Navigating Easter - and all its treats - with little ones

Navigating Easter - and all its treats - with little ones

This time of the year can feel like it’s all about treats. Chocolate eggs, bunnies, numbats, sugar-coated almonds and fluffy hot cross buns lathered in butter. All very delicious and culturally important rituals for many Australians. However, navigating the ‘treat’ path with little ones at such times can also feel like a challenge for some. As a parent, you may question how much chocolate is ok for your children to eat? What age are they even allowed chocolate? And if (and how) should you intervene to limit their chocolate intake, without imposing feelings of guilt or gluttony? 

While there is no straight answer to a lot of this, there are certain things we do know:

  • That labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or other negative language related to ‘diet culture’ is best avoided. Instead, it’s more helpful to talk about about ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ foods
  • That being overly restrictive with certain foods may cause children to over-indulge when given the opportunity. Instead, helping kids to learn to listen to their body and understand the difference between ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ foods, is a great way for them to develop positive long-term relationships with food. 
  • That offering a variety of nutritious options and modelling positive behaviours towards food helps children develop healthy relationships with food.
  • That little ones who haven’t been exposed to chocolate and don’t know what it is won’t miss it. (Of course, little ones with older siblings may be very aware of exactly what it is, and that’s ok too)

But exactly how you choose to pull this all together and navigate food for you and your little ones at Easter (and all the other celebratory events through the year) is of course up to you, with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path. And yes, I realise that’s not very helpful.

So here’s what I’m planning to do this Easter, to help my children navigate the world of ‘sometimes’ foods and cultural celebrations, whilst continuing to develop (I hope) a positive relationship with food, their bodies and mealtimes. 

I’ll role model healthy eating habits

And by this, I don’t mean ignoring the treats table and only filling my plate with the foods we think of as ‘nutritionally healthy’ (read: vegetables and grains).  I intend to enjoy butter-lathered hot cross buns and chocolate just as much as the next person. I will look forward to eating them, I’ll share the experience with my children (or perhaps, a good book) and won’t attempt to deny myself the experience. And I won’t feel guilty about it, either. 
Because while these foods aren’t the healthiest options (far from it, sometimes), having a healthy relationship with food is not about sticking to rules. Or about making the healthiest choice all the time. It’s about appreciating food for all the reasons we need to eat. Fueling our bodies with lots of good nutrients (and avoiding excess of the others) is of course one of those reasons, but it’s not the only one. Connecting with family and friends over a shared meal is another, and so is being able to enjoy a range of foods, in a way that supports both our physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

I’ll be careful in how I talk about ‘sometimes’ foods

When we’re talking about chocolate, which I’m sure we will be, I will take care to use terms like ‘Sometimes’ foods, or ‘special occasion’ foods, rather than ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. Why? Because using labels like ‘bad’ and ‘naughty’ can make the child feel that they have been bad or naughty for eating them. We’ll also avoid linking consequences to the behaviour, for example with phrases like ‘I better go for a run later to make up for it’. These phrases, however well intended, can also build the sense that by eating certain foods you have done something ‘bad’, and there are consequences attached.

I’ll limit the chocolate available, not the amount they choose to eat

When perusing the supermarket shelves for Easter-bunny treats, I’ll remind myself that my children will only consume what I choose to buy. (Luckily my children are all still small – 8 years and under – so not yet capable of taking themselves to the checkouts). And at the end of the day, I know they’ll be happy to wake up and find Easter chocolates waiting for them, regardless of whether there are 8 or 80. Limiting the amount available, means I will worry less about how much and when they choose to eat what they get. I’ll talk to them about listening to their bodies and enjoying it mindfully, but if they choose to eat a whole bunny on Easter Sunday then so be it. I’ll no doubt be glad I chose the smaller one. 
And what about the Easter Egg Hunt? I hear you say. We’ll still have that of course, but I’ll use fewer chocolate eggs and add some ‘follow the clues’ notes for fun, along with a few Easter books or craft kits. Hiding some non-chocolate eggs for little ones (who haven’t yet cottoned on to the ‘it’s all about chocolate’ thing) is another fun way to have an exciting hunt, without copious amounts of chocolate.

I’ll be prepared with nutritious snacks and meals

I know that the Easter weekend will likely feel busy. A little chaotic, even, with the whole family out of our usual routine. And I know from past experience that when this happens, it’s the easy options I always turn to. Whatever is in the fridge, or my handbag, is what the kids will eat. So, heading into the long weekend I’ll make sure I’ve got plenty of nutritious snacks and meals to hand in preparation for the ‘I think I’ll have time but actually everything is chaos’ reality of 4-day weekends.
Some of my favourite go-to healthy snack and meal options are:

  • Cobbs Popcorn lightly salted slightly sweet – how can you go wrong?
  • Tamar Valley kids yoghurts – my go-to for kids with no added sugar
  • Carmans Apple muesli bars - 
  • Plenty of apples, bananas, cucumbers and carrots – plus a dip, tzatziki or hummus for the most nutritious option
  • Cheese and water crackers – the protein in the cheese helps keep hunger at bay in between meals
  • Audrey & Alfie Veggie Pizza Scrolls – for a snack or dinner, and with hidden veg too.
  • Audrey & Alfie Raw Peppermint Choc Date Balls – as a nutritious chocolate alternative

I’ll prioritise family mealtimes

Enjoying meals together with your children is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to encourage your little ones to develop positive relationships with food.  The evidence case for this is growing, with relatively strong evidence now supporting the association of shared family meals with favorable dietary patterns in children and adolescents, including consumption of fruits and vegetables. Correlational evidence also links shared meals with positive health and psychosocial outcomes in youth, including less obesity, decreased risk for eating disorders, and better academic achievement.
Many factors contribute to the positive impact of mealtimes, including the opportunity for role modelling, and the connection and enjoyment of food that mealtimes bring beyond just the taste and nutritional profile of the food you are eating. When we eat together, a meal becomes more than the sum of its parts. 
While I make an effort to eat together as a family as often as we can, competing demands from work, parent life and gymnastics (my childrens', not mine) mean it’s not always possible. So, this Easter weekend I’ll be making a concerted effort to enjoy mealtimes together. No distractions, just us – eating and talking and embracing the simple joy of yummy food, shared.

I’ll keep it all in perspective

And finally, if I notice myself feeling a bit of trepidation about the upcoming holiday, I’ll remind myself that Easter is just one occasion across the year, and supporting my children to develop long-term healthy relationships with food is a long-term game, neither made nor broken in a few short days. So, if things don’t go to plan we’ll just focus on getting back to our usual routines once it’s all over, and no doubt my little ones will soon follow suit (after a few days of groaning, I’m sure…).


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