Archive for August, 2010

Five DOs and DON’Ts of Dealing with Dessert for Kids

August 30, 2010 8 comments

DESSERTS make the world go round.

You’d like to have a calm, peaceful dinner where everyone eats the meal, and cheerfully and without fanfare enjoys a little dessert afterwards at least once in awhile. Instead, you find yourself in a battle over eating the meal or not, or if we can just eat dessert, and how much dinner has to be eaten, or how much dessert can be had and who got more. It’s enough to make you wish away their childhoods.

Here are a few tips on a peaceful coexistence of children and dessert.


  1. Don’t differentiate too much between dinner and dessert. Be casual about dessert, rather than acting like, “Wow, at last something we can enjoy after the drudgery and duty of dinner!” Show equal and genuine enthusiasm for a good meal, without going overboard and being manipulative about it. If you position dinner as something you want children to eat and dessert as something they want to eat and have to eat dinner to get, you reinforce the good-for-you equals yucky and bad-for-you equals yummy fallacy.
  2. Don’t use dessert to make a child eat dinner. Never make getting food contingent on eating some other food. It’s counterproductive.
  3. Don’t allow kids to fill up on dessert after refusing a meal. It allows them to keep doing it.
  4. Don’t let them eat anything later if they are still hungry after eating only dessert.
  5. Don’t pay attention or react to their fussiness about dessert or dinner, or let them draw you in to arguments or power struggles over food.


  1. Do allow them to start with dessert if they really want to. They might eat dinner after that when they realize they’re still hungry. Also when everyone else is enjoying dessert together later, they’ll probably be sorry theirs is already gone.
  2. Do allow them to eat only dessert, if that’s what they really want to do. Act like you don’t care, but are only a bit surprised.
  3. Do allow them to remain hungry after a meal if they choose not to eat when it’s time to eat. Temporary hunger is the best teacher.
  4. Limit the amount of sugary food. It’s one of the most detrimental things you can eat. One serving is certainly enough, especially if it’s a daily habit.
  5. Replace purchased dessert items with fresh fruit. It’s impossible to overeat fresh, unsweetened fruit. The next best thing is to serve only homemade desserts. Homemade desserts are fresher and more natural, with fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients. Purchased, industrially produced desserts are also easier to get, so we tend to eat them more casually and more frequently. Homemade is more special occasion. Make it worthwhile if you are going to eat dessert.

Related posts:

How to deal with food tantrums

Leveraging dessert to get kids to eat dinner every night

Why dessert as a bribe is a bad bargain

Six ways to insure kids eat dinner whether there’s dessert or not

Eating power struggles with kids: Why they’re useless and how to end them

The Better Breakfast: Cornflakes or Cardboard?

August 27, 2010 4 comments

IF CEREAL BOXES WERE SERVED to eat in the dining hall instead of cereal, the students might be better off. - photo by Anna Migeon

When I visited my son at college this spring, I ate in the dining hall several times with him and some of his friends. Let’s just say that the dining hall food is nobody’s favorite thing about college at the University of Dallas.

Noticing that Hannah and Helen were eating cornflakes, I told them about some research that had been done on cornflake-eating rats.

This group of rats was given only cornflakes and water. A second group was given only the box the cornflakes had come in and water. A third group got rat food and water.

The rat food group did fine. The other two all died. But the rats who ate the box actually lived longer than the ones who ate cornflakes. The last cornflake-eating rat died on the same day the first box-eating rat died.

The box eaters only became lethargic and died of malnutrition. The cornflake eaters went into fits and convulsions before dying, I told them.

“But they don’t serve the boxes here,” protested Hannah.


The cornflake research study and many other fascinating stories on food are reported in Sally Fallon‘s Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats

Categories: The Caveman Diet

How to deal with food tantrums

August 25, 2010 3 comments

Every middle of the night, Tina’s dog woke her up to get a treat. She complained about it, but the dog didn’t speak that language. He understood what she did better than what she said. He listened to the language of the treat. She was giving him what he wanted, and that’s why he kept doing it. He probably thought she liked being woken up in the night. Why else would she give him a treat for doing so? That dog had her well trained.

