“Mommy, can I have a lollipop? Can I have gummies? Ooh, can I have one of those chewy guys? How about Skittles — I get Skittles at school. Ooh ooh, I want a red lollipop, not a purple one.”
Should I mention it’s pre-6 am and the last thing my high-energy 3-year-old needs is sugar, sugar, and more sugar? I could use some sugar to keep up with him, but I stick to coffee instead.
We’re not a sugar-loaded household, so I don’t know where this obsession came from. But what I do know is that it’s constant, unrelenting, and frankly, rather annoying.
I did the best I could to keep my little one away from unnecessary sugar when he was younger. I got teased and ridiculed a bit when I made his first birthday cake using pear juice instead of traditional granulated sugar and laughed at when I said he’d never had a cookie or sweet before. But I was OK with being picked on a little bit because I didn’t think there was any reason my barely 1-year-old needed sugar, and I certainly wasn’t depriving him of an experience because he was ONE — a baby. He didn’t have a clue it could taste any different and he loved every bite of it.
But as he got older, I knew my reign on the no-added-sugar campaign would come to an end.
I didn’t want to be so extreme that my guidance would backfire. I didn’t want my son to be the one raiding his friends’ pantries after school because his mom never bought any of the good stuff. I didn’t want him to suddenly get his hands on sugar — a foreign entity — and go completely crazy.
So we slowly started allowing a little bit here and there when it seemed appropriate. I didn’t freak out or even say anything at all when he dove into his Halloween bucket and pulled out his prized lollipop. I didn’t get my panties in a wad when I learned that the potty-training method of choice at my son’s preschool was to reward them with Skittles even though he was already potty-trained before the school year started. I didn’t say no when he picked up a lollipop every single time we left the drop-off daycare. (I actually loved those lollipops, as I think they might have been the only reason he would go in the first place.)
The problem started when sugary sweets started popping up everywhere. They weren’t rare occasions but common occurrences, and soon candy was associated with everything. He wanted jelly beans as a reward for letting me cut his hair. He wanted a lollipop for going to the gym. He wanted some gummy snacks as a prize for taking a nap. He wanted cupcakes because it was probably somebody’s birthday sometime soon.
I don’t know how we got here. I didn’t suggest he start getting candy as a reward for doing things he should be doing anyways, and I certainly don’t cave in and give him something just because he asks for it. But whether I let him eat it or don’t, I still end up with the same result: he wants it constantly.
I can’t blame him — candy is delicious — but obviously a 3-year-old (or myself as a 30-year-old) doesn’t need that much sugar.
With our general food and eating practices, we treat all foods the same. I don’t label foods as “good” or “bad” and try not to get excited when he asks for more parsnips or artichokes. I try to act as if French fries are the same as green beans and don’t make a big deal about one of them being a special treat.
Instead we talk about what foods help us grow strong and healthy and what foods are just for fun. We try to teach him (on a 3-year-old level) what good nutrition is and how to eat a balanced diet without creating confusing restrictions. But if I add straight-up sugar to the list of foods that are “OK” and try not to make a big deal out of it, we end up backed into a corner. I understand how a 3-year-old could be confused by the fact that candy is limited but raisins aren’t, but it doesn’t help us get anywhere.
I can’t tie all this up with a neat little bow and finish it with our solution, because so far we don’t have one that’s any better than saying “no” or “we don’t have any.” That solves the problem with how much sugar he eats, but not him asking for it or understanding why it’s not a free for all or drawing extra attention to this one particular type of food. Paying attention to it and not paying attention to it end up with the same result.
So, how do you handle sugar in your house?More On