Tuesday, June 15, 2010

dethroning dessert, when bribing with brownies isn't working anymore

It's a little nuts here. Breakfast on the floor on upturned laundry baskets, antibiotics and the upset tummy to go with it (me luckily, not M) and a house full of dust and toxic floor sealer smells, working out of the local coffee shop...
So, I am linking you to my colleague Kathleen Cuneo's newsletter to my thoughts on "dethroning dessert."

Let me know what you think? Are you a dessert briber? Does it work? Have you given it up recently? Are you afraid to give it up?


  1. Luckily, from the get-go we have used Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility and serve dessert with every meal. My 4 yo daughter sees it as a normal part of dinner, usually eats at least some of it along with the rest of her food. Dinners are very pleasant, which is great.
    The only thing I struggle with is her complete disinterest in 95% of the veggies she comes in contact with. So I have gotten into the habit of asking her to take 1-2 bites of the veggies so she can poop, as she's noticed that she'll get constipated if she doesn't get enough fiber. I know that this is not optimal, but am feeling stuck! I guess I'm afraid she won't eat any vegetables at all if I don't push at least a little. I serve them in lots of different ways - not just steamed - but they just don't appeal to her.

  2. I remember watching a certain reality show about a certain family with eight children (one of my guilty pleasures, don't judge me!) and being surprised by the way meals were organised. Each kid received a plate or tray with all the elements of the meal on it: salad or vegetables, meat, pasta or potatoes, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies... At the time I thought the idea was just to save time, but now I think that they may have been onto something else. It was weird to see the kids eat chicken with cookies, or fish fingers with fruit, but they did seem pretty relaxed around food and well-adjusted about eating.

    I like the idea of dethroning dessert and I will definitely give it a try when I have kids. The biggest obstacle I envision, however, is trying to explain the concept to grandmothers, aunts and other occasional babysiters who I'm sure will be puzzled by the meat-salad-potato-ice cream combination.

  3. randldub,
    it sounds like you are doing well with meals, and with offering variety and having a pleasant time. Not knowing all of what's going on, it's hard for me to comment, but some kids are so tuned in to pressure that any pressure or advice can really turn them off and slow the process of learning to like new foods. Can you use fruits and other foods to get the fiber in to help with the poop since she enjoys those? Even use a bit of soluble fiber dissolved in fruit juice if you serve it? See if you can allay your fears of fiber and constipation and try to lay off all pressure or worries about veggies for awhile. Keep serving them. Keep having them in serving bowls with sauces, and hang in there when she doesn't show interest for days to weeks. If you can truly back off the pressure, chances are high that she will come around, but it will likely take longer than you like or are comfortable with. What do you think? is it worth a try? M passed up Kohlrabi for 6 weeks, but the next time we had it, she put some on her plate (and ignored it) until I started cleaning up then she tried it and liked it. I am convinced (and studies show) that even positive pressure like rewarding or paying off or praising a kid to try foods slows down the process of acceptance... Hang in there!

  4. I used to bargain with dessert but stopped a few weeks ago (thanks to this site and Ellyn Satter's books). I don't include dessert with dinner because my boys have such small appetites that even one small cookie might be enough to put them off the rest of dinner, but instead, dessert is an evening snack that you get regardless of what you ate for dinner.

    My boys, especially my picky four year old, still push me about dessert just to test whether it's really true that even if they don't eat x, y AND z, they'll STILL get dessert, but I'm always relaxed about it and it has truly transformed our dinners. My four year old, who is all about power struggles over everything, is so much more relaxed now that he knows he's in control and gets to eat what he wants (including dessert). He's still his picky, texture-sensitive little self, but he's often much more likely to voluntarily try something...or at the very least scoop a little bit onto his plate. But regardless of how this has changed my boys' eating, it sure makes dinner nicer for me now that I don't have to argue and threaten the whole time!

  5. Ila,
    I used to watch too :) (Do you still watch? She seems so celebrity hungry. Part of why I used to watch was that I thought it was cute how she and Jon would bicker or argue and then seem to hold it together. Oh well...) In her case, she didn't have time to micromanage and she seems to have done pretty well with that.
    Yes, family, friends, wait-staff will butt in and make it hard. I have learned to say, "Follow my lead with feeding please" is helpful, though I am of "normal" size and a feeding specialist so I get cut a little slack. As one mom pointed out, it is hard, especially if you happen to be larger than "normal" or fat, or have a history or an eating disorder to get people to back off. Good luck!

