Ever heard the advice that treats should be a sometimes food?

Of course you have. When it comes to nutrition advice, eating treats occasionally—or sometimes—is the mantra.

I’ve even offered this advice myself when discussing the principle of proportion. Read Have Your Cake and Eat it Too!

But what if telling your kids that treats are a sometimes food is a strategy that can backfire?

That’s what happened to Nicole. She writes about her 4 year old daughter, “She is always asking, When can I have this? And, Can I have more of this?”

Nicole’s daughter asks so frequently that Nicole has even begun to wonder if her daughter is food obsessed. I don’t think so, and that’s what I told Nicole. I think her daughter is suffering from the ambiguity of sometimes.

Sometimes seems arbitrary to kids.

If you never know when sometimes will be, it helps to ask about it…a lot. For more on this read You Can’t Make Me Eat It!

Structure is the antidote to arbitrary.

I advised Nicole to decide what sometimes means. Can her daughter have a treat once a day? Three times per week? Once a week?

Read A Cookie a Day…

Sharing control is the way to eliminate control struggle.

Next I advised Nicole to give her daughter control over when she eats her sweets and treats. Read Lollypops whenever they want?

Then, use real life to teach the concept of sometimes.

Stick to the rule…but not so strictly that the rule becomes an issue.

Scenario 1: You have a birthday party coming up so you work with your daughter to plan for that even and to incorporate on of her treat moments into the party.

  • Now you’re at the party. Normally your daughter gets one treat but there is candy, ice cream and cake. Instead of trying to limit her to one of these, I would “bend” the rule and allow her to have what she wants—knowing this will push her over her normal allotment.
  • After the party, talk to your daughter about how many treats were at the party and tie it into the planning you and she do so that the lesson to plan for sweets and treats begins to take hold.

Scenario 2: Your daughter has already had her 3 treats for the week adn you end up at a playdate and everyone is eating cookies. What do you do? Tell your daughter she can’t have any cookies? No!

  • Whisper in her ear that you know she’s already had her treats but that she can have a cookie if she wants one (or even two).
  • Then, sometime later, talk about unplanned events, how often they occur, and why that’s a reason not to eat sweets and treats every day. You’re planning for sometimes!

Think your child is too young to have this kind of conversation?

Let’s evesdrop on Nicole and her daughter talking in the car on the way to the store:

  • Nicole’s Daughter: Can I have a cookie from Harris Teeter?
  • Nicole: Sure.
  • Nicole’s Daughter: Can I have one or two?
  • Nicole: How many do you think you should have?
  • Nicole’s Daughter: Probably one.
  • Nicole: OK.


  • Nicole’s Daughter: If I have that cookie then I can’t have ice cream tonight.
  • Nicole: Why?
  • Nicole’s Daughter: Well because I already had the cookie.
  • Nicole: Right, one treat is enough.

For more on this topic read Help! My Kid is Food Obsessed! 

It’s something to think about. It might even be something to read about!

I discuss all of these ideas in It’s Not About the Broccoli.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~