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When is a Treat Not a Treat Anymore?

Help us parents navigate the endless stream of child focused sweets.

For most of us there is a place for enjoying sweet food on occasion and it can be an important part of our cultural and social traditions, a way to connect with others. However, if your family is like ours, you recognize that the opportunities for children to have treats are endless. At holiday celebrations, events, as prizes/motivation, at school (birthday cupcakes, celebrations, incentives...). As a naturopathic doctor I see this as a very basic health concern and as a parent, it's an added stressor to navigate.

This is not about strict avoidance, I don't want my children to feel left out of celebrations or traditions. But sugar (and the various additives and colours that come with many “treats”) makes it harder for our bodies to function well, and the more we have, the harder it is to maintain good health.

It is my hope we are seeing momentum build for a cultural shift away from excessive sugar consumption. It means more awareness of options and forethought (how else could we make this moment special? Is there something else we could enjoy that is a little “cleaner”?). We have begun a cultural shift away from products that are toxic to the environment and we are extending that to toxins to our bodies.

Here are a few examples of the ways that I have tried to navigate the sugar conundrum.

Quality over quantity (rather than cutting costs with cheaper products that have more sugar/chemicals and additives). Introduce your child early to good quality dark chocolate. If you want to offer candy, health food stores such Lifestyle Markets often sell healthier versions that at least don't have as many chemicals and have more natural sweeteners (it's still sugar though!). Teach your child to savour a little rather than indulge in a lot.

Make "treats" yourself. You control the sugar used (or use less processed sweet alternatives – honey, maple syrup, dates etc..). The internet is full of blogs dedicated to healthier baking, home made popsicles, even home-made candy (homemade gummies made from juice are actually really easy!). I always say, taste buds are trainable. By offering less sweet options your child will be more likely to enjoy more natural sweets.

If you celebrate Easter, consider buying reusable Easter eggs and hide non-food treats inside for them to find. We have done this with small playmobile and Lego sets that we break up and hide in the eggs. Older children could do a treasure hunt with clues inside the eggs. You could pair this with a good quality treat (this year our boys got small Denman Island Chocolate Bunnies).

Of course, then there's Halloween.

Ever heard of the Switch Witch? She loves candy and comes on Halloween night, our children participate in trick-or-treating and are allowed to enjoy a small portion of the bounty. Then the Switch Witch takes the rest and leaves them, in trade, something they want (a toy, a book etc...). If you want to give out candy on Halloween, we find more natural options and offer one per child. Or, consider a non-candy option. One year, our neighbour gave out passes to the local recreation centre to the kids on our street!

Birthday parties!

If you plan to serve a cake, and some festive food, do you also need to fill a grab bag with treats? If you feel the need to send guests home with something, I've seen some creative (non food/non plastic) ideas such as used/new books, or something the children made at the party. Tired parent without the energy for creativity? Maybe we don't need to send kids home with anything (many parents will support that!)?

We all know that sugar isn't good for us, but our actions aren't always congruent with this knowledge. As we come out of this pandemic and more regular activities and events start up once again, many are urging us to think more about the choices that we make to create a better world. Perhaps this evolution could extend to our bodies (and our children's) as well?

Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic.