As part of my own journey to heal my relationship with food, I started following a bunch of anti-diet nutritionists on Instagram. They all talked about raising intuitive eaters and one strategy in particular — serving dessert with the meal — piqued my interest.
At first I thought this was crazy. Won’t this actually create mealtime struggles? Surely they will only want to eat the sugary sweet treat and not the other healthful foods I served alongside them, right? Won’t they get nutritional deficiencies eating this way?
Once I learned why you serve dessert with the meal, it made a lot of sense. Basically, by saving dessert to the end of the meal, you’re elevating it to this special status. This makes kids crave it even more, and can lead to mealtime struggles such as “eat your peas if you want your dessert.” It can also cause kids to overeat, as they’ll fill up on the meal before going on to eat dessert.
Plus, in a way, we’re telling our kids that they don’t get the yummy special food until they eat the boring, basic foods. By serving dessert with the meal, you assign the same value to all the foods on their plate, and give them the opportunity to follow their taste buds.
I sat my kids down and explained to them that we were going to try something new. That if dessert was on their plate they could eat whatever they wanted in whatever order they wanted, but that if there was no dessert, then that meant we weren’t having any that night and they could still decide what and how much they wanted to eat off their plate. They wouldn’t get dessert every night, but it would no longer be tied to how much they ate.
Sure, the first few times we tried this, the kids went straight for the “treat.” And, a couple of times, they didn’t touch anything else on their plate. I got nervous thinking that perhaps this was the wrong path. (My partner and I still don’t agree on the strategy, but they are trying it this way.) After a couple of days my kids would take a bite of their favourite food first — and sometimes that wasn’t the dessert!
Now that they’ve been eating this way for a few months, there’s no more food fights at dinner time. Before, they’d constantly ask if they’d eaten enough to get dessert, nickel and diming every bite to get the treat at the end of the meal. While they still often reach for dessert first, they just as frequently go back for their veggies.
Today at lunch my youngest ate his gummy candies first, then said, “I will eat my veggies now.” And he did. After he asked if he could eat the cookie on his plate, I asked if he was hungry for cookies. He said yes and proceeded to eat half, before cleaning up the rolls of ham beside it. My oldest finished his baby carrots before even touching his gummy candy.
While their nutrition might not be “perfect” by Pinterest standards, they’re offered a variety of foods from different groups with every meal, and they try almost everything. Serving dessert with dinner hasn’t really increased their sweets intake, but it has eliminated our mealtime struggles, and will hopefully help them to have a healthier relationship with food.