how to sell candy to kids (e.g., through ads that deceive - - younger kids do not know that ads are not designed to be objective and truthful).

  • I like this approach particularly for pointing out the positives. Being honest that it's delicious and makes you feel happy (at least temporarily) makes the rest of the conversation so much more plausible!
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 20:23

So, at that time when I tell her not to eat junk food, how should I explain why?

What I have chosen to do is to focus on being healthy in order to live the best life possible. I explain over and over 3 basic things:

Why you should eat healthy

  1. You only have 1 body, you need to care for it.
  2. Without right nourishment parts will stop working correctly
  3. The primary reason to eat is to nourish your body. (not pleasure)

Examples of consequences

It is easy to point out people with severe diabetes or physical problems in public. I explain that once they were young healthy children just like my kids are now.

Draw connection in real life to bad food bad feelings

I also explain that food affects their brain and behavior. For instance, when they are really cranky I force them to eat salad's or other vegetables as well as chicken or fish. I do this specifically when they have had a bad day of eating just simple carbs. I think they are beginning to realize that cranky behavior (and stomachaches) can be from poor eating.

Explain it on their level

I explain it in other weird ways too. Such as, when you eat a cookie you feel good right? Well that is your tongue and tummy talking to you, but they are not responsible for all your other body parts. When you eat healthy foods your heart, brain and muscles are all very happy. The only difference is that they don't talk as loudly as your tongue and tummy about how good they feel. You have to listen closely to them to know how they feel. This will help make you stronger and happier because they are more important than your tongue and tummy.

Anyway, that is a combination of techniques on how I tell and show my kids why eating healthy is important.

p.s. we eat our share of junk food, but I also insist on eating healthy.

  • 1
    Among all the bad answers to this question, this is the worst. You don't know the story behind the physical problems of those people you are pointing at.
    – user7953
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 4:59
  • Your interpretation of what I do appears to be incorrect. Further, The focus is not people with physical problems.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 16:51

You wrote

Saying no without explanation never worked with me. I won't expect the child to follow orders without knowing why.

One of my philosophies is

When you tell you children "no", what they really hear is, "I'd better not find out when you do."

Based on my philosophy, I applaud yours!

So, the kudos somewhat aside...

We have force and reason... there isn't a middle ground.

You quite appropriately reject force, so how can one apply reason?

The answer is almost too obvious: the same way you were convinced. Share with your child your understanding in terms they can understand and let them come to their own conclusion.

In How to Win Friends & Influence People an old saying is quoted:

Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
things unknown proposed as things forgot.

The point of that chapter is that if someone arrives at their own conclusion, they will defend it far more than one imposed upon them.

Be prepared for the worst: they may know the consequences of their choice and decide to accept the consequence(s).

You cannot ultimately control your children (nor do you want to), but you can educate them so that they can make their own decision(s). The goal, after all, of parenting, is not to create automatons, but critically-thinking adults well-prepared for a life of choices... and no matter what we think, I suggest that at many points they will agree and at many other points they will disagree... if they have reasons for their decisions, then we will have been successful in creating superb adults.

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