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Parenting Traps

Chocolate at 1?

Start my boy too early and, the experts say, he's doomed. But waiting feels so unfair!

By Linda K. Wertheimer
April 12, 2009
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My 1-year-old hovers by my legs as I rip open the bag of chocolate chips, and his eyes widen as milk-chocolate drops stream into the mixing bowl of brownie batter.

I'm a chocoholic. So is my husband. But we are tentative about making chocolate or any sweets a staple so early in Simon's life. First-time parents, we are ignorant about the right time and way to introduce sweets. I pop a chip in my mouth. "Eh, eh, eh," my son says. Translation: "I want that!"

Give him a chocolate chip, and he could grow up to be an obese chocolate addict. Or at least so say some self-appointed experts. My husband and I agree that starting life with mostly healthy food is ideal. But shouldn't Simon be able to share in one of life's unbridled joys: consuming chocolate? I kneel and let him pluck a chip from my palm. "Um." No translation necessary.

The next day, Simon eyes every move as I serve the brownies to guests. "Eh, eh, eh," he says. I put a bite-size chunk on Simon's booster-chair tray. "Eh, eh, eh." I break off two more pieces. "Um, um." Before another request for brownie, I whisk away the dessert and add Cheerios to his tray. Simon happily chews on the Cheerios.

Phew. I want him to grow up with a love for sweets, but a controlled adoration.

Wait until a child is at least 1 before offering sweets, one Boston nutritionist advises. "If they don't ask for it, don't offer it. If they ask for it, don't hide it and pretend that dessert doesn't exist," says Lisa Brown, an assistant professor of nutrition at Simmons College. After that taste for sweets surfaces, try a once-a-day treat, advises Brown, mother of a 3-year-old. Emphasize that sweets are treats, not nutritious snacks.

Children copy our eating habits, and my son is no exception. Simon already has an appetite for apples, bananas, grapes, and cucumbers, particularly if he sees us with them. But we also like pizza and pasta.

Maybe, in the end, he will teach us better eating habits. But chocolate for him, I suspect, ultimately will trump Cheerios.

Question of the Week:

How early did you introduce sweets to your child? Do you wish you'd waited?

Next week: Making time for Friday night family dinners

Last week: A stepmom wrestles with labels