True Tales of Kids Turning Down Sweets
What actually happens when children have choices?
Mandy:Halloween night after trick or treating in neighborhoods and at the mall my 7-year-old daughter had tons of candy. She wanted to sort, chart and graph it all like we've been doing for the past few years (always her choice). After that I asked her which ones she was going to eat and she said, "I don't really want any but can you make a monkey platter with lots of fruits and veggies?" I said, "If that's what makes you happy, Sweetie!" :)
I have many, many tales of my four unschooled kids turning down sweets or having a cookie in one hand and an apple in the other (or other mythologically opposed foods).
But a quick couple, most recently:
The kids have asked for ice cream the last several shopping trips and I've bought it. When the big kids ask for some, my three-year-old wants some too, and I dish it up for everyone. But for several times in a row now, she has only eaten a bite or two and then asked me to save it for her for "later." "Later" has turned out to be days or a week later, or even just telling her sisters they can have it. Again, she's three.
Cathy (in CA):When I was a kid, “dinner” usually meant “strictly healthy food” – a burger patty (no bun, strictly limited amount of ketchup, no “junky” things like pickles), a boiled or baked potato (strictly limited amount of butter, no garnishes), a boiled vegetable (very low salt, no additional flavorings), a salad (pretty good, but strictly limited portion). The only other foods in the house were “junk” foods – cookies, crackers, ice cream, etc., which were only allowed in controlled portions at controlled times. So my choices were very limited! (And I was a really skinny kid.) Of course I ate as little dinner as possible, and filled up on the only other alternatives.
That’s why I cook dishes that are full of tasty things my daughter likes (as in my post above). She fills up on that and very rarely wants anything like candy or cookies. For example, this morning I made a casserole of chicken, string beans and mashed potatoes with cheese and breadcrumb topping, and plenty of creamy Alfredo sauce. She could have eaten crackers, or Christmas chocolates, or her favorite ice cream, or something with syrup, or cold cereal. But she waited for the casserole and declared it one of the best foods she’s ever eaten. She did eat one Christmas chocolate a couple days ago, declared it delicious, but hasn’t touched the chocolates since.
[added in 2020, from 2004 discussion (third up from the bottom)]
"no, thanks..." to birthday cake...Heather D., January 2015:
Cooper just turned 7 on the 29th.
An older (teen) friend of his made him a little cake, and gave it to him yesterday. Cooper, who delights in sweets, and is beginning to try new things in ways that surprise us, said to his friend, "no, thank you. not right now. I'm still digesting the candy and sweets I ate last night!"
I love that he's able to know what his body needs, and that he's able to articulate it, with what seems like no baggage, urgency, or shame. What a sweet, sweet gift.
Thank you to the voices here that have soothed me over and over and over again in the realm of his food choices, so that I have become a less anxious, more peaceful partner to him. I am endlessly grateful.
Sylvia Woodman, March 2016:A couple of years ago we made bunnies in race cars involving marshmallow peep bunnies and twinkies. The kids loved making them and taking pictures but the only person who actually ate a twinkie was me. For the kids, that stuff wasn't any different than any other craft supply. I don't think they would eat them any more than they would chew on construction paper or pipe cleaners or modeling clay.
We were at a parade yesterday and the various marching groups were throwing candy. At the end the kids were sorting and trading and Gabriella realized that she only wanted a couple of tiny pieces maybe 5 or 6 out of the bag they had collected. She said the thing that I've been noticing with her for years, "I really don't like candy all that much. I'd rather have meat!"
Emily Strength, 2016:Aviva asked for icecream and I said sure. Then she said, "My brain says I need breakfast first. The two sides of my tummy say they both want burritos. They didn't even fight!"
Anna Black:We have been lifting restrictions on food and (big one for me) tv and computer. I've noticed some really interesting stuff happening, especially around food. Both my kids seem to be losing their taste for sweet stuff. Chocolate frogs used to be these coveted items and now Abi (5) picks one up at the supermarket and hands it to her sister. When I offer her one too she says, "no thanks, I don't feel like one right now." Supermarket workers everywhere are amazed.
