BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
Berkeley Parents Network >
I am hearing from various sources that kids shouldn't be forced to finish the food on
their plate because maybe they are full and we shouldn't make them over eat (e. g.
obesity being a big problem).
But how are parents managing dessert and new foods?
We often have a bit of fruit for dessert but my kids would gladly give up almost any
dinner to eat fruit. We do the, I assume, usual routine of ''eat your dinner and if you
are still hungry you can have dessert, but if you are full you don't have to finish
dinner.'' But I don't know if this is any better than ''eat the food on your plate and
you can have dessert.'' Also, I find that my kids, as expected, don't eat what they
don't like, i.e. new foods.
We have very limited snack/junk foods or juice. I try to serve small portions so that
if they are really hungry they can have more of something. But what seems small
portion to us, like two slices of zucchini (which they used to love) is now a huge
I'd like to hear how others are dealing with the vagarities of children's tastebuds and
the general societal problem of eating too much.
Also, how do people deal with visitor kids. We often have kids over and I mostly try
to have what our kids consider kid friendly food. But there is inveritable the general
response I don't like that xxx without them actually having tried it. So how do you
balance your house rules of ''eat your miniscule portion of this strange item before
you can have dessert'' with ''don't eat unless you are hungry''.
Signed: What about dessert?
There is a fabulous book called ''How to Get Your Kid to Eat...But Not
Too Much'' by Ellen Satter. She talks about power dynamics in feeding
relationships and how these go askew. Her feeling is that food should
not be used as a reward, and by saving dessert for after dinner, it
becomes a reward. She actually recommends providing a small amount of
dessert on the plate with dinner - if the child eats dessert first, it
is fine. The child will eat dinner as well if still hungry (if not,
there is probably too much dessert on the plate).
Regarding not eating new foods, studies have shown that it can take up
to 20 presentations of a new food before a toddler will feel comfortable
enough to try it.
Keep offering, and eventually the food will not be new anymore.
First, I don't think telling your kids that if they are too full to
finish dinner that they can't have dessert is the same thing as saying
they must clean their plate. They don't have to clean their plates, they
just have to eat until they've had enough. We've done it this way with
our kids (now 6 and 10) and they are great at knowing when they've had
enough. We've been in restaurants where a sundae or ice cream is
included in the kids meal, and my kids have refused them because they
weren't hungry! It is a good thing because they learn to listen to their
bodies and make good choices.
Second, when it come to introducing new foods, I usually offer it with
something else they like. Like spinach and carrots. It might be more of
pain, but it gets them to try it with a healthy back up. Our rule is
that they have to at least try the new stuff. And they know that I am
going to keep reintroducing it in one form or another, so they're not
getting out of it forever. It has worked pretty well so far.
I have also maintained that I wouldn't get into food battles with my
kids. I don't rule with a steel fist, but the rules are the rules and I
refuse to negotiate every meal time. It can take a while for them to get
the hang of things, but if they know you're not going to bend, they
eventually go with the progam.
The rule at our house regarding dessert is: no dessert if you haven't
eaten 5 fruits or vegetables throughout the day. We started this three
years ago when my son was three and my daughter five and it has worked
incredibly well. There must be a fruit at breakfast--and I don't count
juice--and the kids have two in their lunch boxes and I provide at least
two and usually more if we are having stew or soup for dinnner. If
either kid chooses not to eat the fruit/veg. at lunch or dinner, they
have no dessert. Amazingly, it's no longer an issue. The rules are
clear. Sometimes my son wants to catch up, and so eats something after
dinner so he can have a treat but more often than not he lets it go if
he didn't reach the quota. (I will admit that they are also allowed a
small treat after school which isn't dependent on the fruit/vegetable
quota.) If they get their five, I allow a good dessert--a piece of
chocolate or cookies or low-fat ice cream. It has taken away a lot of
stres and I am hoping will instill a life-long habit of trying to get
the good stuff in before the less-good stuff. Guilt, in other words.
