How Kids Can Stay Sugar-Free in a Sugar-Filled World

parents offer tips for helping kids navigate sugar-heavy social scenes

A 6-year-old turning down sweet, sugary cobbler isn’t the norm—especially surrounded by classmates who are all partaking. But that’s exactly what Cadence did.

“Her school teacher was making apple pie cobbler and she goes, ‘Mom, I didn’t have any of the cobbler today,’” Vanessa Morales shares. “I said, ‘Why? Does your stomach hurt? Are you feeling OK?’ She said, ‘No, I was watching her pour sugar in there, and you wouldn’t believe how much sugar she put in that.’”

For Morales and her daughter, it’s all about sweets in moderation. The Euless mom began talking with Cadence early on about the importance of eating healthy.

“It doesn’t matter that all her friends are having it. She knew that wasn’t the best thing.”

“She now understands why I don’t purchase certain things and her friends do,” Morales says. “I explain to her what that does to her body in a way a 6-year-old can understand. It’s as simple as telling them, ‘It’s not healthy for your body; you want your body to grow strong and you want to have energy to play and think.’”

Because Morales has always explained to her daughter the importance of eating healthy, the 6-year-old was confident in her decision not to give in to the cobbler munchies, despite the fact that all her peers were having some.

“She made the decision that she just wasn’t going to have any, and it doesn’t matter that all her friends are having it,” Morales explains. “She knew that wasn’t the best thing.”

Even though it might seem impossible for a child to eat clean at sugar-fueled outings, such as birthday parties and holidays (ahem, Halloween), parents who want to cut back on the sweets can equip their kiddos to make healthy decisions in social situations, sans guilt or FOMO.

Information Is Power

For Morales, it’s not about restricting what Cadence can eat at birthday parties and school celebrations but rather giving her the opportunity to make her own decisions.

“I’ve never told her not to,” Morales shares. “There’s been times where she herself, similar with the cobbler situation, says, ‘No thank you,’ and she just doesn’t want it.”

NBC 5 meteorologist and traffic reporter Samantha Davies also talks to her two kids, 2-year-old Alexander and 3-year-old Anna-Sophia, about the importance of eating healthy foods at a level they can understand. “I tell them that they need to eat a lot of nutrients and eat healthy dinners so that they can grow up and be big and strong,” she says.

Kids will make mature decisions if we equip them with the information needed to make those decisions. “I think we as parents don’t give our children enough credit,” Morales says.

In addition to encouraging your little to make “big kid” decisions despite what their peers are doing, having open conversations with your kids might prevent them from feeling ashamed if they do end up indulging.

“I never try to shame her for her choices, but instead guide her and let her know that X sugary snack now means no others so we are not overwhelming her growth and development,” Morales says. “This allows her to really consider her options and to make a choice she is most happy with, versus Mom just being a ‘mean mom.’”

Lead by Example

Kiddos function in an “I do as you do” world, not “I do as you say.” If you as a parent show discipline by not having that second slice of cake or dipping your hand into the cookie jar too many times, chances are your kids probably will too, even when they’re away from home at school or a birthday party.

“Parents who model good eating have kids who eat well––that’s not hard to see in society,” shares Jeremy Baker, a pediatrician at Cook Children’s primary care office in Little Elm.  

“I don’t want them to be the kid that has to sit out and miss everything.”

Morales eats healthy, and Cadence has always eaten like her mom. “There is no kids’ menu, there is no kid’s plate,” Morales shares. “It is ‘you eat what I eat.’”

Baker also reminds parents that their family’s goals might look different from another family’s. While some parents might aim to cut out sugar entirely, others like Morales allow for sweets in moderation, or make exceptions for special situations.

Davies doesn’t typically have sweets in her home, but when she and the kids are out and desserts are present, it is OK for her kids to indulge.

“I don’t want them to be the kid that has to sit out and miss everything,” she says. “If we go somewhere they can have whatever they want. I don’t buy it at the house, so they won’t have it when they’re here.”

Cadence enjoys the occasional dessert too––she is a kid, after all.

“We still go to birthday parties and have a dessert every now and then,” Morales says. “I don’t tell her not to have a cupcake at a birthday party. There’s times when she does and there’s time that she doesn’t. At this point in her age, she can make that decision. I just monitor.”

Image courtesy of iStock.