Never heard of such a thingChristine Macdonald wrote that she and her daughter had walked to the grocery store once to pick up milk they needed for a recipe:
"I had brought a ten-dollar bill (no wallet) I told her we'd have about six dollars left and she could get whatever she wanted with it—she wanted a pomegranate or three artichokes (neither of which we had enough money left for) I told her we could come back later with my wallet and get them or get them now skip the milk and come back later for the milk to finish our cake. She said come back later for the artichokes. When we were at the checkout I said why don't you just get a candy bar or something for the walk home she said no thanks. A mom behind me in line was shocked at the idea of a kid not wanting candy if offered said she never heard of such a thing."
That applies otherwise!Sandra response, just here, not in that discussion:
I always mentally filed this under money management and honesty, but it applies otherwise too. We live a very short walk from a store, and don't need to cross a street to get there. When our kids were younger, sometimes one or two of them would be asked to go and buy milk or bread, and I always said "You can get yourself something with the change," but only a couple of times out of dozens did one of them buy a candy bar or gum. All the other times, they brought the receipt and all the change, and the item we needed. I would not have minded if they had spent every penny, but nobody ever did.
Rachel Kay's photo and words:
This is a bowl full of sweets and chocolates that has been sitting in our house for well over a month.
It occasionally gets dipped into but not much. It's not hidden away but available all the time as with all other food and drink in our house.
Some of the sweets are from going away bags at a party and some from a visit to the Harry Potter studio tour in London.
We went there on the 3rd of June. And for anyone who is interested, the Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans really are every Flavour including vomit bogey and earwax. Yuck!
Other people comment on the variety of food she likes compared to what they call their fussy children and they look at me in disbelief when I say she is not restricted at all in anything she eats.
from that discussion above:
Today we were driving home from the library discussing what we would eat. Usually we go to a cafe after the library, but we are saving money for an aquarium visit on Wednesday so I offered to make milkshakes and cinnamon butter cookies at home, which both kids love. My six year old was enthusiastic, but then said, "I think I'm too hungry for biscuits. I'd like something more filling and not sweet." She ended up having a bowl of tuna and mayonnaise, followed by a milkshake. I am so glad she can listen to what her body needs and choose accordingly.
The week before Christmas, in Australia, to set the scene:
This morning Kai opened his advent calender, ate the chocolate, and then said 'Ugh. I'm so sick of eating all this chocolate! Please can I have a plate of cold food.' (It's *really* hot here today!) He's now saving his chocolates for when he wants them, and eating a plate of baby corn, cucumber and apple :)
Julie D:It still amazes me (it shouldn't really, not after all this time) that given a completely free choice of all of the things in the display cabinet - huge slices of cake, muffins, choc-chip-cookies, chocolate covered marshmallow thingies - that he will choose a tuna and cheese melt!! I don't say anything, I just buy it but it still makes me giggle inside. ("If I let him he would... blah, blah, blah"!!!)
It's soooo weird to see a mini-candy bar half eaten. It's not something my brain can really understand...I supposed I'll get used to it eventually.
My son isn't restricted in what he eats. He came into the kitchen yesterday to ask me if there were any biscuits (cookies), but stopped mid-sentence when he noticed a melon on the counter and asked for that instead. So he ate a whole honeydew melon, instead of biscuits (which we did have). It's the second one he's eaten since I bought them at the weekend.
The melon was sitting next to his uneaten Easter egg, but he ignored that.
Melissa:Today while grocery shopping I noticed Twinkies were on sale. Joey (3) just had the first Twinkie of his life! He said it was good. But then he only ate 2/3 of it. And a whole bunch of fresh blueberries, which were also on sale today.
Alex P:My kids can eat bowls of sugar if they want. They are not fat, obese of even chubby. They have lots of cookies, candy and sweets at home at any time. Just yesterday I bought 2 pies for Pi day and baked. My daughter ate a big piece of the pumpkin pie but only the filling. Then she asked for an apple and ate half of it. Then she went to the refrigerator and grabbed the red bell pepper that we got for the Guinea Pigs and cut a couple pieces for them and ate the rest. That was while I was reading this list. That was her late night snack.