We faced the same dilemma. I found that my daughter was scarfing down
food to get to the fruit. Now we only offer dessert on the weekends, if
at all, which helps a lot -- though this may be cheating the issue of
learning to deal with moderate consumption of sweets. Also, we only
require a small ''no thank you'' bite of foods she doesn't like or
doesn't want to try. The ''no thank you bite'' rule also applies to
getting seconds on the foods she does like. So far this hasn't devolved
into a horrible power struggle or
anything-- we just explain it as a way of showing respect to the cook
and staying open-minded and make it clear that the rule also applies to
us. So far this balance seems to be working for us, but we're new at
it-- our daughter's not yet three. Good luck to you!
kids love dessert. We just have fruit every night. They are required
to try everything on their dinner plate; they are older now (5 and 9
years old) and so it is easier than when they were younger. I do
encourage them to eat just til they're full, but there is always room
for dessert! A few times, we put the fruit on their plate with their
dinner, and this was very frustrating for them. They like having
dessert to look forward to.
At our house, dessert is an occasional occurrence. If they eat all of
their dinner and the vegetable was a ''hard one to eat'', they often get
a dessert - it's agreed upon at the start of the meal. The always have
to eat one bite of the vegetable (no matter how many times they've tried
it) or other new food we want them to try. For their drink they get a
choice of milk or water.
But... at school, camp, a friends, a party... they can have decaf soda,
juice - whatever the other kids are eating within reason. If we have a
guest child, then we suspend our rules to make it enjoyable for the
guest child. Our kids understand the difference between regular meals
and special meals with visitors (they're 5 and 3 years old).
First of all, Thank You for being a parent that seems to be concerned
about nutrition for your kids!
I think you can follow your same train of thought that if the kids are
not hungry enough to finish their dinner, then they shouldn't be eating
dessert. That's like eating when you are not hungry, I would think. That
said, we don't treat fruit as a dessert in our house, probably my girls
are not the big fans your kids are.
What we do is serve our kids in ''courses'' to get them to eat healthy.
This is a fine-tuned combination of what we feel is most important and
what theymight otherwise resist. We always serve veggies first, nothing
else on their plates. (I have a 5 and almost 2 yo--this works much
better for the older one than the toddler, but she's learning!) Once
they finish that, we usually move on to the protein part of the
meal--chicken, fish, tofu, beans and rice. The last thing we give would
be starch items that are pretty low in nutrition, i.e. pasta, bread,
rice w/o beans, etc, but do give them energy. This is what they, like
me, would make an entire meal out of if they could choose). If I were
giving them fruit, this would probably be when I'd serve that. Dessert
is extremely occaisional for us, but if they finished everything, I
might treat them to a small something sweet.
My kids are really healthy and I feel it's in part because they eat so
well. That's what works for us! Good luck with your kids!
I agree with the current research on this topic; that you should not
force your kids to eat, but not for the reason you stated which is
obesity ( which of course is
horrible) but rather the emotional tolls that kind of control can
inflict. First off, we are all born with self regulation in this area;
man, woman or child KNOWS intrinsically how much caloric intake they
need for any given time. Sometimes we are hungrier than others,
sometimes we are hungry a few times a day and other days we need to
graze more often... the point is when you override this self regulatory
feature in children what you are telling them is '' you can't be trusted
to make these most basic decisions about your own body so I need to take
over for you.'' Sadly, the message flows over into other areas of
development and the child may often be looking to you for ''the
answers'' in other instances where ''the answers'' should be internally
knowable to the child without your input.