Along come Tina’s kids. All day, any time they want something she doesn’t want them to have, they scream. If they want candy, they scream. So she gives it to them. She says, “I wish my kids would quit that screaming. I hate that screaming.” But whenever they scream, she scrambles to give them exactly what they want in order to stop their screaming. She’s the only one suffering here, once again. Her words say she hates it, but her actions say she loves it.

It’s not that kids are like dogs, unless we teach them to be. But Tina is rewarding her dog and her kids for doing disagreeable things. She is reinforcing the behavior instead of turning the unpleasantness back on them.

Three Principles to Put a Stop to Food Tantrums

No. 1

Food tantrums are a special breed of tantrum.  The key thing to know about them is that you will prevent maybe half of all potential tantrums by never asking a child to eat anything. Kids never need to be asked to eat anything. That’s what their appetites are for. The parents’ job is merely to prevent them from eating the wrong thing at the wrong time, and they will eat the right thing at the right time. If prevented from bad eating, a child has no alternative (other than starvation) but to eat well. If you are trying to directly force her to eat things she doesn’t want, I can hardly blame her for throwing a fit. Wouldn’t you throw a fit if someone were trying to force feed you? Besides, pressing food on someone only serves to create resistance. Don’t try to make them eat, and there won’t be anything to fight about.

So the only food tantrums you should have to face are when a child wants to eat something you do not want him to have, for example his little sister’s mashed potatoes, more dessert or some junk food you have hidden away somewhere.

It’s part of the parent’s job to limit junk food. Firmly say no and do not give in. You kids need to know you mean what you say. It’s OK if they cry and act miserable.

Suffering consequences for bad behavior is upsetting for children. It’s difficult and disagreeable for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for them. It’s good for them, and for you and for everybody in their lives, now and in the future. It doesn’t make you a good parent that you suffer from your kids’ bad behavior while sparing them the pain.

No. 2

Never give them what they want in response to a tantrum. Refuse to negotiate with screamers, tantrum throwers, or whiners. Never reinforce those undesirable behaviors by giving them what they’re trying to get. Don’t make tantrums or demanding crying effective for your children. Let your children know that whatever it is they are trying to get by throwing a fit or screaming, they will never get it that way. Be consistent in foiling the purpose of the tantrum. They’ll quit as soon as they figure out it doesn’t work. If it works, they may never quit.

Say, for example:

  • “You are whining. You will not get what you ask for if you whine. Use your big boy voice and I will listen.”
  • “You are screaming, so the answer is no. The answer is always going to be no when you scream.”
  • “Crying for what you want will get you nowhere.”

No. 3

Stop tantrums even more effectively by adding an unpleasant consequence. As with Tina’s dog, ignoring him when he wakes her up would be better than giving him the treat, but adding a smack on the snout with a rolled-up newspaper goes one better.  That’s language the dog understands. So with children, causing the tantrum to fail in its aims combined with a demotivator will accelerate results.

For example:

  • Give a choice: “You can throw your fit in your room or you can accept what I have said and stay here at the table with us.”
  • If that doesn’t work, the next time just send them to their room as soon as they throw a fit. No second chances.
  • Make them go to bed right away.
  • Take away a privilege (TV, video games, an outing, or something else they really want).

Some children respond well to a light touch,so start with that. Others need stronger action. The more drastic the consequences, the quicker the results.

Once again, it’s tough for them, but not bad for them.


Coming soon:

How to Have Dessert without Making it a Bribe

Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Dessert

Related posts:

Leveraging dessert to get kids to eat dinner every night

Why dessert as a bribe is a bad bargain

Six ways to insure kids eat dinner whether there’s dessert or not

Eating power struggles with kids: Why they’re useless and how to end them

Six ways to insure kids eat dinner whether there’s dessert or not

August 22, 2010 3 comments

Are you using dessert to get your kids to eat meals? 

