I can’t remember ever meeting a mom who didn’t (sometimes) make her kids “earn” dessert by eating spinach – or at least by eating two more bites of it.  And with Halloween coming up, the temptation to offset the candy-tide will be even stronger.

I understand the rationale: we want to make sure we get a few nuggets of nutrients into our kids’ systems before they blow all the available stomach space on junk.

But parents, it’s time we gave up this practice because it teaches all the wrong lessons. 

Here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t make your kids “earn” dessert:

1) Eating veggies doesn’t somehow inoculate your kid against the sugar in sweets.  Eating one should have nothing to do with eating the other.

2) Making your kids eat vegetables to get to the good stuff turns vegetable-eating into a chore.  No one likes chores.

3) It teaches kids that vegetables are important but not very likable.

4) It makes sweets even more desirable.

5) Once your kids learn the system you’ll have to serve dessert every night if you want them to eat their veggies.  Do you really want to do that?

6) Making kids eat more than they want– even with the best intentions — disconnects them from their own hunger/satiation sensations.

7) Teaching kids to stuff themselves BEFORE eating dessert is kind of crazy. We should teach them to save room for dessert instead.

8) Making kids “earn” dessert ramps up the control struggle.  Any child dedicated to winning the war will have to refuse even more foods.

9) It teaches your children to reward themselves with sweets, a habit they’ll probably practice throughout their lives.

10) The nutritional payoff from getting your kids to eat a few more bites is too meager. It isn’t worth the cost to their habits.

What can you do instead?

  • Don’t link foods. Manage desserts in a way that is reasonable for desserts and if you need to work on vegetable consumption, do it on its own terms.
  • If you want to reward your children for eating veggies, go ahead. This can be a successful approach.  Just don’t use food as the reward, and have your children work for 2 or 3 days before they are compensated. (Research shows these strategies work best.)
  • When it comes to dessert, shoot for the stars.  Identify how often you your kids ought to eat dessert when they’re grown and strive for that goal now.
  • Decide how big that dessert should be.  I recommend you make it larger than a grape but keep it smaller than their head!
  • Let your child eat dessert whenever it’s served, no matter how well or how poorly they’ve eaten.  (If it’s small, this won’t drive you mad.)

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~