How to Tame Your Kid’s Sweet Tooth in a Snap

Recently, I was talking to one of my best friends, the mom of two young girls, after their family took a trip. She and her husband had gotten into a fight about their children's sugar-laced vacation diet. "He told me he was going to make me eat the same foods I let them eat and see how I felt," she told me, half laughing, half angry.

The story was told in the context of "Aren't husbands the worst?" — a talking point for pretty much every wife and mother of small children I know — but I had to admit that it made me think about my own children's diets vs. my own. While I tell myself that I don't eat all the cookies, ice cream, popsicles, and suckers that I let my kids, ages 6 and 3, indulge in pretty much daily because my metabolism couldn't take it, I'm also pretty sure that my stomach, mood, and sleep schedule would be equally affected.

Yes, my kids, probably like yours, are sugar-obsessed. They haven't met a candy bar, frozen confection, or frosted baked good that they didn't want to instantly consume. They beg for dessert while still eating dinner; know that trips to the dentist, doctor, and hairdresser end with suckers; and have memorized the closest ice cream shop to all of our favorite restaurants. It gets even worse at Grandma's house, where I've had to empty out a candy drawer and insist it not be refilled more than once.

If you're struggling with your kids' sugar consumption (if your child regularly eats large amounts of sugar, has mood swings or trouble sleeping, claims to be constantly hungry, and has difficulty focusing, consider them addicted), here are a few ways you can help them cut the sweets and get on a healthier track.

  1. Try taking a no-sugar test run. It won't be easy, but try cutting all processed sugar from your child's diet — that includes juices, most cereals, baked goods, cookies, ice creams, etc. — for a week and see if your child's behavior changes (beyond becoming more annoying because they're constantly bugging you for sugary foods). If you notice a difference, you know sugar is probably (at least partially) to blame for their former bad habits and behaviors.
  2. Be a good example. Kids learn eating habits from us, so if you're ordering Frappuccinos daily and heading directly for the candy drawer after every meal, your children will want to follow suit. Overhaul your own diet for the better of theirs.
  3. Makeover your fridge and pantry. By eliminating the major sugar offenders and replacing them with healthier options (with fresh fruits and vegetables taking center stage), you prevent your child from thoughtlessly reaching for sugar-laced snacks multiple times a day. Eventually, they'll learn that a great piece of fruit is more satisfying than that cookie was (hopefully).
  4. Talk to them about health. Your conversations about cutting sugar shouldn't be focused on weight or outward appearance, but instead on the nutritional needs of their growing bodies and how healthy foods act as fuel for them to run, play, and learn. Use language they can understand.
  5. Cook more family meals. The only way to consistently know how much sugar your child is consuming at every meal is to make and feed them those meals. By eating family meals together, you teach them healthier habits, with the added bonus of bonding time.
  6. Plan ahead for sugary situations. It's almost impossible to eliminate sugary foods from your child's life, which is most likely full of birthday parties, school celebrations, and candy-laced holidays. And attempting to cut sugar completely from their diets might backlash (kids are known to obsess over things they can't have). However, setting limits for, say, one piece of birthday cake or two pieces of Halloween candy per day reminds your child that cake and candy are special treats and not part of a normal daily diet.