KIDS WILL EAT DINNER if dessert depends on it. But at what cost? –– photo by Anna Migeon

It’s not normal for a child not to want to eat dinner.  If they don’t, something’s gone wrong.  They can and should be hungry for real food at dinner time. If they’re not, maybe they’re not feeling well.

More likely, either they aren’t hungry because they’ve had untimely access to food or they are ignoring their hunger and refusing to eat because of some other reason. Maybe they want to jerk their parents around, or maybe they’ve dug in their heels about the dinner that’s served because you’ve forced them to eat it in the past. Maybe they’ve been pushed to eat so they tend to resist out of principle. Or maybe they just know they can get attention and emotional fluttering from their parents by refusing to eat.

So you try to make them eat by using dessert to motivate them to eat their dinner. Or maybe you’d just like to have dessert sometimes. But when you do have it, your kids resist eating dinner and just want to eat dessert. Maybe you require them to eat a certain amount of dinner before they can have their dessert.

You wish you could just have a nice dinner and have a nice dessert, without either a battle or feeling like you’re giving in.

It is possible! There are better ways to get kids to peacefully and willingly eat their dinner, day in and day out.

The main principle is: Never, ever make them eat. Instead, don’t let them eat.

Six strategies to break out of the dessert dilemma

  1. Let them eat only dessert, but a limited amount: one serving, not nearly enough to fill up on. Then when they are still hungry later, do not allow them to eat anything else. Be consistent on that policy. The rule is: you never have to eat anything you don’t want, but you cannot eat whatever you want. Dessert is always limited, and eating is restricted to certain times. Hunger will teach them. They don’t suffer for their bad choice and learn better if you save them from those consequences. Let hunger alone cure the problem. Limited desserts is not a bad idea anyway. Not that we never eat seconds of dessert, but we have the opportunity with a small child to set up the habit of restraint with stuff that’s bad for you and of realizing we don’t pig out on dessert and consider ourselves nourished. Babies are born with no self-restraint or understanding of why they should restrain themselves, so we have to keep them away from harm when they’re little.
  2. Serve dinner, take your time and enjoy your own dinner. Let dinner drag on for awhile. Without anybody pressing them to eat dinner, hungry children will feel free to eat dinner because they want to. They should be too hungry to wait for dessert.
  3. Don’t dignify with your attention any fussiness or refusal to eat. Pretend you don’t notice or care. Ignore any fussiness or attempts to engage you in a food power struggle about dessert (or anything else). Otherwise, they lose face if they do eat. Once the battle starts, it’s almost impossible for them to just eat because they want to.
  4. Never require bites of anything, ever. That only serves to get something down an unwilling child’s throat, which I’m never in favor of. While it seems to work, short-term, it’s just asking for long-term trouble. Kids never need to be made to eat. It’s never the answer. It develops food resistance. At the same time, it sets up meals and real food as the thing they don’t want and that you want them to eat. It sets up a situation ripe for food struggles, and once that starts, it’s all downhill. Instead, tell them they do not have to eat anything at all, ever again.
  5. Don’t let them know there is dessert ahead of time. Doesn’t really take care of the root of the problem, but it can be one way to improve the situation temporarily.
  6. Arrange for them to be very hungry. Having set meal- and snack times, with no random snacking, is the best way to insure a good appetite for what’s served. If it’s too difficult at this point to restrict them from snacking at will (a bad habit that lets kids survive while refusing healthy meals), keep them busy and active from lunch or snack time until dinner. Make sure they don’t eat anything. Don’t tell them what you’re doing. Be nonchalant. This one may not be practical very often either, but can help move things in the right direction as you improve family meal habits.

For more specific suggestions for breaking out of the dessert bribe trap, see my Aug. 17 comments on Why dessert as a bribe is a bad bargain

Coming soon:

How to Deal with Food Tantrums

How to Have Dessert without Making it a Bribe

Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Dessert

Related posts:

Leveraging dessert to get kids to eat dinner every night

Why dessert as a bribe is a bad bargain

Eating power struggles with kids: Why they’re useless and how to end them

Why Dessert as a Bribe is a Bad Bargain

August 13, 2010 6 comments

Let’s just say we want to eat ice cream every night as dessert after dinner. We’re grown-ups, so we eat our dinner first. The problem comes when the kids, who don’t care about what’s good for them, just want to eat the ice cream and skip the salad, meat and veggies.