My son ate a strip of bacon and left the other one and went to sleep.
They have chosen what they eat and how much all their lives.
Zibby and Henry's mom, Nancy, wrote this on her blog (linked below):
I ate the piece of buche de noel.December 29th, 2009
Today Zibby woke up around 9ish and handed me the remote and asked me to turn on a show for her (we were all still in bed) which I did, and Henry and I kept sleeping for a while more. Eventually Henry wanted out of bed, so I got up with him and we went in the other room and played puzzles and watched wow wow wubbzy and hung out.
I debated making a green smoothie for myself but ended up snacking on triple chocolate cookies I made the other night and are super delicious. Zibby doesnt usually want to eat right when she wakes up. Around twelvish I was hungry so I started making myself a ham sandwich. I asked zibby if she wanted a turkey sandwich. She came over to the fridge and got out last nights noodles and soup. She asked for a turkey sandwich, noodles, and also a piece of buche noel. I bought a gorgeous buche noel cake at Whole Foods on super sale. She wanted a piece with lots of decor. I put everything on separate plates (her request). After all the cake talk I suspected that she might eat that first and be full, but she sat and had three bowls of noodles, then ate half her sandwich, and left the cake on the table, untouched. well, she touched the decor actually and played with some of the frosting leaves. But she didn't eat it.
She also took about a dozen of the cookies into her bedroom and played kitchen with them, but didnt eat more than one or two.
My point is, Zibby is give access to all of the food in our house, and I prepare and offer her a variety of things, and she eats a wide variety of them, when she is hungry and when she is hungry for them. I didnt make any kind of deal or comment on her requests for her meal (now, eat all your sandwich before you touch that cake!)
Later in the afternoon she ate freeze dried strawberries, fresh strawberries, that I know of, which she got on her own, and for dinner she had three small flour tortillas rolled up with taco meat (no cheese or other toppings) she drank water all day.
Henry had several bites of several cookies (ha!) a couple handful of pretzels when we sat down for lunch, a bite of strawberry, a bite of toast, and nursed whenever he wanted all day long.
The reason I thought I'd write this down is lots of people around me are fretting about what their kids eat and when and how and withholding "desserts" or treats and I have found that letting go of all that has really allowed my daughter to follow her own body's cues. She eats fruits, veggies, chocolate, meat, grains—without me doing anything besides making it available and attractive.
I'm watching an advance cd of interviews of the unschooling documentary Lee Stranahan is making, and watching Sandra talk about food made me think about today and I wanted to share. Up till now a lot of my parenting ideas have been theoretical and or I've read about other people's results and experiences. I believed what unschooling was doing for their lives, and now I am seeing what it's doing in ours. It's cool.
I just read through some of the stories on the tales of kids turning down sugar and shortly after we had this realization about sugar, I was filling an easter basket for my son. I really flew in the opposite direction and loaded the basket with chocolate and candy, and afterward I looked at it and thought maybe I should take some of it out because it was such a huge switch from sugary things being a rare treat to a whole basket at his disposal (not that he'd never had it before at halloween or other things, but it had been months since he'd had that much candy in front of him at once).
He ate candy and chocolate for breakfast that day, but then halfway through his chocolate bunny he handed it to me and told me he wanted to save it. I wrapped it up and put it in the freezer for him, and later my husband and I marveled over it because neither one of us would ever put down a half-eaten chocolate bunny.
Not only did that make me realize that I could trust him to make that choice, but also that this was really a case of taking our own problems (if there is chocolate in front of us, we'll eat it even if we recognize that we aren't hungry at all, and stopping halfway through is just out of the question) and projecting them onto our child.
Rachael:When I grew up I had very limited access to candy. My brother was quite ill and his special diet (which included daily cod liver oil) was given to me as well. The only time I had access to sweets was when I performed, or went to concerts and there was a reception. I was also the only kid there who had their plate overflowing with everything and anything I could put on it. Often at my house I would find empty candy wrappers and ice cream containers which I was told (by my mother) were from long ago—she "didn't know how they got there." Years later I found that she too had had a constricted diet and hid the food she ate from us.
