Curbing Your Child’s Sweet Tooth

Healthy ways to satisfy the sugar crave

Curbing Your Child's Sweet ToothCandies, cookies, chocolate — they all seem to find a way into the hands of children at this time of year (and Valentine’s Day, and Easter). But instead of banning treats from your home altogether, there are ways to let kids satisfy their sweet tooth without going overboard.

Strike a balance

We’re exposed to sugar from many food sources, both good (fruit and vegetables) and bad (candy bars), so aim to find a healthy compromise, says Lisa Weinberg, a Toronto-based registered dietician and mom of two who specializes in kids’ nutrition. It’s OK for kids to have some sugar as a portion of their diet, she says, “so long as you combine sugar with nutritious choices and don’t allow sweet treats to replace healthy choices.”


This is what she does with her own children when they’ve finished dinner. “I’m fine with my kids having a scoop of frozen yogurt with berries and some chocolate sauce on top for dessert, because they’re getting some calcium, protein and vitamins,” says Weinberg. However, she warns against empty-calorie treats such as lollipops, “which are not filling, bad for teeth and offer no nutritional value.”

Sugar, sugar

In addition to displacing healthier foods, the main risk with too much sugar at this age is tooth decay. Grazing on sweets all day is particularly bad for teeth. “Your teeth will be exposed to sugars following each meal anyway — additional sweet snacks will increase the exposure time greatly,” says Darryl Smith, president of the Canadian Dental Association, and a practicing dentist in Valleyview, Alta. It’s also wise to save sweets for dessert for a different reason — there’s more saliva around from eating a meal to wash it away. Avoid bedtime snacking too, especially after they’ve already brushed their teeth, adds Smith, because there’s a lot less saliva flow in the mouth during sleep, which means that sugars linger much longer.

As for sugar being the reason your child is acting up, the Public Health Agency of Canada has said that sugar does not cause or worsen hyperactivity. In fact, consuming a lot of sugar may cause a relaxed state or even drowsiness. Sugar aside, watch for heart disease-promoting trans fats in baked goods — such as cookies and cake — and chocolate bars and ice cream, warns Weinberg.

Sweet Fix Tips

  • Don’t use sweets as a reward for things like good behaviour. Consider using stickers, small toys or praise.
  • Walk the talk by eating healthy snacks and choosing healthy foods at mealtime.
  • Limit the amount of sweets you buy.
  • Don’t forbid sweets completely. Doing that will only increase a child’s interest in them outside the home, says Weinberg.
  • Limit the amount of sweets your child eats. One or two candies are fine; a whole bag is not.
  • Stock healthy snacks such as cheese, fruit, vegetables, whole-grain crackers and nuts.
  • Get kids to drink water instead of sweetened beverages.

Angela Pirisi’s own treat-seeking daughter, Brigitte, 3, suggests things like opening the whole chocolate advent calendar in one day!

surprising sweets stats

The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10 per cent of our calories should come from added sugars. For children, that can mean as little as 10 teaspoons’ worth (lots of room for nutritious foods with some sweetening, but little for sugary treats). To limit added sugars, check nutrition and ingredient labels for sugar and its equivalents, including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, honey and molasses.

Here are some examples of the sugar content in popular foods. (1 tsp = 4 grams)

Low fat yogurt, plain, 6 oz. – 2 ¼ tsps
Snickers bar, 2.1 oz. – 7 ½ tsps
Low fat fruit-flavoured yogurt, 6 oz. – 6 ¼ tsps
Pepsi, 12 oz. – 10 ¼ tsps
Pancake syrup, ¼ cup – 8 tsps
McDonald’s Vanilla Shake, 21 oz. – 24 tsps

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