Ask a bunch of parents this question and most likely the answer will be not without strict limits and preferably, adult supervision.
But is that really the case?
To understand if sugar is really that bad, we need to understand the context in which a child is eating it.
Isabel Foxen Duke has a list of brilliant questions in this article here, to show how context matters, when it comes to deciding whether something is healthy or not. I’ll paraphrase her questions below to apply specifically to children.
…are they only eating sugar? Or are there other ingredients being eaten that might shift the effect on their blood sugar – protein or fibre or fat?
…is eating the sugar a pleasurable, joyful experience?
…have they been sick and lost weight and need to get their weight back up?
…are they at a birthday party? Or are they celebrating a graduation or a big win in the weekend?
…are they diabetic and going hypoglycaemic?
…did they just learn to bake and have they made something they’re proud of?
…are they an athlete in need of energy for a game?
…have they got ‘hangry’ and need a quick something to help the discomfort while they wait for dinnertime?
…how are you defining the “health” of your child? (Disease free? Good quality of life? Longevity? Resilience and self respect? Their ability to contribute, connect with others or participate in their social world?)
We have come to a juncture in time where we are encouraged to put food into neat little, binary, boxes. Good/bad. Healthy/unhealthy. But in truth, we cannot understand if a food is healthy for a child to eat, without considering the wider context in which it’s being consumed.
The other consideration, and it’s a big one, is this: when a child has a food restricted and told it is bad and unhealthy for them they are far more likely to eat a lot of it as adults (it becomes the forbidden fruit and creates a huge desire for it, which they seek out when the limits and restrictions come off). Conversely, a child who is allowed to eat all foods and given the respect to figure out how much feels good to them, is more likely to end up eating a more balanced, more nutrient dense diet as an adult. They also tend to overthink food less and have a good relationship with their body.
If you’re already enrolled in the Raising Body Confident Kids parenting course, you can hop right over to Module 3 to reacquaint yourself with the tools to help your child self manage what they eat without overthinking food.
If you’re not enrolled but like the sound of raising a body confident child (no more having to be in the room to make sure they eat well), you can find out more here.
Like what you’ve just read? Get the free Raising Body Confident Kids 3 part audio training (5 mins each), plus weekly-ish coaching emails.