The problem: Using dessert as a reward for eating well eventually turned dinner into an afterthought. “My two boys would rush through dinner and eat the bare minimum to earn their ‘reward.’ There were constant negotiations and power struggles,” says Gia Blout of Pasadena, California.
The fix: Blout began to serve dinner family-style, with all the dishes―even dessert―presented at once. The boys were expected to serve themselves and make their own choices without any intervention from their parents. “The first night, my younger one grabbed a cookie and inhaled it. But then he relaxed and ate a complete meal,” says Blout. Eventually she began phasing out dessert at every meal―without protests.
The expert take: “It’s important to stop distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods,” says Adele Faber, a coauthor of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk ($16, amazon.com). “Making food attractive, like arranging peas in the shape of a smiley face or cutting fruit into shapes, will make kids more likely to eat it.” Considering dessert as a part of the meal, rather than as an overvalued treat, eliminates it as a bargaining chip. And if your child does eat six cookies before serving himself any spinach, consider this: “In studies, when kids were allowed to eat whatever they wanted, they just ate dessert at first. But within a few weeks, they were back to a balanced meal,” says Kevin Leman, a psychologist and the author of Have a New Kid by Friday ($15, amazon.com).