Jump forward to this last Halloween and the party my children attended the day before (all of us attended). When we walked through the door the first thing I noticed was the cake, pizza, and chocolate everywhere. So apparently did many of the other kids who came through the door (we belong to one group which is unschooled/homeschooled—difference mainly being restrictions on bedtimes, food, TV. etc.) My kids (who have had free access to food since they were born), said "no mom we don't want that, we want to play," despite the fact they had just been complaining about hunger 30 seconds earlier in the car. I sat and watched while other kids were made to eat a certain number of pieces of pizza, or vegetables before they could have the cake, or chocolate. (as if pizza is any better really!). Finally about two hours into the party, my eldest ( 5 1/2 ) ran over and asked for food. What he chose to eat was a large plate of tomatoes and snap peas. Parents asked me how I got him to do this— (I am thinking maybe they didn't notice that my youngest (4) had already eaten a few chocolate ghouls without me getting upset...)
My point is, my children have had a lot of exposure to many foods. They have foods they like, and those they do not like. I have never forced them into trying a food they were not interested in trying. I would not want someone forcing me to try something I thought looked disgusting. Even though we now have a large shopping bag full of candy from trick or treating they are not diving into it (like I would have) as if it is the best thing in the world. It is just another part of food. Not more important. I think allowing them to make their own food choices has been the best thing I could have done for them because they will not have the baggage that I did (and my mom) attached to it.
Oh—after the piñata broke the kids helped gather the candy but refused to take any home because they said they didn't need any. (Their words, not mine).
Rachael, Shaun, Kean (5½ ) and Kai (4).
Lauren:I had a real ah-ha moment yesterday in the food arena, when he asked for his (r)ice cream (he'll run to the fridge and point to the freezer to tell me). I got him a dish of it, and was also cooking broccoli at the time. He took a few bites of the ice cream, but when he saw the broccoli, he ran to the stove and wanted it. He ate the entire crown with some salt and pepper, and left the rest of the ice cream to melt on the table. Something I might not have believed could happen before learning about the joys of *trusting* our children to make their own food choices...
Lauren:I stopped off at a Persian deli after an appointment today, and bought a box of pastries (little honey and rosewater soaked balls, pistachio nougat, and zoolbia), a can of dolmas, and a jar of some spectacular pickled garlic that I'd bought a jar of a few weeks ago, and the family demolished (it's super yummy).
My three year old just asked for one of the balls, took a bite, and then spotted the garlic. He handed me back the rest of the ball, and asked me to give him a dish of the garlic.
My six year old finished the rest of the ball, and then shared a few pieces of the garlic.
Zero control. Zero manipulation. Kids do like sweets, that's for sure. But they also like other stuff. Don't limit them, or assume they're limited.
Pam Sorooshian:My husband is Persian. Persian sweets tend to be very very sweet, but they don't eat a lot of them, just a bit with a cup of tea, usually. All the many Persian families I know have lots of sweets sitting out all the time—all available. But the kids, who could have the pastries and candies if they wanted them, very often choose pickles or fruits and vegetables over the sweets. My kids are like that - they will turn down ice cream in favor of a cucumber with some salt and lemon juice on it.
Of children eating part of candy and leaving the rest:Deb Rossing:
Yeah, it kind of makes my brain twirl when DS (7) eats half a double chocolate donut then leaves the other half sitting so he can have a grilled cheese sandwich (or whatever else he decides he wants at the time that isn't a chocolate donut) - sometimes he comes back and finishes it, sometimes the half donut sits a day or two until it's obvious he doesn't want it any longer then out it goes. The hardest thing was not going ahead and eating it myself (or DH eating it) "because it's there". We're eating better (more consciously) by learning from DS to listen to our insides as to what we want when and when we're done.
Linda M:My daughter was eating her dinner in front of the TV in the basement when she flew up the stairs to ask what was for dessert.
"Peach cobbler with ice cream. Do you want some?" I replied.
