Sharing sweets with your child doesn't have to be a reward for good behavior or something used to celebrate special occasions. Don't use food to bribe your child. In fact, Nolte suggests making sweets a part of meal time every day. "They all love sweets, and in order to control the sweets and keep too much sugar out of their diet, the parents should be the ones in charge of offering them, and you should offer them early - starting at 18 months," says Nolte. By integrating sweets into your daily routine, your child becomes used to the foods instead of expecting them as treats.
This can also help children avoid unhealthy attachments to food. Many people associate sweets and other comfort foods with certain emotions. "Don't use food as a weapon or as a treat. It should just be part of the diet - don't make a big deal out of it," says Nolte.
Children learn by example, though, so be sure to monitor your own eating habits. If you find yourself diving into a bowl of chocolate ice cream after every stressful day at work, your children will pick up on your behavior and be more likely to replicate it later in life. "If you eat yogurt and fruit and drink some chocolate milk and don't be dipping in the candy dish, then the kids don't do it either," says Nolte.
Also, acknowledge that not all sweet treats are bad. "They can have things like graham crackers, peanut butter and jelly on crackers, little pieces of cheese, chocolate milk... cinnamon toast," says Nolte. These treats are not only sweet, but fairly healthy too. A recent study by the American Heart Association says that an average adult American consumes roughly 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, most of that coming from soda and candy. Try to keep portions in control by offering bite-sized treats instead of an entire candy bar.
The type of treat you choose for your child can also affect their health in other ways; sugary, sticky sweets can harm your child's teeth. "Certain sweets are better than others," says Nolte. "For example, a piece of chocolate candy is a better snack than a Goldfish [cracker]. The reason is that soft, smooth food... goes out of the mouth faster." Crunchy or sticky treats - like crackers or fruit chews - can stick to teeth for longer periods of time. This can result in tooth decay.
For more information on serving healthy treats to your kids, as well as additional parenting advice, click here to visit www.AmericanBaby.com.
By Erin Petrun