Sweets and Treats: How to Manage Them


To Restrict Vs. Setting Boundaries around Sweets and Treats

What the heck is the difference between “restricting” and setting “boundaries” around certain foods (like sweets and treats). I made a social media post a while back (you can find the Instagram post HERE) and I have had several conversations about it lately so I thought it was a good time to chat about it more in depth.

Have YOU restricted sweets and treats? Or other foods? 

I’m pretty sure EVERY parent out there has restricted some sort of food in some way, thought about it, been pressured to do it, or felt guilty they haven’t.

And no matter what you have done in the past… there is always time to try something new. As a pediatric and family dietitian (and mother of 3), one of my biggest “tools” is to LIFT the restrictions around some of those exciting.


There is SO much nuance when I say “lift restrictions” around sweets and treats or other high palatable foods (aka “junk foods”).

Here’s the deal: foods like candy and chips (and other high fat, high sugar, high salt foods) are freaking delicious. And most kids (and people) really enjoy them and we don’t need “practice” to eat them because they tend to be really easy to eat. Easy to eat functionally (like they melt in your mouth or are easy to chew) AND easy because they taste good, are consistent in flavor and texture, and are convenient.

And most of you know, that if you, or your child(ren), eat those foods all day every day…our quality of life won’t likely be all that great – especially as we age.

But your kids don’t care about their HEALTH SPAN (or lifespan for that matter). That concept flies right over their heads and depending on how old they are, terms like “healthy” and “unhealthy” might mean nothing to them too.

Kids are developmentally VERY ego driven and all they are thinking about is how good it tastes today. Not what it will do to their bodies in 15 to 50 years. AND they might be seeing some of their most favorite people (friends, Grandparents, YOU) eating some of those foods. OR – they are getting fed some of these foods at their school or by their caregivers! How confusing is it to hear you call certain foods “bad” or “poison” (or however you choose to describe them) yet still have them around, and enjoy them, sometimes… or always.

Also, those foods aren’t going anywhere. They are available everywhere and a part of life – pretty much every day even if you are trying to avoid it.

AND in many communities…those convenience, high palatable foods, may be some of the only available options for certain populations (that is a whole other conversation and monster of a public health concern).

PLUS…remember, some of them are delicious! And nostalgic! Some foods can bring back wonderful memories when we eat them. Some foods connect us with our roots and culture. And they can feed our souls. While we don’t want to “go overboard” (over indulge) with some foods, how amazing it is that we get to taste them when we want!

(p.s. indulging in foods we enjoy isn’t bad. It’s just that if we do that ALL the time, we might miss out on some of the other foods that are most beneficial for our bodies; foods high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.)

So how do we best handle this? And how do we raise kids to enjoy and not go overboard?

The “go to” food parenting style is restrictive feeding but…the literature suggests that when we restrict things like sweets and treats (make them “taboo” or off limits)…it typically intensifies the desire. 1.

(Psst…all ya all talking about your kids being addicted to sugar? Read that last statement again…that’s what’s actually what’s going on…just saying.)

My #1 recommendation is to:

Lift restrictions and set loving boundaries.

There is a huge difference between:

“you can’t have that”


“we aren’t eating that right now”.

How is that different, you ask?

Well, one of those statements takes the power away from the kid and vilifies something they desire. The other statement changes the conversation and honors your child. 

They want that food. And they CAN have it…just not right now. 

*I have some other examples of this below…and remember YOU are in charge of what the child is offered. 

Be honest – and say things like: “cookies are yummy and delicious, and we can have some later but not right now. It’s my job to choose what foods we are having and right now we are eating….x, y, z. You can have that with dinner tonight”

Obviously, you will want to choose your words appropriately, depending on the age and developmental stage of your child and however it aligns with your parenting and home life. But after practicing this for a while – you will stop villainizing some foods and putting moral value on others.

I sometimes have to remind my clients that WE literally put the cookie jar on top of the fridge! WE are the ones who make those foods exciting!!!! Once we release some of those restrictions and neutralize our conversations around those foods, while setting (and holding) boundaries – those foods no longer have power over our kids….and us.

Here are some more examples of the difference between Restrictions and Boundaries:

Restriction: “Sugar is bad for you. You can’t have it”

Boundary: “Our bodies need all sorts of different foods”

Restriction: “You don’t need any more of that…You’ve had enough”

Boundary: “We are going to save some of that for tomorrow”

Restriction: “You can only have this small amount”

Boundary: “This is to share with everyone, you can have this much today”.

Restriction: “That is only for special occasions”

Boundary: “We haven’t had that in a while, would you like some?”

Restriction: “You must eat your veggies first before that”

Boundary: “You can eat some of that with dinner”

So what do you think? Leave a comment with your thoughts, questions, OR a boundary that you hold for your family surrounding certain foods.

I’m so happy you’re here and hopefully you can cruise around my site to learn more about me and how I can help you – if you’re looking for professional guidance.

I’m on most of the social platforms and you can get to know me and my family on Instagram and in my free Facebook group.

Be Well,


Updated: 2/28/2024

Hi, I’m Sara Morrison! Pediatric & Family Dietitian and Mama of three.

I specialize in child & family nutrition, personalized anti-inflammatory eating patterns, and food parenting.