"After I finish my broccoli," she answered and she flew back down the stairs.
My husband and I just looked at each other in amazement. This is a kid whose diet has consisted mainly of corn dogs and doughnuts (glazed, chocolate, or with sprinkles!) for the past two weeks.
same child, another year:
We had the opportunity to out to eat twice this past Sunday. At our dinner meal we discussed getting the big, gooey, chocolate cake with the giant dip of ice cream and the hot oozing chocolate sauce (I'm making myself hungry!) for dessert. My older DD (7) who loves sweets said at the end of the meal, "I'm full, let's not have the cake." And we all agreed and there was no cake.
I told my husband later that the reason DD felt free to turn down the cake was because she always has all of the sweets she wants whenever she wants. If a child were constantly denied sweets she would have felt compelled to order the cake and eat it even if she were full because she might not get another chance for sweets.
In fact, at Sunday brunch earlier that day this same DD, Sarah, had no less than 6 desserts. She methodically brought them from the buffet and arranged them around herself and ate as much or as little as she wanted from all of them. And so, at dinner, satisfied and full, she felt free to turn down a fabulous dessert!
in a follow-up
Kris:He wasn't in the mood to eat, had just seen someone on TV eating ice cream. We always have ice cream in the freezer—he rarely eats it, but an apple or watermelon will be gone in no time.
Lanora, 13, was talking about eating some cantaloupe. I told her that it was really good with ice cream, she looked at me like I had suggested pouring sand over it. She likes her melon neat, thank you.
Gabriella has been making thoughtful choices about what she eats for a number of years now. Halloween is a favorite holiday and this year she had a plan to hit the maximum number of houses. When she returned she dumped all the candy out, sorted it, counted it, ate some, traded some with her brother, shared some with Jim and me and then put it all back in the pumpkin and then put it in the pantry. This is what is left of her Halloween candy. Today is February 5th.
(see other Halloween candy stories, linked at the bottom)
[On UnschoolingBasics, Ren had written: "can't tell you how many times my kids have thrown candy away"]
This is true at our home also. Logan did go trick or treating this year and most of it is still in a box in his room. Brenna occasionally asks him for a piece and he tells her go ahead (she didn't go trick or treating). Candy is always around and chips and ice cream. If the neighbor kids don't come by often to eat the ice cream we have been known to throw it out when it gets a little old.
Logan often has tuna on crackers for breakfast while Brenna will eat carrot cake. There is just no emotion to a certain type of food except we like most of it. When I ask if they want anything at the store it might be artichokes or sour cream dip but very rarely is it anything sweet.
This summer when my stepdaughter was with us, she ate so many M&M's cookies that she got sick and threw up. Not just once but on two different occasions. When I talked with her about it, she said she was afraid the other kids were going to eat them all. I told her we'd just buy more. By the time she went home, I think she was starting to get the idea that all kinds of food would be available to her while she was at our house. No need to binge or hoard. Since food is not an issue in our family it seems we make healthy choices most of the time.
Not only are our food choices healthier but since I have stopped controlling sleep and chores and T.V. watching and video games our family is healthier and happier. It didn't happen overnight but it's been like this long enough that I can't imagine our lives any other way.
(very content with our unschooling life)
It is so cool when you let go.
At home, Jalen asked for water because he didn't want his soda that came with the Happy Meal. (More myths about 3 y.o.'s being disproven by my free wild child.)
Marty (15) had been running around outside in the sun for a few hours, and I offered to take him to Ben & Jerry's. He said he wanted to go home and have real food, not ice cream, but thanks.
He wrinkled his nose and said, "Nah, I'm not in the mood for ice cream today."
His overall intake of healthy stuff is really good. If he asks for cookies or cake or ice cream anytime, and we have it in the house, he can eat it. He can eat as much as he wants. We don't always have it in the house, and then he chooses other things.
Jalen just turned 3 in February. He chooses water to drink more often than any other liquid. He had cream soda, soymilk (both vanilla and strawberry/banana) to choose from last night. He only wanted water. If I regulated what he drank, he would have a harder time listening to his true needs, and go for the limited items.
