You can try your best to feed Baby a healthy, balanced diet, but something a little less wholesome will slip into his routine. He may have that first taste of candy at Grandma’s, or his first juicebox at daycare, and before you know it you may have real-life cookie monster on your hands.
While occasional treats seem harmless, it’s easy to go overboard, which can lead to health problems down the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are eating and drinking foods and beverages that contain too many added sugars, which can contribute to medical issues like weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Sugary drinks and candy cause problems for your tot’s teeth, too, with excess sugar being linked to tooth decay. By 3 years old, approximately 28% of children have one or more cavities, which increases the risk of cavities in their adult teeth.
Though the statistics sound scary, it’s not necessary to cut sweets cold turkey. Instead, here are some tips for treating your toddler, and on how to be a savvy consumer.
- Stick with healthy sweets: Treats don’t have to mean cake and ice cream. If Baby has a sweet tooth, you can try to offer nutritious options to fulfill his requests, like a tasty fruit smoothie with lots of berries, or even a glass of milk with his cookie, because a bit of protein, like the amount in milk, can help curb the sugar crash.
- Read the label: Even foods that are marketed toward children, and that are described as “healthy” are often packed with some not-so-great ingredients. Making a point to read food labels is a great way to ensure you’re making the right choices. Skip food and drink that include words like “high-fructose corn syrup” or “juice concentrate,” as these are good indicators that what’s inside is packed with a lot of extra, added sugar.
- Avoid offering treats as a reward: Perhaps Baby is beginning to show an interest in potty training, and a friend said her child responded well to being offered candy after doing her business. Tempting as it can sound to try a little casual bribery, you’re also helping your child develop a relationship with food during this time, and using treats as rewards can start to build the connection between unhealthy foods and comfort in his mind. Instead, rewards like stickers and other small gifts can be great incentives to learn new skills.
- Remember to count drinks: Sweetened beverages pack a major caloric punch. If Baby is loading up on juice or sports drinks, he is probably getting too many calories from beverages, which leaves less room in his tummy for necessary nutrients. If he begs for juice regularly, a watered-down version can be better for his health and easier on his teeth.
- Be reasonable: Banning sweets altogether can have an adverse effect. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know cutting something out completely can make you want it even more, so keep that in mind when dealing with treats for Baby. This might also help convince him to avoid overindulging on special occasions, like birthday parties and holidays.
- “Dental Health & Hygiene for Young Children.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, October 14 2015. Web.
- “Know Your Limit For Added Sugars.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 27 2016. Web.