So we make a bargain, for their own good: they have to eat dinner before they can have ice cream. Sometimes it works. Sometimes maybe it’s the only way we can make the children eat their dinner.  It becomes complicated, though: just how much dinner must one eat to get the ice cream? If they won’t eat what we want them to eat, we deny them the ice cream. Then they throw fits. Should we quit eating ice cream? Should we let the kids do what they want? Things are not going well, and no answer to the problem seems quite right.

I think eating ice cream every night is unhealthy.  But that aside, using one food to coerce children to eat another has other negative long-term results.

The danger is they might react the way kids often do in such circumstances.

A study was done on preschoolers to see how they responded to being bribed to do things that they would normally be willing to do. The kids were offered incentives for coloring with markers instead of crayons. So, naturally, the kids colored more with the markers that day. But the next time, when no one was rewarding them for using the markers, they used the markers less than they had before.  They used them less than the other group of kids who hadn’t been bribed. The fact that someone had wanted them to use the markers and rewarded them for doing so seems to have taken some of the shine off using markers.

In a similar study, some other kids were offered incentives for trying a new yogurt drink. Others were just offered a taste, freely. The ones offered the prizes didn’t much want to drink it later without a prize. Those who got no prize were more likely to like it and to drink it again later.

So maybe kids don’t like being manipulated in general. Maybe that’s what put a bad taste in their mouth. Or maybe getting a prize for doing something planted the idea in their heads that it wasn’t something worth doing on its own, without a prize. Their perceived value of the markers and the drink seems to have gone down.  Either way, postitioning good food as a means to an end, the obstacle between them and what they want,  does little to establish it in kids’ minds as something they actually like and want.

What is intended to encourage appears to actually serve to discourage. We just might be asking for more food resistance rather than real compliance or generally better eating.

Using dessert to get kids to eat dinner is an unsustainable, short-term solution that works against getting your kid’s healthy appetite working on its own long term.

A kid who’s relating normally to food is going to enjoying eating a healthy dinner.  It is possible to have kids who eat real food with gusto every day, given the proper environment. My kids are proof of it.

In several ways, using dessert as a lever to get kids to eat dinner establishes a bad relationship to food:

  1. It positions dinner as something you need compensation to eat.
  2. It gets you in the habit of eating what you don’t want to eat, maybe eating more than you really want, instead of a habit of enjoying and wanting healthy foods.
  3. It shortchanges the joy eating real food can be.
  4. It probably sets kids up for craving sugar.
  5. It develops the habit of eating real food not because we like it but because we want the dessert afterwards.
  6. It develops dependency and fussiness instead of a self-propelling, natural, healthy appetite.

Let’s compare eating to reading.  A child who grows up from toddlerhood being read to will want to read on his own. He will like to read and enjoy reading.  What have you accomplished if you get kids to read only by bribing them?  A book or two read reluctantly and little desire to read more. If you’re very lucky, they’ll stumble across loving books on the way to getting the bribe, but the bribe itself makes that considerably less likely.

Coming soon:

How to Insure that Kids Eat Dinner whether There’s Dessert or Not

How to Deal with Food Tantrums

How to Have Dessert without Making it a Bribe

Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Dessert

Related posts:

Leveraging Dessert to Get Kids to Eat Dinner Every Night

The Right Strategy to Get Kids to Eat: Put Gas in that Car

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 13 August 2010 / All rights reserved

Leveraging Dessert to Get Kids to Eat Dinner Every Night

August 6, 2010 9 comments

If you gotta eat dinner to have dessert, you'll eat your dinner. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Free Stock Photos

“We have no problem with my kids eating their dinner,” my friend Ashley told me. “Every night I make dessert. I don’t mind doing it. We all enjoy having it. The kids know that if they don’t eat their dinner they won’t get any dessert, so every night they eat their dinner and they get dessert. We have no fights about it.”

