image via www.eretiko-istologio.blogspot.com
Are you already dreading the inevitable battles with your children and their desire to munch on something sweet, wrapped in foil and shaped like a rabbit? With so many mixed messages Easter can be a confusing time – do you ban chocolate altogether or let them eat until their heart’s content?
Rest assured you can let your child eat chocolate this Easter. That’s right, we’re dietitians and we’re advocating to let your child eat chocolate. As tempting as it might be to micromanage your kids’ consumption of chocolate and sweets over Easter, the research has found that more flexibility around food can actually help create lifelong healthier eating habits.
Let us explain.
Tight restrictions on foods can backfire
While banning chocolate might seem like an effective way to create healthy eaters, this is not necessarily the case. Research suggests that parents who place too much control over discretionary foods such as chocolate can contribute to children having a long-term obsession with these foods. This might take the form of hiding certain foods, or overeating them when they are available. Overtime, this may result in children associating negative emotions like shame and guilt with certain foods, which can be detrimental to their emotional wellbeing. Focus on the healthy foods your child should be eating rather than being overly restrictive on what they shouldn’t be eating.
Food should not be labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
Food nowadays tends to come tagged as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Some foods are healthier than others, there is no doubt about it, however, it is not so black and white. While there may be foods that are healthier than chocolate, this does not make chocolate a ‘bad’ food. Teaching kids to view foods with such labels does not help them to develop a healthy relationship with food and can take the enjoyment out of eating. It’s important to understand that ALL foods can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet, and no foods should be completely off limits.
Food should not be offered as a reward
It can be easy to get into the pattern of offering (unhealthy) food as a reward as it can be an effective way to encourage desirable behaviour. Statements like “you can eat some chocolate after you finish your broccoli” may seem relatively harmless, however, can lead to children associating eating broccoli as a chore (a negative experience) and chocolate a reward (a positive experience). Overtime such correlations can become imprinted in their mind. Instead offer chocolate every now and then as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Making sure your kids know that treats aren’t forbidden, and that they are able to enjoy them in moderation regularly, is hugely important.
Role model moderation
As a parent it is so important that you model moderation for your kids. How you talk about food and the foods you choose to eat essentially establish what ‘healthy eating’ is for your children. If you’re overly restrictive or concerned about numbers on a scale, you risk children developing unhealthy attitudes towards foods. Don’t be mistaken, we are not advocating you feed your child copious amounts of chocolate over Easter. However, be assured that you can still have a healthy diet and still indulge in foods like chocolate every now and then.
As long as your child is active and eats a healthy and balanced diet most of the time, a little bit of chocolate over the Easter period (and beyond) is likely to do them more good than harm! Try and use these experiences to teach your children moderation and mindfulness around portion sizes and balance.
*Note: In general, babies younger than 18 months should avoid chocolate.
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