Tips For Teaching Kids Moderation with Candy

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist April 2, 2012

Candy!Candy, candy candy.

It seems like candy is everywhere all the time anymore – it doesn’t seem to matter the time of year!

Our culture is completely saturated with candy and sweets.  You simply cannot get away from it.  Every checkout line has a big candy assortment to choose from – even office supply and healthfood stores which is a strong indication that impulse buying of sweet snacks is very popular with most people.

Most children eat candy every single day, and sadly, it is even used as a reward in many classrooms or by parents themselves for good behavior or academic performance even if a child is clearly struggling with weight issues.

I feel that one of the most difficult things to teach children is moderation when it comes to their sweet consumption.   An occasional piece of candy is fine – eating it as a habit is most definitely not.

My policy in our house is simply not to buy candy.  We don’t have any candy laying around in our house as a general rule, although I do let my children have a small organic lollipop on the ride home from school some days.

Sometimes, I get so exasperated with how much candy is everywhere that I want to just keep my children home and never let them go out.  What particularly irks me is when another adult gives my children candy without asking me.

How rude is that?

Some days, don’t you just want to throw up your hands and lock your kids away or move to a closed community and live with only likeminded folks to get away from the sugar madness?

But, that doesn’t work either.  That is a surefire recipe for rebellion and a child who has no control over their sugar impulses.  The hard road is to continue to model moderation for them and let them have a bit of candy now and again and talk to them about how overindulging will lead to weight problems and worse in the years ahead.

I think of my own parents growing up.  They had an unlocked cabinet of various alcoholic beverages for special occasions or for when company might come to dinner.  Not one of their seven children ever broke their trust and as much as touched let alone drank some of that alcohol.  We were also always allowed to have a sip or two of whatever Mom or Dad was drinking on New Year’s Eve or whatever special occasion brought out the bubbly.

Not one of us today has an alcohol problem which I think is pretty incredible.  My parents successfully modeled moderation and for that, I am very grateful.

I think using alcohol as an example is important because sugar turns to alcohol in the body.  So, a child that grows up eating too much sugar can end up with an the same sorts of health issues as an alcoholic even if he/she never drinks a drop!

As a Mom who has been struggling to teach my kids the dangers of candy without being an ogre about it for many years, I wanted to pass along the story of how each of my children reacted to their school Easter Egg Hunt last week.

Of course, any Easter Egg Hunt is going to be loaded with candy and it is a good opportunity to teach children moderation and how to enjoy an activity without going overboard.

My oldest son who is a teenager, ate absolutely no candy at all.  He had no interest in having any and the pieces he got, he either gave away or tossed in the trash.

My middle child, who is three years younger, ate two pieces of candy and then dumped the rest in the trash.

My youngest child, three years younger than the middle child, ate a bunch of the candy at school and brought the rest of the candy home where she promptly dumped it in the trash after asking if she could keep 2 special pieces (which I said “yes” too).

It is important to note that my oldest child would have eaten a ton of candy when he was the age of my youngest child.   But, over the years, he has learned moderation more and more and now doesn’t want any at all (most of the time – not always).

My middle child had a really hard time saying no to candy if it was offered at school or a party just a couple of years ago.  Now, he is exercising great restraint and is demonstrating excellent moderation skills.   I know my youngest will be the same.  In another few years, she will be able to moderate herself just as well as her older siblings.

I guess the bottom line of this story is that it takes kids years to learn moderation in their candy habits especially when it is everywhere and most of their friends are pretty much eating it constantly so there is continuous temptation.  Teaching kids moderation with candy is clearly harder today than it used to be!

Learning to say no to candy is a process and just because a younger child has trouble with moderation today doesn’t mean this will be the case during the teenage years.

Stay on it, Moms and Dads!  Don’t give up as I’ve seen others do and just let your kids go wild with the sweets because it’s just too hard to stay on the moderation path 24/7.  Your efforts will bear fruit at a later time even if you are not necessarily seeing it today.

 

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

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Comments (38)

  1. Pingback: Teach Your Children Moderation on Halloween | USA Community Guides

  2. I try very hard to minimize sweets, with varying success. Fortunately my daughter learned early on that if she ate too much sugar in a day, she had an upset stomach at night. We stash candy from holidays in a cupboard and it is doled out a little at a time…and only after the “grow food” has been eaten. There’s usually a good bit to toss out several months later. After Halloween, I set aside most of the candy and we use it to decorate gingerbread houses for Christmas (we don’t eat the gingerbread houses– to do it properly, the gingerbread needs to be a bit overcooked and after a week or more sitting out, it’s pretty stale). I love using candy this way– it’s not “wasted” but it’s not eaten, either!

