“If you eat all your dinner, you can have dessert.”
You’ve said it, I’ve said it, our parents said it. But is it the right thing to say?
Dessert can be a really loaded issue for many households and it is one I am battling with right now.
Somehow, I have landed myself in this vicious circle of dessert negotiation with my children, particularly my fussy four year old.
Dangling the carrot of dessert to get your kids to eat their veggies might seem like an effective way to get them to eat right, however it can actually lead to bigger issues.
Accredited Dietitian and Nutritionist, Deb Blakley says doing this may be teaching our kids not to listen to their bodies.
“What you’ve really done is encourage them to push themselves pas their natural sense of satiety.”
This certainly rings true for my kids, one sweet tooth in particular, who would eat a mountain of broccoli just to get to the sweet stuff.
Experts point out that using dessert as a “prize” for finishing all their dinner can also reinforce children’s views that vegetables are yukky so they deserve a reward for eating them.
As with most aspects of parenting, bribing and bargaining might work in the short term but can have negative effects long term.
So what’s the alternative?
Deb recommends you implement at dessert strategy.
What is your dessert strategy?
Here are a number of strategies suggested by dietitian’s and nutritionists regarding dessert:
1. Change what you offer for dessert.
Don’t always make it ice-cream, chocolate or cake. Yoghurt, stewed, dried or fresh fruit, cheese plates or smoothies are great dessert foods too.
2. Watch your portion sizes for dessert.
One helping of dessert is sufficient but if the child is still hungry they can always have more dinner or fruit.
3. Dessert for all.
Offer dessert on certain nights but everyone gets dessert regardless of whether they’ve eaten their dinner – this helps “neutralise” dessert and take the power away from it as it is no longer a reward.
4. Serve dessert WITH dinner.
This is a really interesting strategy that a lot of experts recommend. The idea is that you are handing control back to the child about what and how much they eat. Obviously, portion sizes for dessert need to be kept in mind here but ideally the child will end up eating a little bit of everything.
Of course, one of the best strategies to encourage a health relationship with food is to lead by example.
“Eat with your kids at sit down meals and snacks as often as you can. Enjoy dessert (whatever and whenever you choose to eat it) alongside other delicious foods you want your kids to learn to like,” says Deb. “Teach your kids that all foods are equal and all have their place, including dessert.”
If you are looking for some yummy recipe ideas for kids, including desserts, Deb shares some great ones on her website Kids Dig Food.
You can also hear what else Deb has to say about kids’ nutrition over at Parent TV.