Your only responsibility when it comes to food is to offer healthy
choices so that whatever he child chooses is okay. You need to shop for
the food, stock the fridge, and give your child the appropriate choices
(i.e. would you like yogurt and toast OR fruit and a sandwich for
lunch?). With regards to dessert (which I think is what your original
question was - sorry for the sermon!) - dessert is PART of a balanced
Give it to them WITH their lunch or dinner - that way, you take away the
hierarchy of food (i.e. all foods are equal and all foods contribute to
a balanced diet). Even if your child eats the ''dessert'' first, which
he/she will do the first few times, a hungry child will not be deterred
by one cookie or small piece of cake or a piece of chocolate. When you
reserve dessert until dinner is eaten (to your satisfaction) not only
are you overriding the self regulation of your child (because now he is
eating food he may not be hungry for in order to eat dessert) you are
holding out food as a reward (eat the ''bad'' food and you can get the
''good food'') - which may have some damaging psychological
On a more personal note, I always give dessert with the meal to my
preschool daughter (who announces often that chocolate is her favorite
food) - she eats the dessert first about ten percent of the time. It is
surprising but once you take away the ''taboo'' of sweets and treat them
on par with string beans, it will be amazing to you how strings beans
will come up in the rank (or perhaps, how sweets will go
down..) Either way, it's good for the kids - both physically and
food for thought
I ask my child to at least eat a balanced meal (not everything on the
plate, but at least a little bit of everything, and especially, enough
protein) before any dessert. And if not much food was eaten, the dessert
is correspondingly small. My son's idea about what constitutes
"dessert" is pretty flexible; it is more like "treat," meaning anythng
that is a controlled substance. Sometimes he chooses to have chips for
dessert (just a few) or gatorade, or dill pickles!! instead of the
more traditional icecream or a popsicle. (He also likes fruit with
whipped cream for dessert - without the whipped cream, it's not as
festive, I guess.) I've noticed that sometimes after a small dinner and
a small dessert, he asks for more dinner.
If he really dislikes something (he does not like tomato sauce or
potatoes) I don't make him eat it. He will try new things and likes most
of them, and generally eats a well-balanced diet so I respect his
I have no rules for guests, adults or children. If I am offering
dessert, guests are included, even those who don't eat their dinners.
When we are having kid guests, I only offer ice cream for dessert
though, not potato chips or gatorade!
Hi - I'll look forward to other suggestions because we are in a similar
situation with our almost 5 year old (and his younger brother). We have
been alternating dessert-night with bath-night, and I sometimes try to
plan menus I know he may be less interested in for bath-night so there
won't be the pressure to eat for dessert. So far we're using the ''if
you're still hungry after you finish dinner we'll talk about dessert''
line, but also the rule I grew up with: if there is anything on your
plate you don't like you can set it aside without finishing it as long
as you don't complain about it. And of course you can't know if you
don't like it if you haven't tasted it. Sometimes these two guidelines
are hard to reconcile.
I think it would be too harsh to make a guest eat something he didn't
like in order to participate in dessert so I've just said ''well, I'm
not sure what the rule is at your house but at least you did eat some __
so you can have dessert too'' - in other words, make it clear that this
is an exception to our normal rule. But I don't offer alternative menus
- dinner is what is on the table. So far we've been lucky to have
guests with wide tastes!
When I taught preschool we had an easy solution for the dessert delemma.
We would give them their dessert at the same time as their meal. They
could eat their dessert first if they chose to. As long as you are
giving them a SMALL dessert portion, they will have plenty of room left
for dinner. They always ate the rest of there food with no complaints.
You of course choose the dessert, and once it's gone they may not have
more. Also, children will eat good food if they are hungry, make sure
they aren't snacking too much throughout the day.
Works for us
I have an 18 month old and his tastes change week to week, so I always
offer him a bite of everything served for dinner.he's never taken to
broccoli but I offer it anyway in case one day he tries it and likes it.
mostly he doesn't even try it. I don't really bother with desserts
(until after he's in bed). I often have a sweet something for him like
fruit or yogurt and if that's all he eats at least I know its relatively
healthy. I don't really give the food a hierarchy though - first this
then that - though I do try to get some variety so if I know he'll eat
orange slices until he's full and he'll also eat chicken I offer the
chicken first until he's done with it. I'm not really into using food as
punishment or reward. its all just food and when junky stuff is not
available, I think kids eat what and how much they need on their own.
my cousin requires ''no thank you bites'' of her kids who are older. if
they refuse to eat something they still have to take one bite, if they
fret, they have to take two and if they continue to fuss they have to
eat the whole serving. I'm not sure I'd go that far but I think the
no-thank-you bites is a good idea when their older you can't control
what they eat, only what you give them
this page was last updated: Aug 6, 2005
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network