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!
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)!