It's cool when they don't need to do that.
My kids have now had food freedom for about a week and a half. Last night we ate dinner at the Olive Garden. They had some fruit and snacks before we left, because they don't like restaurant food, generally.
The last time we ate there, the boys just scarfed as many breadsticks as the server would bring and guzzled root beer like there was no tomorrow.
THIS time, Zach drank about half of his root beer, ate 1.5 breadsticks, and said he was full. He didn't even want to try one bite of the dessert we ordered. I have NEVER seen this kid turn down chocolate cake before. He didn't NEED to try it because he knows he can have "dessert" (whether it's cake or marshmallows or jelly beans) when he is hungry for it.
Even in such a short time I have been seeing some really positive changes, and we're all much happier and more relaxed about food. My husband even said, "I've got to admit, this is sure a lot easier!"
I was putting away the groceries while this was going on. As I put the carrots away, I thought about how tasty a carrot sounded. I could have had ice cream — in fact I love ice cream — but I had the carrot instead because it really sounded better at that moment. I know I can have ice cream AND carrots both, whenever I want.
It feels so good to eat what I want.
I heard a radio show recently, I think it was NPR's This American Life, about food. One segment of the show said that one reason French women are so thin is because they eat sweets whenever they wish and they don't feel guilty about it. That may be a poor stereotype, but I liked the sound of it. Eat what you really want and feel good about eating it.
Oh, I've got one too! I went with my daughter to her Girl Guides enrollment ceremony last night. There was a table full of chips, donuts, cookies, cakes during the party afterwards and she didn't want any of it. But as soon as we got home, she said she was hungry and asked for a bowl of oatmeal. LOL!
It's not that she just doesn't like donuts, cookies etc. - I took her and her younger brother out to get some donuts the other day because they asked. The great thing is that she doesn't feel the need to eat them just because they are available (that's me!).
Hee hee, I have one also, last nite we came back from the grocery store, and a friend was at the door. As I was putting the groceries away, including sugar wafers that he had wanted, they got out the yogurt and the string cheese. His friend had never had string cheese before, she liked it a lot!
Real broccoli (Sandra Dodd)If my kids watched TV for hours each day, I might not be a good person to listen to about this, but I'll say it again: Unlimited access to TV and to food in my house has produced kids who only watch TV when they want to, and who only eat what they want to eat which is NOT a bunch of candy.
Holly asked for broccoli Tuesday. I bought some and cooked it before I knew she had gone to her friend's for an overnighter (she got the invite and left while I was shopping). So yesterday she asked about it, I reheated it and brought it to her at the TV where she was playing a game, waiting for the Simpsons to come on. She finished that bowl of broccoli, salt and butter, and asked for more with less butter.
I cooked the rest of it, and she ate most of it.
When The Simpsons ended she was done with the TV.
This isn't theoretical broccoli or TV, it was yesterday.
Thursday, August 9, 2001
(From a TV discussion, which is enshrined online here: TV Debate)
Monkeyplatter ReportSusan May sent a note and a photo. There's an expanded version at the link below the photo.
"I made it for my almost 3 yo daughter and she loved it! It had carrots, grape tomatoes, ranch dressing, chocolate chips, celery, celery with peanut butter, cold cut up hot dog, and strawberries. She munched on it all afternoon. The first two things she ate were a tomato and carrot. The only things left right now are the chocolate chips and celery!"
In November, 2022, I shared a graphic by Jen Keefe, and a quote from this page by Gail Higgins, on Just Add Light and Stir, as "Healthier and happier", and got a beautiful response:
I just realized my children turn down sweets all the time!
I've tried to maintain a candy bowl in hands reach for years. They stopped emptying it pretty much right away. Got comfortable with the idea that candy is always available if they want some.
And this past Halloween two of mine chose to skip trick or treating in favor of other activities. And one gave me back a pretty full bag to put in the family candy bowl.
Guess who eats most of the candy now? 🙋🙋
I still have stories in my head about candy being bad. But I don't think my kids do. Their stories are like this pic. Just candy!
Thank you for all you do!
(you might be surprised).