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  3. Sarah, I think you’ve hit the moderation point spot-on and the parallel with alcohol consumption is excellent. In my family, alcohol was handled very similarly, and with similarly good results in that we learned to enjoy occasional drinks but not to excess and weren’t tempted to rebel.

    No kidding about candy being used inappropriately as a prize in schools, etc.! It amazes me how many people who have a responsibility to know better don’t seem to notice or care about overconsumption of candy (and of course juice, soda, etc.). Out of all the possible ways to incentivize…even if you aren’t willing to get creative or thoughtful, just take the quarters that you would have spent on candy and give out those instead.

    A little girl I know who has type I diabetes used to go to a camp for juvenile diabetics that – no kidding – gave out candy bars as a prize for exercising enough to lower insulin needs! I don’t know whether these were regular sugary candy bars or artificially sweetened “diabetic-friendly” ones, but either one is inexcusable. I only found this out because she has always been very athletic, so she couldn’t feasibly increase her exercise, so being a little kid systematically tempted by adults in charge of her welfare to want this candy badly, she gave herself a few extra clicks of insulin. She nearly died as a result and had to be rushed via ambulance to a hospital.

    Oh, and instead of changing the perverse policy of bribing diabetic kids with candy, the camp just barred her from coming back again.

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  4. Birthday parties are driving me crazy, my oldest is 6, he knows about the parties (yes, I was going to say he couldn’t go if he never mentioned it…). Cake and loot bags. Four parties in the last 3 weeks, no wonder we are all sick with the flu… I keep no visible candy in the house (I admit I do sneak it when they are in bed). Their treats now are one teeny tiny xylitol candy, but they are getting a few eggs for Easter, the mini dark chocolate Lindt kind, at least I tried to keep them small :)

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  5. My son never had almost no sugar until he was about 5 years old, except from my parents who think giving children sugar and processed foods is okay. Even back then, I wasn’t as aware of the dangers of processed foods and grains, and I still was very careful not to give him foods with sugar in them. It wasn’t until he was over 5 that I started realizing the importance of traditional foods, but he was born with gut issues because I had them before he was born. Although my husband largely agrees with much of my philosophy on nutrition, I was never able to get him on board for doing GAPS for our son (he thinks it’s too extreme), so he’s still got gut issues. But, he’s still much better off than many children I know who eat garbage, processed foods, and a lot of refined sugar around him. He eats a lot of grass-fed meats, poultry, and eggs, raw milk, butter, cream, grass-fed cheese, lard, tallow, fish eggs, seafood, and some organ meats.

    Most of his friends are incredibly picky eaters, and I have a really hard time getting them to eat when they come over. He’s got one friend who is a good eater, but the rest of them – and there’s 5 of them I can think of – will really only eat bread and carbs, and of course, sugar. One of his friends, a girl who is 11, only likes a few foods: fruit, cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and macaroni and cheese, oh…and bread. She won’t eat any meat and I don’t think she likes eggs. She won’t even eat tomato sauce. And what’s odd is that she’s one of the brightest children in my son’s class, but she does have an endless array of health issues.
    Raine\’s last post: Industrial Meat & Pink Slime = More Recalls, Drug Resistance

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  6. Because I’m a sugar addict (read “alcoholic”), I’ve tried to teach my kids moderation. Due to all the places it’s offered, we have a rule of 2 per week (usually the size of dum-dums). That way, they can say “yes” at church and 1 other day, but only if they actually like what they’re offered. Lately, they’ve only been having about 1 per week. I didn’t want to teach them never to have it so they overindulge as adults; nor did I want to let them have what they wanted freely (my oldest doesn’t have a sweet tooth; while my 2 youngers are like me). I love that they learn to only accept what they like and not any candy they’re offered. They are currently 9, 10 & 11 and doing quite well with the moderation. We’ve been doing this for about 3 years now.

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  7. My son is doing holiday club this week. I have to include a pack lunch. I decided on Monday to “treat” him to an organic fruit yoghurt pot instead of our usual home made natural yoghurt and apple sauce/ fresh fruit. Also sent him with a bag of crisps and a small snack size chocolate bar (65cals per bar – it was tiny!), as well as his usual lunch.

    On Monday night he was downstairs at 10pm with a sore tummy…… lesson well learnt!

    Since then i have given him only our usual “real” food and he has been fine. Today he was offered some boiled sweets and he said “No thank you, I don’t want to upset my tummy again today” He has autism. I was so proud of him!

