It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

Sign up for free parenting support!


The Podcast

Listen Now!

Schedule a 30 minute call today Bring Dina to your community Schedule a Professional Development Seminar

DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

Dinner Together Building Healthy Families One Meal at a Time.

Food Politics Marion Nestle's intelligent take on the politics of food and nutrition.

Fooducate Like Having a Dietician on Speed dial.

Hoboken Family Alliance A terrific resource for people living in the great city of Hoboken, NJ.

The Lunch Tray Everything you need to know about improving school lunches.

Parent Hacks Forehead-Smackingly Smart Tips

Raise Healthy Eaters One of the best blogs (other than my own) for learning to raise healthy eaters.

Real Mom Nutrition Tales from the Trenches. Advice for the Real World. From a mom-nutritionist who knows!

Stay and Play The best indoor playspace on the East Coast. Oh yeah, and it happens to be owned by my brother.

weelicious Great Recipes for Kids 

Entries in Dessert (12)


Should My Child Get Dessert If He Doesn't Eat Dinner?

Almost every parent I know uses some version of the Dessert Deal: No Dinner...No Dessert.

And I get it: The Dessert Deal works. Reluctant kids will almost always eat a few more bites of broccoli to earn their brownie.

At the risk of alienating every parent out there, let me tell you why you should dump the Dessert Deal.

  1. The Dessert Deal teaches ALL of the wrong lessons and NONE of the right lessons.
  2. The Dessert Deal can only intensify—never resolve— the food fight.
  3. All you have to do is change what you serve for dessert and your problems will all go away.

Are you willing to trade the possiblity of a long-term love of veggies for the short-term gain of a few more bites of broccoli today?

No parent ever entered into the Dessert Deal thinking, "Yeah, I want to teach my kids to hate vegetables." But there's a ton of research out there showing that kids who are "forced" to eat their veggies to get to their dessert end up thinking that veggies suck and that dessert is the bomb.

Read The Happy Bite.

5 Unintended Lessons the Dessert Deal Teaches

  1. Dinner is the "punishment," and dessert is the "reward."
  2. I can control what you eat because I control the "big guns."
  3. It's normal to eat dessert when you're full.
  4. Veggies somehow innoculate you against the sugar in dessert. Otherwise you wouldn't have to eat the veggies first.
  5. When there is no dessert, there's no reason to eat your dinner (or at least no reason to eat your veggies).

For more reasons why you shouldn't make your kids earn dessert read Wheelin' & Dealin': Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie;  10 Ways Kids Learn to Hate Veggies10 Ways Kids Learn to Love Veggies.

Trust and cooperation (not coercion) are the building blocks for teaching healthy eating habits. 

The Dessert Deal may seem like it's working, but that means it's only pushed the control struggle underground.

Reduce your kids' power and you might find that they are expressing their need for control in other not wanting to try new foods.

Sometimes, the Dessert Deal creates more headaches than it solves by teaching kids the fine art of negotiation. "How many bites do I have to eat? Four? How about two?" Read Raising Lawyers.

Let your kids fill up on dessert!

Imagine your child doesn't want to eat whatever you've served for dinner. Instead of offering an alternative, you say, "OK, you can just wait for dessert."

No fight. No power struggle. Dinner is pleasant! This can happen if you serve:

  • Fruit
  • Plain yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Smoothie
  • Baked Fruit such as apples or peaches 
  • Blueberry and Orange Yogurt Parfait

I can hear the complaints now: If I did this my child would never eat dinner. She'd always wait for dessert.

To this I say: Who cares? 

  • If you serve healthy food for dinner and healthy food for dessert, it won't matter which your child eats. 
  • Making dinner pleasant for both you and your child will—all by itself—encourage your child to eat time.

Read Dishing Up Dessert

However, if having your child hold out for dessert (even a healthy dessert) would really bother you then make sure dessert is NOT a preferred food. Go with a few items that your child likes but does NOT love.

This is the same idea behind using a backup. Read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life.

Give your child control over when she eats her treats.

Remember, It Doesn't Matter WHEN Your Kids Eat Their Crap (And if it does, then your kids are eating too much crap. Scale back the portion size.)

Finally, when you do serve a treat dessert, let everyone eat it—no matter what.

It's the only surefire way to neutralize dessert.

I discuss all these ideas in It's Not About the Broccoli.


 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Use Ice Cream to Teach Your Kids to Eat Right

It's Memorial Day weekend and that means summer.  And summer means Ice Cream!!!

Hurray.  I love ice cream.  Most kids I know love it too.

And most parents I know go back and forth between trying to regulate their kids' consumption of ice cream over the summer and, well, just letting it go.

I'm going to suggest something radical: This summer use ice cream to teach your kids to eat right.

Half the battle of eating right is knowing how to fit sweets and treats into your diet in a way that works.

That's why I was disappointed when I picked up the current issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and read their tips for choosing the best ice cream.

I love this newsletter. I really do.  But, come on!

This article advocates eating a rational amount of ice cream—as opposed to digging into a bowl that's bigger than your body— a proposition I support.

But it also advocates...

1) Substituting the dessert of your dreams with a lower fat (and sometimes totally fake) version of the real deal. Artic Zero? Really?

I say, let your kids eat the ice cream they love.

2) Trying to reduce (or eliminate) the sugar rush you receive by choosing ice creams with the least amount of added sugar.

I say, let your kids eat the ice cream they love.

3) Maximizing the protein and calcium content of your cone.  Most premium ice creams contain 4-5 grams of protein per half cup, but Ciao Bella Adonia Greek Frozen Yogurt packs a 9 gram protein punch.

