Ah the good old days, before my first son quite understood what Easter signifies to most kids: CHOCOLATE! It’s that time of year that sends some parents in a panic about how to manage all that chocolate for their little ones. I’ll be honest, as a parent of two and a dietitian specializing in feeding kids, I still struggle with this. I think all parents do. I do, however, have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t (applying it perfectly, as most things in parenting, is a work in progress). So how do we strike that fine balance between allowing our children to enjoy all that is Easter while still setting them up for a positive relationship with food down the road? Here are my top 5 tips to make that happen.
1. Choose quality over quantity: I’m a big fan of dark chocolate, which has about half the sugar of milk chocolate. I recently heard a mom stating “kids don’t like dark chocolate”, which is kindof like saying kids don’t like potatoes (only french fries)”. Children’s tastebuds adapt to what they are exposed to. Offering a small piece of dark chocolate on occasion instead of milk chocolate will set their expectations that this is what chocolate tastes like.
2. Portion size maters: One of the problems with the evolution of easter is that serving sizes of chocolate eggs and bunnies are generally not age appropriate and are far too large for little tummies. Sure this is just one day (OK several) of the year, but giving large portions of chocolate skews their perceptions of these foods and how they fit into their overall diet. Serving a small chocolate egg in something like an egg cup, particularly for younger kids, can enable them to enjoy their treat without feeling overwhelmed by the amount.
3. Incorporate non-food surprises: The magic of Easter is in the surprise. Ok fine, it’s in the chocolate too, but some of my fondest memories of this occasion are the easter egg hunts I had with friends and family. Searching for those little eggs, finding them, and trying to keep up with my big brothers. We certainly found chocolate, but I also remember discovering simple little gifts like bunny erasers, bouncy balls, and stickers. There are also some super creative ways to make fun Easter-themed shapes out of foods like fruits and vegetables (for all you Pinterest moms out there). Crafts are another great way to participate in Easter festivities without all the sugar.
4. Set the limits: Sticking to your feeding job as a parent (offering nutritious meals and snacks, deciding when meals and snacks occur and where they are to take place) and allowing your child to do their job with eating (deciding how much and whether to eat) need not change over Easter. Try to set a reasonable expectation for your child’s consumption of chocolate and communicate this clearly to them. I find that most of the kids I have worked with who struggle with a limited list of foods they will eat have learned that if they push hard enough and tantrum long enough, the parent will acquiesce. If you are comfortable with them having some chocolate at Easter dinner or at a friend’s get together, decide how much is reasonable and when they should have it, and stick to your guns.
5. Minimize the interference: This is a tough one, trust me, I know. It also may seem contradictory to the previous point of setting limits, but both can work together. Once you have decided on what you feel is a reasonable amount of chocolate for your child for that day and have communicated this with them, try to take a step back and let them enjoy it all. Yes chocolate will be consumed, perhaps in larger quantities than we would normally allow in the year, but this will not make or break your child’s eating habits. Our kids are prone to copying the eating habits that we formed as children. One of the best ways to set them up for a healthy relationship with food is to let them see their parents enjoying occasional goodies like chocolate without guilt or shame (i.e. no hiding in the pantry downing a packet of mini eggs).
Happy Easter everyone! May the big bunny bring your kids lots of (dark!) chocolate (and would wine be too much to ask for for the parents)?
For more help managing your child’s eating, get in touch!