Summer is such a wonderful time of year. The days are longer. Exciting activities are available almost everywhere you look. And it is a time of celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. All of this is fun and wonderful, but it can also be a minefield of tricky food situations. It is hard to say no to your kids when you are all in the midst of having a good time. You don’t want to face the tantrums and you don’t want to be the mean parent. On the other hand, it is also stressful to watch them ruin their dinner for what feels like the 5,000th time, to see them fill up on “junk.”
So as we enter into the season of ice creams by the pool, popsicles at the parade, and hot dogs at the ball game, perhaps this is a good time to make a game plan for how you are going to handle all of those food choices with your kids. Are you going to limit the special treats or just let them have it all since it is summer? If you are going to set limits, what will those limits look like? How are you going to negotiate this with your kids?
Here is my approach:
1) They are allowed one “treat” a day. What they have and when they have it is their choice, but they only get one. Now, this may be too much or too little for you. You need to decide what the right amount is, but the point is that you pick an amount and stick to it. I have established this as a guideline with my kids. They know the deal, so it won’t come as a shock when situations arise.
For example, the other day my in-laws brought over two of those little single-serving cartons of ice cream for the boys for dessert. Each boy ate half of their container for dinner and then saved the second half for the next day. At breakfast the next morning they both asked for their ice cream. My answer was, “you can have your ice cream now, but then you need to remember that this is your treat for the day and dessert at dinner will be fruit. Are you ok with that?” My three-year-old said, “yes” and ate his ice cream as part of his breakfast. My six-year-old decided to save his until dinnertime. When we got to dinner I was worried that my three-year-old would freak out that he wasn’t getting ice cream, but he didn’t. I reminded him of his choice earlier in the day, he made one whimper, and then ate his strawberries.
2) If it is going to be a day full of temptations we strategize ahead of time. On those days that are chock-full of temptations—multiple parties, carnivals, etc. I try to have a conversation with them ahead of time to make a plan. I do this with them so that I have their buy-in. If they want to have two mini-treats, they can do that. If they want to have one normal-sized thing, fine.
3) When the meltdowns happen, I am sympathetic but stand firm. Let’s be honest, even if everything is done right and everyone has been on the same page, they are kids and there will be meltdowns. In these situations, I try my very hardest to stick to my guns. I try to be sympathetic, comforting, and kind, but to remain clear that they made a choice earlier and they have to stick to that.
4) I stick to the rule, too. It wouldn’t be fair if I was eating two ice creams and only allowing them one, and it also sends mixed messages. So I work hard to be consistent in my own behavior and model what it is that I expect of them.
5) I try to provide non-food and healthy-food options for fun and celebration. I don’t want my kids to think that the only way to celebrate, relax, or bond is through treat foods. I want them to experience how special a fruit salad or fresh corn-on-the-cob can be and I want them to see the joy in non-food activities, whether it be running through the sprinkler together or making it to the top of a mountain on a hike.
How do you handle the onslaught of summer time treats? Is this easy or hard to navigate?