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  8. My kids have such bad nut and peanut allergies that candy is completely out for us. This is both a blessing and a curse. They never get any candy and they don’t care, but I have huge worries all the time about strangers trying to give them candy. It’s maddening! We actually had to sort of candy-proof our first son when he was 2. We played a game with him, pretending to be a stranger offering candy, cookies, other things he knew he couldn’t have, and he got to answer, “No, thanks!” It worked. He has never accepted food from a stranger and he’s 10 now. He knows how bad his allergies are and which people are his safe food-givers. :-)

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  9. My baby wouldn’t eat any solids until she was about 14 months. I just nursed her often and tried not to worry about it. I think she instinctively knew when she was ready. She is now almost 2 and still nurses but is also a good eater. She is healthy, robust and beautiful plus she rarely gets sick!
    Also, I have a 7th old who is in public school for the first time and, WOW he is around so much sugar! He’s very sensitive to sugar and artificial coloring so hasn’t been exposed to much of it until now. He’s REALLY GREAT about saying no or only having a little bit. We’ve had many discussions about the health consequences and the way it makes him feel and act. Now he is asking why all the other parents let their kids have so much when it is so bad for us. Any suggestions?
    I’m almost done.;) For Easter, we fill plastic eggs with little toys, crispy nuts and dried fruit. They do get 3 pieces of really good dark chocolate and a few organic lollipops and we have a huge egg hunt, play some fun games and get together with family.

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  10. I don’t buy candy. We never had it growing up – well, very very rarely. My parents bought chocolate: plain, with raisins, nuts, etc. We were allowed a square or two after dinner, that’s it. Now that I’m a mom I pretty much stick to the same rule: only chocolate, few cookies and such. No candy. My older son (2nd grade) is around so much of it at school!! He usually brings all of it home and I allow him to keep some of it – mostly chocolate – and we chuck the rest. A few days ago he tried some chewing gum he got at school and the smell was so sickening I couldn’t stand it in the car!!! Sooo nasty…. He knows artificial colors and flavors are bad so he’s okay with not eating them.

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    • Thanks Magda! I really like that rule! Only chocolate. . . I think I will try to convince my in-laws to only give my kids chocolate since they insist on loading them up with candy all the time.

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  11. Thanks for this post Sarah, I agree, we need to teach our kids moderation with candy/sweets.
    I have the hardest time keeping candy out of our home and away from the kids. My husband buys and eats a lot of it and his parents love to spoil my children with it–especially grandpa…he loads my 9 year old step-daughter up with it every time he sees her, and she has ADD really bad and candy seems to make it a lot worse! My baby is only 7 months old and grandpa already can’t wait to load him up on candy. I want to keep him away from sweets as long as possible but I’m afraid it will be quite difficult with grandma and grandpa around (they live just down the street). I also hate it when people give my kids candy without my consent. My father-in-law even tells the kids that candy is good for them and he has even told my 9 yr old in front of me, “It’s ok, you can have some, don’t listen to your mom.” Boy, was I ever upset about that! (Sorry, had to vent for a second!)

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  12. I grew up never having white sugar until I was probably about 8 years old or so. I would go to birthday parties and ask if the ice cream had sugar in it. After incredulous looks, the parents would tell me that yes, it did. Then I would tell them I wouldn’t like any. In my teens, I often indulged in junk food & sugar (although we didn’t have it often at home).

    My dad was a perfect example of self control, and moderation with sweets. Every so often, he’d have a health food chocolate bar in a cupboard and every week or so, he’d cut off a little silver of it to eat. (Wow! Such self control) Although I strayed from eating whole foods, I slowly returned to it after I married and had children. After my seventh baby was born, I set a New Year’s Resolution to stay off refined sugar for a year, and I’ve never gone back to eating it (7 years now!)

    My point of sharing this is that your children will usually return to the way they were raised. Just keep up the good work! My parents had gotten a little lax when they raised my youngest sister, and I’d say that she eats more junk food than the rest of us (although her roommates at college were always amazed at how healthy she ate.)

    It is hard for me to see how much sugar my children get everywhere they go. I wish I had been able to teach them to always make good food choices. However, my oldest daughter just set a goal on her own to go off sugar for at least a month though, so I know she understands.

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  13. My daughter comes home from dance class almost every week with candy! They also encourage bringing treats to share the week of Halloween, Christmas, Valentines, etc. It drives me crazy! My son also gets candy every week when he deposits money into his savings account at school. I stopped sending money.

