We’ve gotten into a situation where my preschooler associates Shabbat entirely with eating treats. While her diet is generally pretty healthy, Shabbat is a different story, and between dessert at dinner, kiddush after services, dessert again at lunch and treats at afternoon playdates, it’s gotten out of hand. How can we scale back without taking away any of the joy?
Are the added treats affecting your daughter’s mood? Her digestion? Her sleep? Are you getting comments from other parents, or are you imposing judgment on yourself about how much is too much? Are you worried about her attitude toward food, or about her attitude toward Shabbat, or something else?
I ask you all these questions because I hope they’ll help you uncover what is at the heart of your concerns, which will help you address the actual problem.
If your daughter is behaving badly on Shabbat, it is just as likely because she’s off her routine as it is because of food. Consider how to keep her routine more regular, especially around naps and bedtime. You may also want to drop the afternoon playdates if she seems overstimulated.
If you’re sure her behavior is food-related, then be sure to offer other kinds of foods to her before making the sweets available. In your own home you can limit what foods she has access to, even if you can’t limit what she’s being offered out of the house.
You can talk to her about listening to her body when it comes to what she’s eating, but you must be very careful not to make her feel bad or self-conscious about what she’s eating and never to talk about her choices in terms of weight. If your concerns are coming from other people, please be sure that others are not making comments about your daughter’s body or her food choices (or anyone else’s) in front of her.
Unless there is a true medical concern at play, most kids’ diets really are actually just fine. Yes, even if she’s eating a lot of sweets on Shabbat, even if she’s a picky eater, even if her diet doesn’t match your ideal either for her or for your image of yourself as a parent.
Finally, if you’re concerned that her main association with Shabbat is around food, then you can work to create other kinds of memories for her. Sing Shabbat songs, spend time reading stories, set the table with flowers or beautiful centerpieces, play games, prioritize quality time together. Taken in context with other special experiences, Shabbat treats are great and don’t need to be more or less than one part of a positive Shabbat landscape.