Let your kid eat dessert first. I just heard the collective GASP! from parents everywhere. Could it be that a food and nutrition expert could be saying this?
Yep, and here are a few reasons why:
- Good food vs Bad food mentality: Forcing your child to eat other foods before dessert is allowed implies that dessert must be earned, and the dessert becomes a reward. Serving the entire meal at once – including dessert – puts all foods on an equal level, none better/worse than the others.
- Overeating: Requiring the rest of the meal to be eaten first promotes overeating because the child may eat those foods past the point of fullness just to get to the dessert, and then eat the dessert even if not hungry for it.
- Disconnection from hunger/fullness cues: Children have a natural ability to regulate their own food intake and will compensate for higher calorie foods consumed by eating less later on. However, this only happens if they are allowed to self-regulate. Children whose parents are too controlling over their food intake tend to eat more than what their body needs.
You don't have to serve dessert at every meal, just like you don't have to serve any other particular food at every meal. I recommend that sometimes you have dessert, sometimes you don't. Remember that as the parent your job with food is to 1) Provide consistent, predictable opportunities to eat and to 2) Determine what foods will be served. Your child will determine if, what and how much to eat based on what you served. Being relaxed around dessert shows that sweets aren't a big deal, they are just food. And food can be eaten in any order, even dessert first.