I say, let your kids eat the ice cream they love.  Ice cream shouldn't be your good nutrition "go-to." 

Lesson 1: It's better to fit REAL ice cream into your diet in a way that works than to look for the "healthiest" ice cream out there.

Yes, I know that the folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest would advocate both—moderating your intake of the most nutritious ice cream out there—but that's not the way most people work.  Especially people who are kids.

Lesson 2: Let treats be treats.

The idea that we can expect things to be what they are not—ice cream that's packed with protein, cookies with as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal—is a byproduct of the nutrition mentality (mixed with a healthy dose of manufacturing magic).

But here's the irony: It's harder to teach kids to treat ice cream as a treat if you "health-ify" it.

When you blur the boundaries between healthy food and treats, it's hard to:

  • Convince your kids to limit their intake of treats.  
  • Teach your kids the importance of eating healthy foods.

Lesson 3: Eat foods in proportion to their healthful benefits.

That means eating green beans more frequently than gelato and spinach more often than sorbet.

And then, teach your kids to indulge in ice cream as an occasional indulgence.

These are the lessons they will need for a lifetime of healthy (ice cream) eating.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Hurley, J. & B. Liebman. 2012. "Ice Cream: What's Hot in the Deep Freeze?" Nutrition Action Healthletter Center for Science in the Public Interest. June. pp. 13-15. 


Kid Eats Q&A: What's a Soccer Mom to Do About Snacks?

Thanks to Katie who sent me this question:

My son (almost 5) is playing soccer for the first time this year.  I just got an email from the coach that the parents need to chip in even more money so that she can provide popsicles for the kids after all the practices and games.

WHAT?  Now, I do love popsicles, but I'm not so keen on my kid feeling that an hour of exercise deserves a sweet/colourful/completely devoid of nutrition "treat".  I know my kid and after about 3 weeks the soccer/popsicle connection will be cemented in his brain.

Am I being way too uptight? Should I put up a stink?  Offer to bring fruit?  Talk to my son about it and let him have at the popsicles? 

From a habits perspective I hate the idea that kids are being taught to consume junk with athletics.

So Katie, I'm with you. I feel your pain.  And no, I don't think you're being way too uptight.

You can try to convince the coach that she shouldn’t serve popsicles—Read my friend Sally’s success story for inspiration.—but it's not the only thing you should do.

In addition, I say use this opportunity to begin teaching your son about how to navigate the food world he lives in.  Read When School Nutrition Stinks, but here's the general plan: You figure out how much, your son figures out when.

  1. Talk to your son about how to fit sweets and treats into his diet so that fruits, vegetables and other real foods dominate his day.
  2. Teach your son to plan for popsicles by moderating his intake of sweets and treats on soccer days.  When possible, allow your son to do this for himself: “You can have this cookie now or you can have a popsicle after soccer.”
  3. Bring fruit for your son to eat, and enough fruit to share, but don’t bring so much that you take over snack time—not because you might step on some toes, which you probably will—but because being the one who always brings the healthy snacks is both a financial and an emotional burden.
  4. Allow for some wiggle room, those times when your son will have had his treat before soccer but wants another one after the game. Remember, it's the longterm lesson you're after.

Most parents I know worry that their children will feel excluded if they aren’t allowed to eat the same food (and I use the term food liberally here) as everyone else. 

To this I say:

  • Possibly. and
  • It depends on how you handle it. and
  • Sometimes it's worth the risk because there are important lessons at stake here.

Here are some points I think are worth considering: 

1) If children have adequate access to sweets and treats they won’t feel DEPRIVED in the sense of, “Kids hoard candy if they’re not allowed to indulge." Your child might feel a little deprived, but we're talking limits, not total restriction. One of the most valuable lessons you can teach your son is that he doesn't have to eat sweets and treats every time they're offered. He also doesn't have to have sweets and treats just because they're being offered.

2) Although children believe it’s not “fair” when other kids are allowed to eat sweets and they aren’t, parents don’t have to reinforce this belief.  Instead, parents can teach their children that when it comes to sweets and treats, “fair” is eating what is right for your body, not more than what’s right, and not what's right for someone else. "Maybe Jimmy didn't already have a donut today. This is his time for a treat. You already chose to have yours. Remember?"

3) Even when kids resist limits, limits are good. Put another way, if limits were always eliminated because kids didn't like them, where would we be?

4)  When children are allowed to choose when they have their sweets and treats they’re more comfortable accepting limits because they've been part of setting those limits. 

5) It’s easier to accept being different when you don’t feel deprived.  (See point #1.)

To be fair to the coach, she’s probably thinking that popsicles aren’t that bad because she thinks::

  • Popsicles are primarily water —and kids have to rehydrate. Actually they don’t need to rehydrate as much as you think. Read Soccer Moms, BEWARE!
  • Popsicles have sugar, but nothing compared to ice cream.  Actually, sugar varies widely in popsicles. One Popsicle brand grape popsicle has 8 grams of sugar, one Dreyers All Natural Grape Fruit Bar has 18 grams of sugar.  In comparison, ½ cup of Dreyers chocolate ice cream has 15 grams of sugar.
  • Some popsicles contain actual fruit.  Some do, though none of them contain the range of nutrients found in real fruit: one Dreyer’s Grape bar has 25% of Vitamin C—all of it added— but none of the Vitamin A, calcium, iron or fiber found in actual grapes.

On the other hand, this coach clearly isn't thinking about long term habits.

But, Katie, I'm glad you are.  It will help you navigate successfully past this soccer snack situation so you can teach your son the skills he will need for a lifetime of happy sports and healthy snacking.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~