How to reduce the amount of sugar your child has – as painlessly as possible!

There’s no getting away from it, sugary foods can get in the way of solving fussy eating. You can read precisely why here (it’s probably not how you think!). So if you’ve got a sugar-crazy little demon, here’s my advice on how to reduce the amount of sugary foods in their diet – in as painless a way as possible!

#1 Think about size

Do they really need a giant cookie or a whole doughnut to themselves? Do they need all the Smarties in the tube in one go or more than one biscuit? Your child has a little body. So keep amounts of sugary food on the small side. Cut the doughnut in half and share it. Serve a handful of Smarties in a little dish. They’ll definitely still think it’s a treat – in fact more so if it doesn’t come thick and fast and huge!

#2 Don’t keep a store 

If you have a cupboard, drawer or tin of sugary foods at home, your child will hanker after and pester for them. Just like us, if we know it’s there, it’s hard not to want it! So save treats for when you’re out and about – cake when you meet up with friends at a cafe, a biscuit that they give out at toddler group, an ice-cream sundae at the end of a meal when you eat out… And if you do buy something sweet as a treat to eat at home, eat it on the day you buy it!

#3 Have once-a-week sweets day

When it comes to having an actual packet of sweets or a chocolate bar, choose a day for this – and stick to it. Friday when you pick them up from school? Wednesday after their swimming lesson? You could make it more of a definite ‘thing’ by taking them to the shop and letting them choose. The once-a-week routine not only reduces the amount of sweets and chocolate bars they have, if you stick to it like glue, your child will quickly accept it and completely stop pestering for sweets and chocolate bars at other times. Double win!

#4 Keep everyday puddings simple

Serve fruit or yoghurt or a bit of both, and have extra sweet or fancy puddings (sticky toffee pudding, chocolate mousse, ice-cream….) as an occasional thing. The ultimate aim is not to give them pudding every day so that you’re not training their palate to want and expect to end every meal with something sweet.

#5 Opt for savoury over sweet the rest of the time

Whenever there’s a choice of what to buy or serve, go savoury! For example, choose Cornflakes over Frosties, Plain or cheese rice cakes over caramel or chocolate rice cakes, Marmite or peanut butter on toast over jam or honey on toast, a crumpet over a chocolate chip brioche…

#6 Don’t label sugary foods “bad” or “naughty”

And certainly don’t deprive your child of them altogether (once they’re old enough to have clocked them!). That’ll only make sugary foods seem more exciting and enticing! Instead, call sugary foods a “treat”. It’s the best word to use because it implies that they are not everyday foods, but something extra that you have occasionally.

#7 Don’t use sugary foods as emotional comfort

When your child is crying or upset, it can be so tempting to offer them something sweet to calm them down super-quickly. Don’t! This teaches your child to turn to sugary foods whenever they’re feeling bad – that sugary foods have the power to ‘fix’ the situation! – which could have long-term consequences. Instead, offer empathy and cuddles. It may take a bit longer to calm your down, but it’s worth the effort – and actually what your child really wants. And finally, for those of you with a baby or one on the way….

#8 Introduce sugary foods as late as possible

It’s not cruel or mean if you never give your 0, 1, 2, or even 3 year a sweet treat (right up to the point where they start nursery school or school and see sweets and chocolate everywhere!). Admittedly this is easier to do with a first than a second or subsequent child, but the later you introduce sugary foods, the better. Children don’t need sweet treats to be happy! And they don’t miss what they’ve never had! There are so many other non-edible ways to give them a treat. (In fact, what a child values more than anything else in the whole world is your undivided attention. A 20-minute, 100% focused, play session with you, for example, is worth more to them than a whole sack full of Haribo!). And you’ll be giving them the gift of training their palate to lean towards healthy, savoury, nutritious foods. That’s a pretty big gift! 

To find out EXACTLY how to use empathy to stop your child crying and EXACTLY how to use the power of focused attention – plus lots more research-based techniques and tactics to manage your child’s behaviour – see Getting the Little Blighters to Behave.