Ever since having children I’ve developed a serious sweet tooth.
Pre-kids, I had zero interest in a piece of cake or a bar of chocolate. Now? Give me all the sweets! So needless to say, dessert has become a regular occurrence in our home. And there is nothing wrong with that!
Growing up, there were always sweets in the house. My friends knew that my house was the one where you would be able to have endless amounts of Joe Louis and Twinkies. But come dinner time, it was always “eat your broccoli or no dessert.” Sound familiar?
We get it – that’s very common. Even when I started feeding my kids, I too saved dessert for the end of the meal. Bargaining, bribing, doing anything to ensure they ate just one more bite of chicken. But over time I realized that this was not a winning strategy. In fact, my eldest daughter would rush through her dinner at the speed of lightning so that she could have dessert. And then, lightbulb moment, thanks to Ellyn Satter, the guru for all things family meals and raising happy healthy eaters. Basically, she’s our hero.
It may seem like we’ve gone a little crazy, but yes, we do in fact serve dessert with dinner.
And here’s why!
Dessert can become a ‘forbidden food’
When you start to place restrictions on dessert or limiting it entirely, it will start to become a ‘forbidden food’. And we all know that when we are told we can’t have something, we want it even more! It can lead your child to become preoccupied with dessert, so much so that they aren’t able to focus at the dinner table or eat their dinner at all – even if they are hungry.
Using dessert as leverage leads to a power struggle
It’s difficult to sit by and watch the broccoli or green beans on your child’s plate go untouched. But using dessert as a reward for eating dinner is really counterproductive. Kids know when they are hungry and they know when they are full. By coaxing them to eat their dinner with “you can only have ice cream if you have one more bite of your chicken” may cause them to actually overeat at dinner AND dessert and ignore their innate hunger and satiety cues. It also creates a power struggle that is really not productive or enjoyable for anyone.
So for these reasons we choose to serve dessert with the meal. Now, the common question is, “well won’t my child just eat the sweets and leave his plate of dinner untouched?” If this is new to you, than perhaps. But as this becomes more of the routine in your house and your child comes to realize that dessert will always be there, you may find they will eat both equally. And of course, they may choose to eat the sweet first. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still hungry for dinner.
The one ‘rule’ with this method is to limit dessert to one serving. So one cookie, one piece of cake or one scoop of ice cream. If they are still hungry, they can have as much of the dinner meal as they want.
Give it a try – your kids may surprise you. And once the excitement of being allowed to have dessert with their dinner wears off, they will learn to eat enough dessert to feel satisfied and you will be able to actually enjoy family dinner time, no bribing or coaxing required.