My wife and I recently adopted a 4-year-old child from foster care. We are at odds in determining the amount of candy to give him. I am concerned he will develop poor eating habits, and she is concerned that if she does not supply him with a daily amount of candy that he will overindulge himself once he is on his own. Our society does not reinforce proper eating habits, and I think fruits can satisfy most of those sweet cravings and still supply some vitamins and minerals. Candy is everywhere, and I do not advocate total elimination. Your thoughts?
With young children, it can be difficult to know how to handle special treats. Your wife’s concern about the “forbidden fruit” phenomenon (or forbidden candy) is not unfounded. Telling a child he can’t have something often makes that item even more desirable. But that does not necessarily mean that a child ought to be given candy every day. It’s up to parents to set reasonable guidelines for a child’s diet, just as it is for other aspects of a child’s behavior. And it’s important that parents explain the reasons for those guidelines so that as a child grows older, he has a framework for making healthy choices on his own. Of course, as with all areas of behavior, the example parents set with their own behavior (eating habits, in this case) will be the most powerful lesson of all.
Like you, I would prefer to offer candy only as an occasional treat. I would not want my children to grow up believing that they are entitled to candy every single day. That said, I believe the most important issue here is the overall eating pattern you and your wife are helping your son establish. If your son is being encouraged to eat a well-balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, and if he is given a small piece of candy after a healthful meal, then probably no serious harm is being done. But if he’s eating large amounts of candy, or if the candy is reducing his appetite for nutritious foods, he could be headed for trouble. Eating habits established early in life have long-term consequences for health and nutrition. And high-calorie, or empty-calorie, diets in the early years of life have been associated with obesity, both in childhood and at later ages.
So, what can you do? If your son is aware that you and his mom disagree about the candy, you’re at risk of being the bad guy– the candy police, so to speak. But if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, you can seize an opportunity here to broaden your son’s (and perhaps your wife’s) sense of what a special treat is, and to have some fun at the same time. On these hot summer days, how about engaging your son in making ice-cube-tray popsicles with real fruit juice. (For something different, try adding a fresh strawberry or raspberry to each cube.) Or use the blender to mix up a fruit smoothie, letting your son create his own concoction with fresh or frozen fruits, a little yogurt, and his favorite juice. Or add a bit of honey and a splash of orange juice to a small bowl of vanilla yogurt, then use it as a dip for chunks of fruit or small graham crackers. These are just a few of the treats that have satisfied the sweet tooth of youngsters around our house over the years, and provided some nutritional value at the same time. I’m sure you and your son can create your own recipes or find other nutritious ideas in one of many children’s cookbooks available at your public library. And I hope your wife will agree to pull back on the candy consumption, at least part of the time, and join you in exploring more healthful alternatives.