Family Dinner: Offering Dessert


Yay or Nay?

by Sonia Jean-Philippe, Registered Dietitian,

“Finish your plate if you want dessert.”

“A few more bites and you can have dessert.”

Doesn’t it sound like your main meal is boring and your dessert is a great reward for eating the meal?

Using food as a reward can have negative consequences in the long run. Children can develop an unhealthy relationship with food whereby they link food with emotion instead of listening to their hunger and fullness cues.

Telling children to finish everything on their plates teaches them to eat even if they are full. Try not to use food to reward, punish or comfort yourself or others.

Using food as a reward or punishment can lead to overeating or poor choices. That sets up a child for poor choices as an adult. Research has also shown that adults who remember their parents using food to control their behaviour through reward or punishment have higher rates of binge-eating and dietary restriction.

Now, what to do about dessert?

When dessert is on the menu for the family, parents usually choose one of two approaches with their youngsters:

1 – They only allow their children to have some dessert in response to their behaviour (i.e. finishing their dinner, getting a good grade).

2 – They allow their children to have dessert because it is on the menu that day. Dessert is not used to reward a desired behavior. (That’s the recommended approach.)

Remember, you do not need to have dessert every night. When dessert is part of the dinner menu, offer a portion, regardless of the amount consumed during the main meal. Let your child decide when he or she has eaten enough or feels like more.

Food is meant to nourish the body; find some tips on raising healthy eaters at EatRight Ontario.



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