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  14. I wish my parents had taught me moderation growing up! Nope, as a now 20-something year old I have to teach myself how to avoid sugar. Its been a challenge but I’ve learned a lot along the way.

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  15. This is a great post. Teaching moderation with sweets not only improves health, it also lays groundwork for moderation in other areas. Our family eats some sweets, carefully chosen. And we teach about the need for healthy eating habits, pointing out the consequences of indulgence. Even now, my 4yo saves late-evening candy prizes for the next day, and the older children show some degrees of moderation regularly. We’re getting there! :-) Thanks for the encouragement!

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  16. Sadlly, this is not a new problem. I was born in the mid 1950′s and I remember going to the grocery store with my Mom and seeing candy at the checkout counter. In fact, back then they didn’t have it in the aisles at all, just behind the checkout counter and the lady had to hand it to you. It was almost like buying cigarettes – too bad it still isn’t that way. Do you suppose it was kept there because they knew it was something people would be more likely to steal? Or maybe because the price of sugar was high back then, too? One thing I can say for 1950′s candy is that at least it was made with real sugar, not this manufactured fake sugar junk used today that is highly toxic.

    I also remember my Mom occasionally letting me have one (ONE) piece of candy and boy was it hard to choose. My favorite back then was a round, aqua colored bubble gum with sugar all over the outside and it was called a Sputnik. It was hollow inside so there was little actual gum involved. Still, the lesson for me was that I had to choose only one piece. Kids today have a no limits frame of mind. They don’t understand discipline in any form because no one is actually allowed to discipline them, without fear of going to jail or worse. Doncha love progress?

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  17. Even at my sons preschool they give candies as a reward for good behavior. I HATE that! I said my 4 year old will not have candy! I sent pretty little decorated bags with dehydrated fruits for him to have when the other kids are given candy. I hope I’m not causing him problems, bu I feel likea preschooler is too young to know how to exercise moderation, although we do talk through these things and I let him have opportunities to try cake, etc at birthday parties.

    Also, my son gets cold sores in his mouth when he has too much sugar, even natural sugar. This is very painful for him and then his appetite is poor for the next week, so that’s why I’m even more militant about him not having candy.

    Something neat happened. This week his preschool is having an Easter Egg Hunt. His teachers sent home a note asking that each parent send 15 egg with their child’s name on them. The parents are supposed to fill the eggs with what they would like their child to eat. I am really grateful to the teachers for their creativity in accomodating our family’s desire for healthy eating. I plan to fill his eggs with raisins and home dehydrated fruit, “dough balls” made with carob, honey, coconut, nut, and coconut oil. Probably some scripture verses an I love you note and stickers and other prizes too.

    I think it’s so important that health conscious parents like us take an active role to influence our schools and community.

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  18. My kids are doing better but we are not near the point where your’s are! We are getting closer one step at a time. My husband has been a big time junk food eater. He has come so far from where he was. Side question if I may…I have an almost 7 month old who is not doing well with adjusting to foods. I tried giving her homemade applesauce that was about 50% applesauce and 50% water. I gave her mostly liquid with a tad bit of apple. She just keeps coughing on it and trying to spit it out. She LOVES egg yolk. Should I be concerned about her not getting enough food or is nursing, egg yolk, and just keep trying the baby type of food okay? At what point does it become a concern? Thank you!

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    • Sarah-

      It sounds like she may not like apples! :-) Just keep nursing and giving her the egg yolk. When she becomes more curious about other foods let her taste them, and if she likes them mash them up and feed them to her! Between the egg yolk and the breast milk she is getting all the nutrition she needs. If she seems more hungry with the egg yolk then try putting some freshly grated frozen liver on it. There is a post on baby first foods here somewhere, check under the video classes section.

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    • My 14 month old just finally accepted food for the first time last month. We offered food first at 5.5 months, and tried often even though she never took to it- until 13 months. Finally! Up until 13 months she was exclusively breast fed and completely healthy and growing well. You don’t need to worry about your baby getting enough, as long as you nurse her often. It’s great that she loves egg yolk!

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    • We fill our Easter celebration with some great family traditions and avoid all the candy parties. We explain the real meaning of Easter and why we choose to celebrate the way we do. The kids are always happy to join us. We have five boys, ages 2 to 10.

