Mind­ful eat­ing

In­stead of try­ing to con­trol the sweet-fest that is Hal­loween, en­cour­age your chil­dren to self-reg­u­late the amount of treats they con­sume, says di­eti­tian Aoife Hearne

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

LAST week I was lucky to get away with my par­ents and the kids to Por­tu­gal for the last hur­rah be­fore ma­ter­nity leave is of­fi­cially over. Of course, in re­al­ity, it’s just mov­ing the chaos to a sun­nier cli­mate. All the same, it was lovely to get away.

With Hal­loween com­ing up, no bet­ter time to talk about the im­por­tance of hav­ing a flex­i­ble pol­icy when it comes to sweets and treats.

In my opin­ion, the ma­jor­ity of par­ents are of­ten overly con­cerned when it comes to treats for chil­dren and limit ac­cess al­most com­pletely. Re­mem­ber, chil­dren are hard-wired to pre­fer sugar — this is why breast­milk is sweet. But if we com­pletely re­strict treats from chil­dren we are also re­strict­ing the op­por­tu­nity to teach them how to self-reg­u­late with these foods. This can of­ten have the op­po­site of the de­sired ef­fect and turn chil­dren into sneaky eaters.

No one wants their child to be the one fill­ing their pock­ets with treats at the party so it’s time to con­sider a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Ex­perts in this area sug­gest that from the age of two or so, we em­brace a flex­i­ble treats pol­icy with chil­dren. This does not mean hav­ing a candy cart in your kitchen, mind you. It is still re­ally im­por­tant to of­fer nour­ish­ing meals and snacks reg­u­larly and con­sis­tently through­out the day. But keep­ing treats within this struc­ture is some­thing that is rec­om­mended.

When chil­dren know they have per­mis­sion to en­joy treats on a reg­u­lar and con­sis­tent ba­sis they are less likely to overeat them. Re­mem­ber, as the par­ent you are still in charge of how of­ten, how much and when these treats hap­pen. Adopt­ing this ap­proach will help cre­ate the best pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­ment to nur­ture a mind­ful eater.

Any­time I talk about this at sem­i­nars, par­ents al­ways worry that their chil­dren will go crazy and overeat these foods at ev­ery pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity. How­ever, re­search shows that chil­dren who are un­re­stricted from treat foods ac­tu­ally eat less and have a re­duced de­sire for sweet things.

Of course, if this is some­thing new with your older child, they may in­deed overeat ini­tially. But give it time, be per­sis­tent and you will see that when chil­dren know they can have as much as they want of some­thing it re­duces the power these foods of­ten hold.

The next ques­tion is nearly al­ways, How of­ten and how many of these foods should I give my child?’. Un­for­tu­nately, there is no de­tailed re­search to guide you on this, so you need to see what treat rules work best for your fam­ily.

The key thing here is to be con­sis­tent with what­ever pol­icy works best for your fam­ily. In our fam­ily, my flex­i­ble pol­icy is some­thing small once a day and never be­fore 12pm. This can go awry when grand­par­ents are in­volved, but you can’t con­trol it all.

Here are some ideas of what ex­perts in this area sug­gest as pos­si­ble op­tions when it comes to treat rules:

Pick one day each week as treat day;

Serve a small por­tion of dessert with din­ner each day;

One small treat ev­ery day. With Hal­loween on the hori­zon, I know there are par­ents up and down the coun­try won­der­ing what is the best plan of at­tack when it comes to all the sweets that will de­scend on the kitchen/liv­ing room floor on Oc­to­ber 31.

For Hal­loween and par­ties, I be­lieve chil­dren should be al­lowed to eat freely. Look on them as a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity to help chil­dren learn how to man­age their own stash of sweets. Help set them up for suc­cess by en­sur­ing they have a good meal be­fore they leave. Send­ing them out trick or treat-

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