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By Health Promotion Board in collaboration with A/Prof Marion Aw, Senior Consultant, Division of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Nutrition, Hepatology and Liver Transplantation, National University Hospital.

By using food like sweets and dessert as a reward, you may have won the battle, but you’re losing the war. Your child might come to associate dessert as a “desirable” item, and other foods such as fruits and vegetables as “undesirable”.

This can lead to unhealthy eating habits in the future, such as binge eating or seeking out “comfort food” to feel better. These habits may cause unnecessary weight gain and result in your child building an unhealthy relationship with food that may accompany him for life.

Related: Guilt-free Treats for Kids

Building a Healthier Relationship with Food

Fruitful flavours

Dessert doesn’t have to be ice cream, cakes or chocolate chip cookies. Why not end the meal with a nice crunchy apple or a slice of honeydew? After all, your child needs to have 1 serving of fruit each day.

If the jump from candy to fruit is too large, try making the change gradually. For example, cut down on how much ice cream you serve, and pair it with berries. Or freeze and blend some bananas for a yummy and healthy ice cream alternative.

Cut fruit into fun shapes—hearts, stars, flowers—to make them more attractive. Slowly get your little one used to the taste of fruit and help him learn to enjoy a variety of them.

Healthier snacks

Cut back on the amount of juice or sweetened drinks you give to your child. Too much sugary food or drinks can cause your child to crave more sweets. If you must give your child a snack, make sure they’re healthier choices: a small handful of unsalted/unsweetened nuts or a few cubes of cheese are all tasty options.

Sweet, sweet moderation

While dessert—or any food in general—should never be used as a bribe, it doesn’t mean that you should eliminate them. Just remember to have them in moderation with a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Enjoy baking? A few simple tweaks can make your baked treats healthier for the whole family! The important lesson to teach your child is that we have these foods in moderation not because they are “special” but because too much of it can cause harm to our bodies.

Related: How to Have Your Kueh and Eat It

Rewarding Good Behaviour

There’s nothing wrong with rewarding your child for good behaviour. Here are some alternatives that can be used in place of food:

  • Trip to the aquarium, zoo, or Universal Studios Singapore
  • New art supplies such as a set of crayons or colouring books
  • A new ball, badminton racquet or kite
  • Pencils, stickers, or other school supplies
  • Extra reading time before bed (under adequate lighting of course)
  • Extra time at the playground with his best friend
  • Playing a favourite game together as a family such as Monopoly or UNO

If you wish to reward your child for finishing a meal, know that your praise and encouraging words alone are more than enough. High five!

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