In the new year, the government issued some advice on snacking to try to address the obesity and tooth decay epidemic in the UK.
They recommended that parents should only give children snacks under 100 calories and that they should limit them to two a day.
This sounds like a positive step to tackle what is fast becoming a health epidemic. But for some, it risks sending mixed messages.
Two too many?
Since the most marketed snacks are biscuits, chocolate, cereal bars, sweets and crisps, there’s a risk that some parents will think it’s safe to let their children have as many of two of these a day.
One such voice amongst the fray was Australian nutritionist Rosemary Stanton who said that “Cutting back is not the answer. Two snacks is too generous; it’s still maintaining the bad habits, when what we’ve got to do is change the bad habits.”
Extractions for tooth decay in children rose in 2016-17 from the previous year, with 42,911 operations required to remove children’s teeth. And we know that snacking regularly on processed, high-sugar and high-carb foods can be a trigger for tooth decay to develop.
So how can you stop kids from snacking?
We find the best way to try and change a desire for sugar or carbs is to think of it as a gradual process.
Here are a few steps to consider:
1. Recognise what’s realistic – You won’t have much luck trying to get your child to shun sugar completely from their diets. Not least because hidden sugars are everywhere, but also because the odd indulgence can be part of living a full and enjoyable life. So set a realistic goal. Do you want them to recognise snacks as an after-dinner dessert, a treat which they eat just on weekends or only for special occasions?
2. Keep a sugar diary – Depending on how old your child is, this will be easier for some than others. Try to monitor what your child consumes during a typical week so that you can tot up the sugar and see where you can cut down. A handy app like MyFitnessPal will help, or you can do it the old-school way like this example.
3. Be straight with them – Suddenly removing their favourite snacks won’t earn you any friends! Level with them; explain the problems with these snacks and the consequences of eating them long term. Explain they’re not bad for eating them but that as a family you’d like to eat fewer and keep them for special occasions. Then as these gradually disappear from the cupboards over a period of weeks or months, it won’t be such a shock.
4. Understand that it takes time – You’re unlikely to form a new habit that sticks if you try and do a rush job. Build up to cutting down on sugar so that your child’s body begins to get used to its absence. Draw up or print off a calendar and break it up into four sections (feel free to adjust the time frames according to what works for you and your family):
- 2 weeks of cutting back (try to remove key items week by week from the cupboards or mealtimes – think crisps, sauces, fries, sugary juices)
- 2 weeks of eating sugar only around evening meals
- 2 weeks of eating sugar only on alternate evenings
- 2 weeks of eating sugar only on weekend evenings
- 2 weeks of going sugar-free (They don’t need to stay sugar-free by the end of the process, but you will hopefully have reduced their cravings for sugar. Be careful when reintroducing it, however. This should be done according to your goal – for special occasions or on weekends, whatever you agreed.)
5. Do your research – There are sugar-free alternatives to sweets and chocolates and you can use the Sugar Smart app to help. You can also bake your own sugar-free desserts using sweetener. However, you also need to think about savoury snacks. Switch up starchy carbs with wholemeal breads and pastas, as well as sweet potatoes instead of mashed white potatoes or processed potato shapes.
6. Accept that you can’t control everything – There will be birthday parties, supermarket tantrums, and when your child gets older, they’ll be in charge much more of their own diet. All you can do is try to influence what you give to your child now and what they eat in the home. Being honest in the way you talk to them about sugar and its dangers is the first step, but trying to guilt trip them or limit their freedoms will eventually end in disaster. The earlier you can try to change their habits, the more success you’re likely to have at curbing their desires further down the line.
7. Join in – Make this a shared family experience – after all, if a new regime is good enough for your child, it’s good enough for you!
If you’re having trouble getting your child to understand the problems with snacking, we are experts in children’s dentistry. When you book your family dental checkup, let our receptionist know that you’re trying to eat healthier and would like some tips and we’ll do our best to offer advice that helps make a difference.