+ Well Nourished | Healthy Treats for Kids

The Well Nourished Child -Treats

Treat (noun);  an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.  Have a think about this definition and how it honestly applies to your child or children (or even yourself)?  My kids are overjoyed, ecstatic and very grateful when they receive a treat.  Quite often they will be excited to show school mates their once a week tuck shop treat (who generally just don’t get the big deal and think them quite mad).  They go into a frenzy at parties and free for all occasions.  But this is because treats for them are…well treats in the true sense of the word.

There are many aspects of parenting, where I fail miserably.  I haven’t always been able to balance my kids desire for treats versus my unwillingness to allow them to eat nutritionally void foods.  But ever conscious of developing a positive relationship between my kids and the food they consume (even if it is junk food), I feel I have finally reached a happy medium.

You see I do allow my kids to have treats, but I have set boundaries and now have a method for allowing weekly junk food treats, without my kids nagging, begging or pleading with me for them.  But more on this in a moment.

So what are treat foods?
For me, they are foods that are one or more of the following:

  • Processed or refined
  • Offer little or no nourishment
  • Sugar loaded
  • Vegetable oil laden

This includes the obvious ones…lollies, chocolate, ice-cream, crisps, hot chips, processed biscuits and cakes.  But also some of the less obvious including fruit flavoured anything really.  For example; fruit yogurts, fruit cups, fruit straps,  fruit juice (even 100%).  Muesli bars, health bars, vege chips, refined bread, any breakfast bars or drinks (like Up and Go), I could go on, but I think this covers the most common offenders….

The best of the bunch
When it comes to treats, there are the bad and the ugly (that contain dangerous additives which can adversely affect your child’s health for life).  As always, the fast way to identify the most processed, damaging products is by a long list of often unrecognisable ingredients.  But here’s a few more general tips for choosing the least detrimental treats…

  • Chocolate – always go for dark or plain chocolate (white or regular) where possible – freddo frogs over caramello koalas, maltesers over smarties, honeycomb over mars or snickers.  I know many of you are sighing right about now.  But seriously, your children will most likely be just as happy with a freddo over a caramello koala and you’ll be doing their long term health a real favour.  Kinder surprises are a good choice and a big hit in our house too.
  • Lollies – Natural, preservative and additive free, please.
  • Crisps – Your best choice is always plain salted varieties. Please never give your kids flavoured corn chips (some of the organic ones are ok though) or those toxic yellow cheese products (so damaging).
  • Ice cream – additive free varieties made from milk,cream, sugar and eggs is best.  Check the ingredient panel.
  • Cakes and biscuits – home made is the obvious answer.  If you do buy them, the shorter the shelf life, the better.  Never buy those ‘cakes’ with ‘years from now’ shelf life and too many ingredients to count.

Eliminate treat stress
Junk food treats should definitely NOT be daily and I just wanted to share how ‘treat days’ have helped my family (and sanity).  I was sick of being hassled for treats on a daily basis and also concerned how treats were becoming more and more frequent (just to give me some peace as my kids can be relentless)!  I realised that treating without boundaries was leaving me vulnerable for my kids to nag, whine and whinge their way to a treat.  So I set some boundaries and negotiated with the kids that they were allowed three treats a week on specified treat days.  We agreed on the ‘treat days’ together (which satisfies their need for control) and they now know not to even ask on other days for treats.

I occasionally have to default back to the boundaries we have set.  My youngest often enquires ‘is today a treat day’ (he hasn’t quite grasped days of the week yet)?  If the answer is ‘no’, then that’s the end of it, no whining or hassling (which for my kids is a minor miracle)!  Even my extremely tenacious daughter knows not to question treat boundaries.

We have made the treat days Friday (tuck shop treat), Saturday and Sunday plus birthday parties and other celebrations are ‘automatic’ treat days.  This works well for us all.  The kids are happy and I no longer get hassled.

Treat days are also great for teaching delayed gratification.  For example, if my kids pick up a Kinder Surprise at the counter of the supermarket mid-week, I explain that I can buy it for them now to eat on their next treat day.  They get the treat, but  learn that they need to wait for a treat day to eat it!

So that’s it I think for treats.  Any other ideas, suggestions or comments on this topic?  I’d love to hear from you, please post a comment below.

UPDATE
A bit of an update since I wrote this post – a year on and my kids desire for ‘treats’ (always struggle with the irony of this wording), is much diminished.  They rarely ask anymore, so if they don’t ask, I certainly don’t offer. I do find that after high sugar periods (Christmas and Easter) they seek them out more (read about why kids seek out processed foods, here), so I just revert to ‘treat days’ again and we get back on track. My 10 year old has gone from a party scoffing princess, to recognising that junk food just doesn’t make her feel good, so she no longer goes nuts for it (hallelujah my persistence is finally paying off)!

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  • Lucy

    SUCH a good idea! Will be trying this one out when the time comes 🙂

    • Definitely worth keeping in mind Lucy. It’s amazing how treats can get out of hand, even when your mindful! G x

  • Karen

    Is there a reason why you say white or regular for chocolate? Do you not recommend dark? thanks.

