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.
- The Dessert Deal teaches ALL of the wrong lessons and NONE of the right lessons.
- The Dessert Deal can only intensify—never resolve— the food fight.
- 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
- Dinner is the "punishment," and dessert is the "reward."
- I can control what you eat because I control the "big guns."
- It's normal to eat dessert when you're full.
- Veggies somehow innoculate you against the sugar in dessert. Otherwise you wouldn't have to eat the veggies first.
- 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 Veggies; 10 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 arenas...like 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:
- Plain yogurt
- 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 better...in 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.~