How to Limit Your Kid's Sugar without Starting a War

Mighty Mommy Cheryl Butler joins me to talk about the best ways to set limits on your children's sugar intake without alienating Grandma.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #370

I have a treat for you this week! Cheryl Butler from the Might Mommy podcast joined me to talk turkey about kids and sugar.  As the Mom of eight kids, Cheryl’s an amazing resource for tried and true answers to your parenting dilemmas. 

You’ve all heard me talk before about the importance of limiting our sugar intake. But most kids naturally love sweets. So, how do you set (and enforce) reasonable limits on sweets without it being a constant battle?

Mighty Mommy: Kids need boundaries, and most actually thrive when limits are set for them because they know what to expect. When it comes to treats, although most kids do naturally gravitate towards sweets such as cookies and candy, if they are taught that such goodies are for special occasions, or can be enjoyed from time to time, and not as part of their everyday diets, they can definitely learn to accept these boundaries and will be accepting of eating this way.  Of course, don’t expect them to understand that sugary treats are not the norm if you as the parent aren’t consistent. You can’t allow cupcakes and brownies for snack every day one week and then try to encourage your child to eat apples and orange wedges the next. I always try to have a bowl of fruit on the kitchen island as well as snacks like wheat crackers and hummus dip or peanuts in the shell or pita bread that they can spread almond butter and cinnamon on at the ready for snacks. Do we enjoy cookies and ice cream in our house? You bet—but we save it for times like the weekends or vacation days and then we enjoy in moderation. They appreciate a hot fudge sundae all the more when they aren’t considered a staple in their daily diets.

Nutrition Diva: So let’s say you’ve actually managed to pull that off at home. How do you handle it when your kids go to a friend's house (or to Grandma's) and the rules are looser than they are at home? Do you ask the host to uphold your limits or do you let the kids off the hook for the day? Would you ever NOT let your child play or visit somewhere because you know they'll get too much sugar?

MM: I’ve found that by simply keeping the lines of communication open with my kid’s friend’s parents is usually enough to keep them eating the way we do in our house. Playdates are fun occasions so I don’t mind if they enjoy something like milk and cookies or something similar for their snack. Because they are eating healthy while at home, I don’t think having an extra treat or two on occasion is going to be harmful, however, we did have to address a sugar situation with one of the grandparents a few years back. She wanted to spoil them each time they would visit so she literally had bottles of soda, bags of candy, and nearly every other sugary concoction available out and ready for them. In fact, she’d let them help themselves rather than monitor how much they were taking.  Although it initially hurt her feelings, we had to take her aside and tell her that we couldn’t allow that type of over indulging under any circumstances. It did take her a few visits to honor our wishes, but she eventually got the message. At one point, I had to take the kids outside to play while my husband took all the soda and candy and bag it up so it was “out of sight, out of mind” for one of our visits.  

ND: A while back I wrote about efforts to shift classroom celebrations and fundraisers away from cupcakes and candy bars and toward healthier foods (or non-food activities and rewards). Have you seen any changes or attempts at change in your kids' schools? Do you think this is a fight worth fighting or are we taking all the fun out of childhood?


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.