Avoiding the Treat Trap

Healthy Food Guide Nutritionist Claire Turnbull knows how dangerous it is for parents to fall into the ‘Treat Trap”. Speaking from experience with her young toddler Zac, she shares some hot tips on how to reduce the amount of sugar little ones eat.

Claire Turnbull 300 px

How do parents stop breeding a ‘treat culture’ for children?

People can easily fall into the trap of rewarding kids for everything – they go number two on the toilet and they get a jelly bean or chocolate. They behave well well when you are out and the reward is a marshmallow.

It’s just so easy to use food as a bartering tool to get children to behave.

With Zac I have learnt that its best if there is little to no negotiation when it comes to food. I will offer one or two options and then there is nothing else. Peaches or banana on your porridge? I’m ruthlessly consistent and honestly, it works.

How children behave around food has so much to do with what they learn from you, whether you realise you are doing it or not. If you reward with food or have endless fights about food with your children, then the first step is to become aware of what you are doing. Try keeping a diary so you can really see what it is that’s happening in your home around food.  From here, you need to find ways to avoid using food as a negotiating tool.

Try using other tactics, ‘When you have finished your lunch, we can read your favourite book or play with the stickers we got today,’ find something that makes them feel special but isn’t about food.

It might take a while to change that behaviour, but all habits can be reversed.

What are some of the pitfalls when teaching kids about healthy eating habits?
  1. Using ‘strong’ language – I am not talking about swearing here, but instead talking too much about food and it being ‘good’ or ‘bad for you’. I really avoid talking about food unless I am saying ‘this is a vegetable that grows in the ground’ or ‘this is porridge made from oats’.
  2. Being too strict – While I am all for kids having as little sugar as possible, it’s important not to start creating fear around food. It’s not necessary to stop your children from having every last gram of sugar in order for them to grow up healthy and happy. There is a balance to strike!
  3. Making fun activities about food  - A lot of children learn to associate fun activities with bad food, which is wrong. The zoo or beach is fun without having to have an ice cream every time. Occasionally when we go out, Zac might get a gingerbread man but he doesn’t expect it, as it has not become a routine.
Can you offer any tips on how to prevent children overloading on sugar?

If I’m taking Zac to a birthday party, he only ever asks for water as that’s all he’s used to and wants. I also feed him before we go, so he’s not starving when he arrives.

As adults we are really the ones who have taught our children to care about food at a party. If it was normal in our society to give them a platter of fruit and toys, they would think that’s really cool. Sadly, kids have learnt that parties mean cake and chips most of the time. For Zac’s birthday I made a big cake for everyone to enjoy, then most other things on offer are savoury and healthy.

Tips to reduce sugar at parties:
  • Instead of sugary drinks, have jugs of water with slices of kiwifruit, lime or berries.
  • Make a fruit platter.
  • Have cake but make sure other options are savoury, think sandwiches, sushi, wholegrain crackers, dips and vegetables.
Healthy snacks to go:
  • Half a corncob, cherry tomatoes, cucumber.
  • Fruit – an apple cut up or banana.
  • Crackers or corn thins.
  • Leftover meat, e.g.  free range chicken tenders.
  • Unsweetened yoghurt.
  • Cooked penne pasta.
  • Homemade popcorn.
  • Cubes of cheese
  • Edamame beans or carrot sticks.


Healthy carrot cake

Carrot cake is normally loaded with fat and sugar. This carrot cake is a much healthier version and still just as delicious.

It has been adapted to reduce the amount of oil needed and is sweetened with a little honey rather than cups of sugar. It is a winner for afternoon tea or for a treat in the children’s lunch box.


  • 1 ¼ cups wholemeal flour
  • ¼ cup ground LSA (or ¼ cup more wholemeal flour)
  • ¼ cup desiccated coconut
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins or sultanas (lightly coated in flour so they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake)
  • 2 cups peeled and finely grated carrots
  • ⅓ cup canola, rice bran or olive oil
  • ⅓ cup honey or maple syrup
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Optional extra: Grated zest of an orange


  1. Preheat oven to 190°C and line a cake tin (I use 18cm x 18cm but a similar sized round tin is fine too. You could also grease a muffin tray and make mini carrot cake muffins – the mixture will make 12 muffins).
  2. Place the dry ingredients into a bowl (flour, LSA, coconut, walnuts, sultanas, baking powder and baking soda, spices, carrot and orange zest if you are including that) and mix together.
  3. Put the wet ingredients into another bowl (oil, honey, eggs, yoghurt, vanilla extract) and beat together. Combine wet and dry ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth.
  4. Pour the mixture into the greased tin and bake for about 40-45minutes. Muffins will only need 10-15minutes.

To find out more about Claire, check out www.claireturnbull.co.nz