    • Because I was posting on treats for the average child, by ‘regular’ I meant either milk or dark just not ever flavoured or filled. In health posts and all of my recipes dark chocolate (85%) is my preference. So yes, I will always recommend homemade raw chocolate first, 85% dark next. Hope that clarifies my point. G x

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  • cel

    I would love to know which ice creams are good to purchase??

    • Any brand with the least ingredients and ingredients that you can identify – look for eggs, cream sugar for example for a vanilla ice-cream. Avoid numbers where possible or anything brightly coloured, G x

  • Maddi

    Thanks for this… I have seen so many posts with “SUGAR IS POISON, I’LL NEVER POISON MY KIDS”… whilst those people are clearly well intentioned I don’t think they realise this is not creating a healthy relationship with food. I have a dear friends whose mother was very strict and controlling with food. As soon as my friend left home she just went crazy and binged regularly on junk foods. She has, to this day, a destructive relationship with food, going from obese to anorexic and back again.

    • You’re welcome Maddi. Yes it is important to find some middle ground with kids in creating a healthy relationship with food. I was much stricter on my first (daughter) and as she got older I saw her starting to rebel. So I really backed off and I’ve noticed the older and wiser she gets she actually gets that sugar makes her feel awful and doesn’t overdo it like she did when she was little. G x

      • Zane

        I have a hard time finding a middle ground. My daughter loves treats. Would you just recommend not having them around the house at all? I think when my daughter goes to friends, she does eat like crazy. I love the treat days idea. I’ll try that!

  • Kerri

    Oh thank you for this post! I have been struggling lately as we have always been very ‘strict’ with treat foods but I’m finding more and more that our boys are rebelling (esp our youngest who is 5) and vacuuming treats at parties and special occasions. It’s becoming quite stressful!! I will now try this tact and hopefully it will be a little more relaxed for us all 🙂

  • Zane

    Georgia, Are your sweets recipe (cookie monsters, sweet shorties, etc.) considered as treats in your house? Or do you wait until treat days? Thanks a bunch again xxx

    • That’s your call really. These home baked sweets are obviously a whole lot better than a processed treat, but what ever you both agree on, consider ‘treats’. My kids are 8 and 12 now and since doing treat days for quite a few years now, we just don’t eat too much sweet stuff anymore (and they no longer go crazy for it like they used to). That’s the best part of setting boundaries around food, they get to a point where they aren’t so bothered with having ‘treats’. They have a home baked cookie or savoury cracker most days in school lunches (sweet is probably 3 out of 5 days), then if there happens to be a party on the weekend, or if I make dessert every now and then, they might have junk. Hope this helps G x

      • Zane

        Thank you so much you have helped me a lot. My daughter saw The e book on my computer and asked if I could make them for her. This weekend we will be baking and cooking away. Will be posting pictures for you 🙂 lots of love! Zane x

        • I love seeing pics in my social media feeds – thanks and enjoy Gx

  • Kerri

    Thanks Georgia. We are still trying to find that balance to ensure they have a healthy relationship with food. On treat days (maybe more so when they were younger) were they allowed unlimited treats or was it more that they could pick one treat per treat day?? Thanks so much 😘

    • HI Kerri, just one treat generally. Obviously at parties it was more, but on a regular treat day just one (maybe an ice-cream or chocolate) G x

  • Kate Martyn

    i love this post because it is so relevant. I am an very clean eater, but I am also aware that growing up the kids whose parents set the most restrictions when it came to eating and drinking were the ones that endulged the most. It is something I will struggle with but know I need to find a happy area. Just a quick question, I know you’ve covered how to atleast choose the least bad of the bad but when the kids are at party’s or the tuck shop and there is all that food with colours, toxins etc and they go for them what do you do? That’s where I will struggle the most I think because establishing treats and picking them is one thing but how do you control (without being strict and over bearing) at things like party’s?

    Cheers, Kate

    • Great question Kate. It is SO tough. With my daughter (eldest) I always tried to direct her away from the bad to the good at parties but she liked to push my buttons so she learned quickly that eating the brightly coloured stuff wound me up (ha ha). So seeing that, I actually backed away and just let her learn the hard way. Both my kids have each had a ‘spewed after a party’ experience and it has actually helped in the long run as neither want a repeat (and they both understand the reason why they spewed due to my lengthy de-brief).

      With parties I also hope like anything that parents follow me (or another health blogger) and realise that you can have a fun party without the really dangerous stuff. Party bags they get to choose one item and the rest hits the top shelf of the pantry (where I eventually remove the worse offenders) and the rest can be eaten on a treat day if they choose. Just talking to your kids (gently away from occasions) about better choices at parties – I talk in terms of how much I care for them and how these foods can make them sick or stop them from being strong/smart/beautiful (what ever appeals to them the most.

      Tuckshop – I think you are with your rights to suggest to the operator to have at least one better option (so ask that they stock an additive free sweet or ice cream). My kids are allowed these options if they want a treat at school and they are happy with that. Hope this helps G x

      • Kate Martyn

        Thanks Georgia

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