Never say never
Some foods have few redeeming features. Soda is a good case in point. While you’d rather your tot stick to milk or water, just a few sips of soda can get him hooked and asking for it. Plus, if he sees mom or older siblings swigging soda, “he’ll want to imitate that behavior,” says Shu. Loaded with sugar, caffeine and empty calories, soda has no nutritional value. Think of it as dessert, says Jana. “People give their child soda when they would never give them dessert.” Does that mean you should ban soda or other nutrition-poor foods entirely? No. “There’s very little that’s non-negotiable,” says Jana. “‘Never’ is too diffi cult to stick to.” She let her own children have soda as a treat when they ate in a restaurant because that was an infrequent occurrence.
If a busy lifestyle dictates that you eat out several days a week, then you might determine that they can have soda (or chips, candy or ice cream) on only one of those days. An elementary school-age child is capable of deciding when they have a treat, and of keeping track, says Jana. The bonus: When kids understand the trade-off—if they get it now, they don’t get it later—they’ve learned valuable real-world skills as opposed to being in a protected food environment.
Gotta love those granny pantries
You’ve worked at establishing healthy habits, and then your tots go to visit grandma, who stuffs them with chocolate before serving a macaroni and cheese dinner. Or they go to a play-date at a home with different food rules. It doesn’t mean all your work is undone.
“You want to be consistent, but you have to realize that not everyone is going to have the same guidelines,” Shu explains. While some children are very dependent upon routine when they’re young, and others are able to adapt to changes, “they usually can pick up that rules are different in one place compared to at home,” says Shu.
If your children know they’re going to get treats when they visit grandma and grandpa, as long as it’s not harmful or too frequent, let them have fun. “I’m a big believer that kids learn in context,” says Jana. “Make sure they understand that this is the exception to the rule; if you’ve been working on the basic principles all along, that is usually very clear. And making exceptions provides a healthy dose of reality.” However, if grandparents watch your children 40 hours a week and don’t follow fundamental rules that are important to you, you need to rethink your childcare plan.