We know most kids seem to love sugary foods. What we often don't know is how to decide how much sugar is too much, whether we should use sugar as a reward, or when we should let our kids indulge in the sugar-laced treats we say are off-limits. Parenting is not an exact science; there's usually no firm right or wrong answer for child-rearing questions when it comes to food. And sometimes choosing what's best for your family is a matter of shopping around for ideas.
We asked 10 moms for the nitty-gritty on how they deal with sugar in their homes, and learned plenty of tips, rituals, and hands-down healthy habits. The bottom line? You're not the only one who still has Halloween candy and a battle to wage.
1. Our goal is three treats a week. Our kids get coins to "buy" their treats from the treat stash, so they get to decide when they have those treats. It can be three treats in one day or they can spread them out over the week and ration them. They decide. —Erica, physician, mom of three
2. We try to keep sugar limited in our everyday eating, but have no problem with treats on a more occasional or social basis. With two kids, between birthday parties, school and activity picnics, play dates, and doctor's appointments, this ends up being pretty often. —Kim, stay-at-home mom of two
3. I don't put a ton of thought into it. We don't eat anything with fake sugar in it. We use sugar and honey to sweeten things. We try to limit excess amounts of sugar, but still have Icee pops in the house, cookies (at times), and other treats. The kids aren't allowed to have very sugary snacks too close to bedtime, so if they are still hungry at night, we have them eat fruit. —Rachel, clinical social worker, mom of two
4. We have a good amount of sugar around, but it lasts a while. As a person who treated adolescents with eating disorders, I work hard to create healthy relationships with food and with their bodies. Exposure to all kinds of food is totally okay. Candy is okay. Cookies are okay. There is no "bad" food. I try to teach the kids 85% nutritional eating and 15% non-nutritional (i.e., just for taste) eating, but don't explicitly say that. We have sweet things on Tuesday and Thursday nights after dinner (like ice cream) and it's a free-for-all on weekends with few rules. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we have fruit dessert only. I hope to teach my kids to take or leave sugar and to pay attention if/when they go wild after eating sugar. It's a work in progress. —Karly, clinical psychologist, mom of two
5. Our son (9 years old) can have a couple pieces of Halloween candy (yes, we still have some!) after dinner, but doesn't more often than not. He usually gets a treat in his lunch, often a cookie, and he's not allowed to drink soda. —Andrea, preschool teacher, mom of one
6. Sugar makes things delicious! It is definitely in our house, but limited to treats and desserts, not snacks, not meals. Maybe once or twice a week there is a treat included in their lunch. And if kids ask for dessert after dinner, unless they got a special treat after school, the answer is usually yes. Somehow, if my kids feel full in the middle of dessert, they stop eating it! It's shocking. I never do that! —Jennifer, architect, mom of two
7. Sugar in our house is a treat — although every day likely deserves a treat of some sort. We've always lived by the motto "everything in moderation," and as long as you've eaten healthy food first (think: four food groups), a treat is okay. After all, it's about getting the nutrients in. Treats in our house mostly consist of a bowl of ice cream, a cookie, or a fruit Popsicle. I figure they play hard and work hard in school, and if I don't give it to them they'll find a way to sneak it so let's all enjoy it. —Leslie, management consultant, mom of two
8. We don't have a set sugar policy. Some days there will be dessert, some not. Many adults I know with the worst sugar cravings were kept on a very strict no-sugar diet as kids, so I tend to think that giving kids some sugar here and there operates as a kind of safety valve: It gives them the taste and enjoyment of sweets as an occasional treat without the insane craving for it at all times. —Kate, Japanese translator, mom of two
9. Sugar has had negative impacts on both my children's health, from causing migraines to exacerbating eczema, so sugar is kept at a minimum. We have a pint of vanilla ice cream in the freezer and maybe some mochi, but sugar "treats" are one-off experiences (we have a tradition of going out for doughnuts every Wednesday morning). We do stock a lot of fruit year-round, and if the kids want something sweet after a meal that is our go-to. —Betsey, capital program manager, mom of two
10. We do not usually keep sugary foods or drinks in the house except for our daughter's bottomless bag of Halloween candy. We limit her to dessert only on weekends (Friday to Sunday) and dessert is usually a piece of candy from her bag. She gets a few bonus treats here and there, like a small mug of hot chocolate on Monday mornings sometimes to kick the week off. It seems that there are enough special occasions like birthdays, etc. that sugar shows up often enough. By not keeping sweets around, we all manage to limit it somewhat. —Lisa, clinical psychologist, mom of one