You know the scenario. Child says: “Mum, I don’t want to eat the pumpkin”. Mum says: “Eat your pumpkin and I’ll give you some dessert”. Child eats pumpkin.
The first problem is that when we bribe with dessert or sugary or sugary treats, it makes those unhealthy foods even more desirable. If you offer ice cream to convince your child to eat broccoli, in the end it makes your child love and want ice cream even more!
The second problem is that when you use bribes to encourage behaviour, it doesn’t increase the behaviour in the future unless the bribe is presented again. So if you promise ice cream to your child if they eat their broccoli, they will ask for the bribe again the next time you serve broccoli. If you remove the ice cream, they won’t eat the broccoli.
On a side note, tasting foods is much more important than eating it all. If your child doesn’t like certain foods after tasting them, don’t worry if they don’t want to eat more of it. As long as they taste every time, they will eventually develop their taste preference and learn to like those foods. When this happens, you won’t feel the need to bribe and coerce!
If you offer dessert, the best thing to do is to dissociate it from the main meal. Focus on enjoying the main meal, and when finished you can say: “Are you still hungry for something else?” If your child is not hungry and they ate really well, you can take a break to digest and offer a healthy snack or dessert later. Taking a break between main and dessert will give your child the time to digest and determine if they’re still hungry.
If your child didn’t eat much though, make sure that dessert doesn’t replace the meal. If you find that your child isn’t eating their main meal because they know they can fill up later on dessert or other snacks, you should reduce the portion size of those snacks. That way, your child will learn that it’s important to eat well at mealtime so that they feel satisfied. If you’re child is hungry between meals, it’s also always a good opportunity to offer vegetables!
Dessert often gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t have to be unhealthy or sugary. There are plenty of options for nutritious desserts or snacks between meals. When you serve nutritious foods for dessert, you’re less likely to use it as a bribe and more likely to encourage your child to eat only if they are still hungry. If your child says he is ‘starving’ but won’t eat the piece of fruit or other healthy snack, maybe they’re not that hungry.
In a nutshell…
1. Dissociate the main meal and dessert.
Eat the main meal, and later see if your child is still hungry. Don’t make dessert a consequence of eating the main meal. Take a break in between.
2. Don’t bribe with dessert.
Ask your child to taste everything and eat what they like to fill their tummy. Don’t talk about dessert until you finish the meal.
3. Offer a small snack.
If your child didn’t eat very well, you can offer a small snack to tide them over, but not enough to replace the main meal. Offer vegetables anytime!
4. Make dessert nutritious.
Avoid sugary and junk foods and think of dessert as a healthy snack.
Trying to get more veggies into your child? Try Healthy and Delicious Cauliflower Hash Browns.
Is your child always hungry in the afternoon? Check out our Healthy snacks for kids.
By Justine Simard-Lebrun
Author of Try It You’ll Like It, A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Adventurous Eaters