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  19. Here in Sweden we used to have a tradition that we only ate candy on Saturdays. Usually that’s what I got. But obviously nowadays things have changed even here. I have a 5 year old who I have noticed reaaaally gets affected by sugar so we try to avoid giving him any at all. I used to do the Saturday treat thing with him where he got something tiny on a Saturday. We then changed this and bought 86% chocolate. I would give him a tiny piece each day after his breakfast which was so much better and he thought it was better because he got “candy” everyday. But even that only happens occasionally now. I do try to teach him that even if his friends eat a lot of candy that he shouldn’t and he does listen, even though of course he’ll eat some if offered by someone else.

    Oh and by the way, I completely agree about how rude it is to offer a child candy without checking with you first! I hate that! I had an experience a couple of years ago where one of my son’s primary teachers at church in England was giving out those huge pixie stick things and asked me if he could have one in front of him and in front of all the other kids!! What was I supposed to say!? That night he may as well have been on speed! It was so scary to watch. He couldn’t sleep and just lay in my arms staring… it was awful! I can proudly say though that my son rarely gets sick and is very healthy and strong, so it’s nice to know that despite all my many weaknesses I’m doing something right.

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  20. We did 3 “no added sugar days” with my 7 years old. When to the store an read the labels so we buy thing only without added sugar. While we were there, he realized how hard to find food with no added sugar. He likes sweets but aware of the danger of it. He gets a little chocolates after lunch, if he eats enough.
    My motto is to teach the kids as soon as you can about the healthy choices. They are open and willing to learn!

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  21. Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

    Children eating well at home is the main thing. You can’t shield them from every single sugar incident as they are growing up and shouldn’t try as these are good teaching opportunities. If they are healthy and feel great and then notice how eating sugar makes them feel rotten, they will learn to simply avoid it. When puberty hits, they will also notice how the kids who eat a lot of sugar have weight and skin issues too which they would want to avoid.
    Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist\’s last post: Tips For Teaching Kids Moderation with Candy

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    • It’s my opinion that adults should stay away from comparing any particular food consumption to phyisical issues with peers. The goal is to teach them how to truly love and care for their own bodies. Many young people have weight and skin issues with no obvious connection to their diet yet (when I was in middle school it was the thin glowing soccer playing girls who had the wickedest candy stash). I am a teacher at early childhood program that serves only properly prepared traditional foods and I have been sad to notice that the children who come from families who cook this way at home are the most likely to say things like, “You can only play with me if you don’t eat candy because people who eat candy are gross!” or “I don’t like you because you are fat”. These are direct quotes and no these children’s families are all lovely and kind and would never say things like this directly about people but the idea seeps in none the less.

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      • Yes, this. Connect eating habits with health, not weight. Don’t give children a reason to look down on peers who are overweight or even just chubby. Not every kid is naturally a string bean.

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  22. Tonya Scarborough April 2, 2012 at 11:24 am

    We did a sugar fast together and talked about how one of the goals was to strengthen our immune system. While we were on it, the stomach flu went around and for the first time ever, only 1 of my kids got it. This remains a powerful incentive to them.

    Also, a neighbor gave them jellybeans recently and we saved them for a special occasion. My 4 yo said that they gave him a stomachache and my oldest hardly ate any. A few years ago they would have all eaten them right up on the spot without a complaint. I think that when sugar is taken out of the diet, they’re given the chance to notice how bad it truly makes them feel when they eat it.

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  23. I find the example of your children to be so inspiring! Even moderate amounts of sugar soaked candy can do great harm to so many of the systems to the body, and that is magnified in children, who are still developing.
    We knew a little boy who did not like to try new foods. His parents got him to try all kinds of real , traditional foods, but they never introduced him to candy. The boy just graduated with a perfect GPA from a major university. He never missed a single class in his entire academic life. He has perfect teeth, and is so healthy that he has almost never seen a doctor, after his parents discontinued the worthless “well baby visits” so beloved by pediatricians and vaccine companies. Hi is tall, powerful, charming, friendly, and a very nice young man. He has yet to taste a piece of candy. Of course, many other factors played a part in how he turned out, but his parents are firm believers that the lack of candy and sugary foods was a very important component.
    Stanley Fishman\’s last post: Why Grassfed Meat Costs More and Is Worth It

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  24. We try to really limit the amount of candy our kids have. Sometimes it’s harder than others. My husband eats a ton of it; I refuse to buy any. We talk to our oldest (almost 7) about moderation and how important it is. For halloween and easter, we’ll keep a few pieces out and put the rest in the freezer. The little bit we have usually lasts all year long, with my husband eating the bulk. One thing that has helped me drastically cut my candy consumption is to only buy organic chocolate–it’s pricey, so one small bar (Dagoba) usually lasts a week or more in my desk at work, so I end up eating less.

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