Between holidays, birthday parties, preschool events, and more, it can seem like life is just a steady stream of treats. Here are a few ways that I like to help keep the treats that my toddlers consume in perspective.

toddler hand and chocolate cupcake

Toddler Treats

I realize that this is not news to any parent of a little one. And honestly, finding reasons to celebrate with yummy food is usually a good thing—provided that it’s not undermining an overall diet. I doubt there will ever be a magic formula for balancing fruit snacks with kale chips or ice cream with chia pudding, but I’ve come up with a few strategies that help me feel like everything will be okay, that things will all balance out. Here it goes…

1. Pair sweets with protein.

This could mean offering milk with a cookie or a cupcake, giving a few nuts or a bit of nut butter alongside a brownie, or topping pudding with a dollop of thick and creamy yogurt. Adding a bit of protein to a sweeter snack helps energy levels stay even and turn a treat into a more satisfying snack.

2. Downsize the portions.

Whenever we go out to our local coffee shop, we order the smallest possible size of hot chocolate or ice cream since those mini sizes are usually always still quite large. You can always share a large dessert—talking about it as sharing, not restricting a portion—too

3. Go for high quality.

I never worried about giving my toddler tiny nibbles of intense dark chocolate since I wanted to expose her to that flavor. If we have a plan to go out for ice cream, we don’t mess around with subpar frozen yogurt—we go to the ice cream place that we like best. And if we’re in a place that has treats that I know don’t taste very good (one of the coffee shops in our town has the stalest cookies ever), I explain that we’ll get a different treat at home or from another store. I’d rather deal with the energy required to convince my toddler to wait for something better than to let her down with a crappy cookie!

4. Don’t worry so much.

I aim to limit added sugar at home—well as much as I can without making myself totally crazy—so that when we’re out in the world at a birthday party or a special event, we don’t have to worry so much.  If my kids are at an event where food is part of the occasion, we have it because for my family, we value the social aspect of enjoying food together.

5. Remember the big picture.

I want my daughter to be able to enjoy her food, no matter what that food might be, and I don’t ever want her to feel like she can’t have something. I want her to learn to trust herself, and for her hunger cues, her taste buds, and the feeling of fullness to guide her to better choices. I am well aware that restricting a kid’s diet can lead to all sorts of larger issues with disordered eating and body image issues, so my aim is for moderation—and, most of all, happiness.

Our way may not be the right way for you and your family, but it seems to work pretty well for us!

You can read more about Food Rewards, which is a whole other topic, and Sugar Recommendations for kids here.

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  1. Great topic! Always a topic here, too. I did not know that about protein—will have to add that to my own arsenal. We’re all about small portions, too, on all but a few days a year. (Halloween, etc.)