Sounds crazy, right? But here's why you should consider offering your child as many sweets as he wants (at least sometimes).

By Sally Kuzemchak
December 12, 2017
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giving kids unlimited holiday cookies
Credit: Ruth Black/Shutterstock

It's the most wonderful time of the year—unless, that is, you're trying to keep a lid on your kid's sugar intake. In which case, you are probably being driven crazy by the cookies, candy canes, and holiday party desserts.

But what if you didn't worry any more about how many cookies your kid ate at the holiday party? Wouldn't it be nice to feel a little more relaxed about sweets where your kids are concerned—especially if that also meant they would stop obsessing about having more more more?

That's entirely possible, according to child feeding expert and author Ellyn Satter. Her approach to feeding kids is something a lot of parents and health professionals (including myself) follow because it makes sense: You offer the food, your child decides whether and how much to eat.

But her tactics where sweets are concerned can be hard for some people to swallow--because she has some radical-sounding recommendations. One is to serve dessert with the meal (not after it). I'm happy to report that I tried it, after some hesitation. And at least with my kids, it worked like a charm.

Yet her other recommendation made me even more nervous: Periodically serve unlimited sweets at snack time. "For instance, put out a plate of cookies or snack cakes and a glass of milk, and let her eat as many cookies as she wants," she writes on her site.

Unlimited sweets? Frankly, that scared me. Would my kids demolish the entire plate or eat until they threw up? In the name of science, I decided to find out.

At two different snack times, I gave my kids a plate of cookies. On one of those occasions, I also offered them a plate of crackers, cheese, and fruit next to the cookies. I didn't set limits or say much of anything except, "Here you go!"

Both times, my kids ate about 2-3 cookies each (as well as plenty of the crackers, cheese, and fruit) then went off to play. They didn't gorge themselves. Nobody threw up. I was a little stunned.

"The idea is to allow your child to feel relaxed and be matter-of-fact about all kinds of food," Satter writes on her site. "Then, even when you aren't around to supervise, she will eat moderately of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, the same as other foods."

In contrast, setting strict rules around sweets can backfire. Research shows that some kids will respond to restriction by fixating on those foods even more—and overeating them when they have the chance.

Let's face it: When our kids are very young, we can cut their piece of cake to the size that seems right or put limits around how many pieces of Halloween candy they can have. But someday, they'll be off on their own—ideally, being able to manage a healthy balance between nutritious foods and sweet treats all on their own. So why not let them practice?

What do you think of this strategy—is it something you would try?

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.