Limiting or excluding sweets for Lent has become a controversial topic for Adults. Some argue that excluding something that one likes does not have much weight as taking a commitment to be helpful to others or being kind in words and actions. On the other hand, there are others who follow this practise of sweets exclusion meticulously every year.
As a Nutritionist and a parent, I dare take the risk to discuss the topic visa vis children.
Should children be encouraged to limit or exclude sweets during Lent?
I will start my discussion on the topic by referring to the lyrics of a current song by Ariana Grande: “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.”
These lyrics reflect the mentality that we all (including our kids) are being faced with on a daily basis- a mentality of instant gratification.
From the Nutrition aspect, kids are bombarded with sugar loaded products through advertising, friends, lavish birthday parties sweet tables and pompous birthday cakes….. All of which invite them to ‘eat me… and eat me NOW.’
Since the beginning of religions, many were those that dedicate a period during the year for fasting. This indicates that humanity has always felt the need to deprive itself from luxurious food for a while, to reflect on one’s life.
In view of this, should children be encouraged to exclude or limit refined sugar intake from sweets, biscuits and cakes? Or this is a misleading way how they are guided about the importance of Lent?
The following are a couple of points that parents, guardians, teachers and those working with kids could consider:
1) The ability to say no.
Lent is an appropriate time to guide children with the virtue of learning to WAIT. It is our responsibility as adults to instill in the young ones the ability of saying ‘No, I will not eat this today.’
Children should be involved in discussions about the topic, both at family and class level, and they can be given the freedom to choose which high sugary food they wish to exclude or limit.
2) Educating kids about product labelling.
This is a time where kids could be made sugar labelling savvy. Involve the kids during your shopping and compare and contrast together the sugar level of some products e.g.: the sugar level in 100g of plain cornflakes with that in 100g of chocolate coated cereal featuring a kids’ figure on the box.
3) Build healthy eating habits.
Especially for kids with extra weight for their age and height, and those with a sweet tooth, lent could be the right time to start healthier eating habits.
4) Reduce sugar-dependence.
Reducing refined sugar intake during lent also helps the kids to unlearn the need to consume sweet products.
5) Teach the difference between hunger and craving.
Guiding children to momentarily deprive themselves from a food item them like also teaches them the difference between Hunger and Craving- an ability that many lose as adults, and at times this is the main cause of unnecessary weight gain.
6) Educating children about negative effects of sugar
One can also use reduced sugar intake to explain the impact of refined sugar products and dental care.
It is vital that in all this there would be no guilt feelings or shaming when a child does not manage to keep to sweet exclusion or limitations during this period.
Such behaviour can do more harm than good. On the contrary, this should be a good opportunity to teach a child how it is the result of human nature to drop out of our promise every now and then, but the important thing is to go back on track and keep to the plan. This is teaching them a valuable lesson for when as adults they face periods of deviation from healthy eating or making healthy life choices- rather than indulging in the unhealthy habits once they slip once, they would be able to find the strength to go back on track.
In addition to guiding children with the above points, by all means one can also incorporate other values such as realising how important it is to be there for others, in order to nourish the holistic well-being of our kids during Lent.
Lastly all this would truly make sense if we as parents and educators lead by example- by discussing with them how we too will deprive ourselves from something that we like, how we will tackle the tempting moments, how we will ensure we are back on track if we slip from our promise. And how our reward is waiting….. perhaps for 40 days… but it will come… And it will likely be some mouth watering piece of home-made figolla or chocolate egg on Easter Sunday!