  6. S,
    Good for you! You make some great points. You have to do what works for your family, and this seems to be working. I love that you mention the texture sensitivity issue. I think parents sometimes that kids with SI or texture issues can learn to like new foods, but that it takes longer, and not to stop helping them move themselves along. Sounds like he is trying some new foods and you are all happier. Happier meals means you will be more likely to sustain the all important family dinner over the years. YAY! Considering how often little ones are fed, I know it is a HUGE relief when you can just enjoy that time and each other. Spread the word!

  7. We are lucky because our daughter has always been a fairly adventurous eater and we don't have to work too hard to get her to eat fruits and veggies.

    I read Satter's book on family feeding because I was concerned that I was going to pass my own wacky disordered eating on to her. Reading the book was a real revelation. We had actually been doing pretty well on our own, but were still using the "just one more bite of X before you can have Y" strategy. What a relief to let all that go and just let her eat what she wants (of whatever is on offer)!

    We don't usually actually serve dessert at the same time as the rest of the meal, but if Miranda asks for it, I will get it for her right away. More often than not she will eat her dessert then go back to her meal. And sometimes *gasp* she will not even finish her dessert!

    But I do have a few questions about how you handle the dessert issue: at what age is it recommended that you stop serving dessert at the same time as the meal? And how do you handle it when the dessert option is, say, peaches in syrup and your child demands ice cream?


  8. Michellers,
    this is a great question. Sounds like what you are doing works for you, so keep up the good work. In terms of when to stop serving dessert with the meal, it sounds like you have already figured out what works for your family. I would say every family is different. You might always serve dessert with the meal, or transition to offering it near the end of a meal, or as one reader pointed out, do it in courses (whatever works in your culture/mini culture of your family.) You are handling it right for your family when you are tuned in to eating, having a pleasant time, your children are growing in a steady way, and dessert is a part of the food experience (an important part for kids, but not a problem.) That's my quick answer. As for the peaches, I say, "This is what's for dessert tonight, we are lucky that we get to eat so many different foods and desserts. We had ice-cream two days ago, tonight it's peaches!" and don't give in! Sometimes we skip dessert altogether and I handle that matter of factly as well.

  9. Thank you, Katja!

    By the way, I just finished my 12 sessions with the Fat Nutritionist and it was such an amazing, difficult, eye-opening experience. My hope is that not only can I provide a healthy structure for my daughter's eating but that (with some more work) I can even be a role model for her.

    I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your blog and your perspective!


  10. Michellers,
    Sounds like you're on your way! Congrats. I love the Fat Nutritionist. She rocks. So glad it was helpful.

  11. Following Michellers's question about dessert options and your anwer: Do you think it's better to give the child one dessert option, take it or leave it, or to give them some choice, maybe between two or three options? Older kids usually get more adept at questioning their parents' decisions, and they may rebel against "this is what's for dessert tonight" just for the sake of rebelling – and then we would be back at the beginning, involved in the power struggles we were trying to avoid.

    If Satter discusses this in her book, you can just tell me to GO READ THE BOOK and stop asking nitpicky questions, I'll understand :)

  12. I don't remember it specifically addressing this issue. In theory, the "best" would be if you are having one dessert that you serve the entire family, say a bread pudding, or fruit crumble. It may also depend on the age of the child. You can perhaps say, your choices for dessert are X,Y,Z and let them choose IF that works for you (see my answer to Michellers)
    I like the idea of varying dessert, and the kids should be able to make do with a less than favorite dessert. We don't follow the "ideal" in our house. I'm not a dessert eater (would rather eat more steak) and my husband doesn't eat dessert with dinner either. I do, however offer it to my daughter. I still can be in charge of the WHAT while giving her choices. So, some nights it's fresh cherries that we all eat, and that's the only option, other nights I might say, "You can chose a popsicle or ice cream for dessert..." The key is that you maintain the DOR. Some questioning the parent's decisions is expected, but don't be held hostage to the power struggles, just say, "No ice-cream tonight. Tonight is fruit salad." Remain calm, and neutral and don't negotiate. Difference between parenting and power struggle...Did that make sense? (I didn't sleep much last night!)