Several other moms told me they have dessert all the time, too, for that very reason: it’s one of the key tools in their toolbox to make their kids eat meals.

Recently, a mom asked me this question: “Our problem is that we like to have ice cream (our junk food of choice) in the summertime after dinner and if our kids don’t eat their supper they can’t have ice cream. Well, it makes them eat their dinner sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t, and of course when they don’t get ice cream they have tantrums. I get what you are saying and want to play that way, but I want my ice cream too. Arg!”

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere

Now, I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist or a doctor.  What do I know?  My expertise is in how to get kids wanting to eat whatever it is you want them to eat, not because they want to get something else, or for any other reason than that they want to eat it. I have no qualifications in nutrition, so maybe I’m wrong. Listen if it makes sense. But from what I’ve read, sugar is terrible for you. We eat far too much of it.

If life for your kids is anything like it has been for mine, sugar is unavoidable. My kids were bombarded with sugar everywhere they turned: school, church, friends’ houses, restaurants, parties. I felt like I could never give them any at all myself because they already got such an overdose everywhere else.

So that’s one problem. Sugary dessert every day seems like a lot to me. If your dessert is just all natural fruit, I’m all for eating it every day. Otherwise, it’s uncalled for. There are better ways to get kids to eat. Harmless and healthy ways.

Sugary desserts every day are bad enough, but having a sugary dessert every night because your kids won’t eat dinner otherwise is far worse. Giving them something harmful in order to get them to ingest something beneficial hardly seems ideal. It’s abnormal and unnecessary. It’s an example of sacrificing the permanent on the altar of the immediate. Something’s gone wrong with the system if that’s what it takes.


Coming up:

Why Dessert as a Bribe is Bad Bargain

How to Insure Kids Eat Dinner Whether There’s Dessert or Not

How to Have Dessert without Making it a Bribe

How to Deal with Food Tantrums

Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with Dessert

Six ways to orchestrate kids’ desire to eat what you want them to eat, Part II

August 5, 2010 4 comments

This post continues from Six ways to orchestrate kids’ desire to eat what you want them to eat, Part I

Four: Keep them from eating: be out doing something fun. Distract them from eating at times you don’t want them to eat. Take them to the park, the library, anywhere where it will be easy enough to keep them away from food.

Then have a meal prepared ahead of time to serve upon arrival, and they will be too hungry to turn it down.

Marlena’s kids would be foraging in the kitchen all afternoon, after not really eating lunch.  So they would spoil their appetite for dinner, thus perpetuating the cycle. They would need a “second dinner” before bedtime, after refusing dinner, in order to stay asleep all night. She decided the only way to stop them would be to get them out of the house.

I know you can’t do this everyday forever, but it can help break a bad cycle and jumpstart change. If outright laying down the law is too much change all at once, this strategy can get you moving in the right direction more gently.

Five:  Do not give them anything to eat after meals when they haven’t eaten enough. This strategy gets more into the tough love area. Let their hunger teach them. The natural consequence of choosing not to eat is hunger. Let them choose to be hungry if they want, or not to eat if they are not hungry. This technique can be used indefinitely, as needed. But it won’t be needed long. Temporary hunger is a perfect teacher, a speedy teacher.


Six: Let them serve themselves. Say, “Only take it if you are going to eat it. We all want some and we don’t want to waste it.” Put the value on food.

Marlena’s kids responded especially well to this shift. They liked being in charge of what they ate–who wouldn’t?  And they ate more and stopped misbehaving at the table. Kids, like the rest of us, respond well to being treated as if we are capable and trustworthy. They are perfectly equipped to regulate their own eating if the situation is properly set up.  Like sheep, they only need to be limited and restricted from the wrong eating. Then the right eating is inevitable.

Related post:

How to Motivate Kids to Eat

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 5 August 2010 / All rights reserved