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What happens when we serve dessert with dinner?

Permission and calmness are extremely important elements to support mindful eating. If we want our kids to grow up with a healthy mindset we need to take the stigma out of the idea of dessert and we need to find a way to connect with our kids during mealtime.

Just like anything in life, it is our job to teach and guide our children to approach things such as sugar with a healthy mentality. Sugar is out there and it isn’t going anywhere. It is important that we educate them on how to enjoy it in a balanced way. Serving dessert with meals? Is it crazy? Outlandish? Out of the question? How does this notion make you feel? My grandparents and parents would cringe at the thought. As a kid, it was, eat your dinner (clean your plate), and then you can have a treat or dessert as a reward for eating healthy. As a child, I rarely had dessert haha.

With Halloween approaching, do you see yourself using candy and Halloween treats as leverage for eating a healthy meal? I challenge you to try something new following Halloween this year. Instead of holding off until their plate is clean, just add a small treat to their dinner plate with the rest of their meal. Imagine the look on your child’s face when you drop off their meal at the table with a mini chocolate bar alongside their kale and quinoa and calmly walk away. To begin with, it is going to be incredibly exciting for them! They are most likely going to gobble that treat up before they touch anything else. Eventually (like in most things with children) the novelty will wear off, the practice will become normalized, and the excitement will diminish.

Firstly, we must discuss what qualifies as a dessert or a treat. I'm not saying give your child a massive piece of 1000 calorie chocolate cake. Keep the treat or dessert small, like a few chocolate chips, dried fruit, or a small cookie. You can even find a way to make baked goods that have veggies in them but are also a sweet treat for your kids.

Like anything, this strategy takes time. Be patient. Give up control. Do not make a big deal about it! Permission and calmness are key!

Here is what will happen to your child and their eating habits when you start serving dessert with dinner:

Dessert is no longer viewed as a REWARD

When a child learns to consume food in order to get a reward, they will eventually not consume those foods without a reward. A small treat will not reduce your child's appetite for the other foods on their plate. This strategy will teach them about moderation and balance. They will grow up learning the importance of self-control that will carry over to other areas along with mealtime. With a work-reward mentality, people learn that after every job well-done (whether it be eating healthy, finishing a task, or meeting a deadline) they should be rewarded with food, a pat on the back, or some type of prize. It is a do-good, get-good philosophy that is a dangerous way to operate and can lead to a damaged self-image when expectations aren't met.

They will not OVER or UNDER eat

Some children will not listen to their bodies and will overeat by consuming their entire meal in order to get dessert. On top of that, they will really overdo it by adding that treat to their already full bellies. On the flip-side, they may under-eat because they only want to consume a small amount of their meal in order to save room for dessert. Therefore, providing them with an opportunity to have a sweet with dinner will take away the need to over or under eat and teach them to eat intuitively.

They will have a healthy relationship with treats and dessert:

Calmly show them that sugar or treats are not taboo and that when given access to it in moderation it can foster a healthy relationship with it. When restricted they will pine for it and overdo it. When unlimited they will not learn self-control and may begin to choose sugar over healthier choices.

It is definitely something to think about. The long-term effects will be beneficial for your children and their future connection with food. To start with, be the one to add the treat to their meals and then, maybe eventually, have your children dish their own food and give them a choice out of two treats.

So, will you allow your child to have a small treat with their meals? I would love to hear feedback from anyone who tries this strategy or any input for what works for you and your family at mealtime.

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