Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Dessert Debacle

Sometimes people get the impression that I have a household of perfect little eaters. We all love the same things, no one ever complains when their food is touching and most certainly no one ever asks for candy and sweets. Wrong. We are just as human as the rest of you. In fact, my loved ones have even gone so far as to coin a new term in my honor: "the Kelsie-sized portion." This phrase is most commonly used in reference to dessert or ice cream which totally makes sense since I am a dietitian and have my personal health at the utmost and forefront of my mind at all times (*cough*). You, like most, might assume "the Kelsie-sized portion" to be microscopic in size: a crumb of cake, a mere whiff of cream and a totally-satisfying two chocolate chips each. I only wish that were the case. When my family asks "Would you like a regular serving or a Kelsie-sized portion", what they are really wondering is whether you want a normal slice of dessert or a gargantuan-maybe-I-should-be-just-a-wee-bit-embarrassed mass of sweet goodness with a towering two or three scoops of a la mode.

Now that I've aired all my dirty dessert laundry, let's get to the point: I have a sweet tooth! My kids have a sweet tooth! (Or maybe is it sweet teeth?) It's natural to like sweets. As humans, we are actually born with a natural affinity for carbs so go ahead and do a little happy dance knowing you are NORMAL. And so are your kids.

Probably the most frequent question that parents ask me is: What do you do when your kids don't eat their dinner but then still want to have dessert? Let me warn you that you probably aren't going to like my answer: I let 'em have it. 

Allow me to expand. I didn't like my answer at first either. It went against everyone bone in my being. Why would I reward poor eating with a delicious treat? It's a fair question but it's answer involves a big-picture outlook, seeing the forest and not just the tree. My long-term goal is to teach my kids to make their own good choices. I have this amazing opportunity while they are still in my home to help guide them in learning to take care of and fuel their own bodies. I know from my own personal experience that severely limiting or even totally avoiding certain foods typically does none other than to increase desire for those foods.

I think we all can identify a moment in our early adulthood or even teenage years when we threw out our parents' rules and went hog wild with food. It may have been when we went off to college and were presented with the all-you-can-eat-for-the-same-price cafeteria buffet for the first time. Or it may have been when we were handed our driver's license and could finally take ourselves to the grocery store to buy and binge on "forbidden foods." For some of us, these instances were merely par for the course, blips in the growing up process. For others, they marked the beginning of some ill-fated eating choices that morphed into habits that eventually landed our bodies and minds in a state of poor health.  

I recognize that despite my best efforts, my kids will probably still have one or two or five of these hog wild food moments. But I hope not. My goal is to raise them to enjoy treats and desserts and sweets and learn how to incorporate them into their lives in a way that is balanced and not binge-full so that they don't live their lives feeling deprived. I don't want them to view desserts as an if/then scenario: if I eat my dinner, then I can have dessert. I want them to listen to their own bodies and determine what foods help them feel good and energized and what makes them feel tired and sick.

So how do I keep my kids from eating sweets and only sweets? If we go back to the Division of Responsibility that I wrote about here, we'll remember that as the parent, I am in charge of what foods are offered to my kids. I don't have control over whether or not they eats those foods but I do have a say in what is served. So do I serve desserts at every meal? No way. I know my kids. And I know myself. Serving dessert at every meal would be a recipe for failure, not to mention poor health. But I do make a point of incorporating treats routinely at home, 2 or 3 times a week with an inevitably gathering out of our home that involves dessert too. Sometimes it's a homemade popsicle or simply a few chocolate chocolate chips. Other times it's a slice of the made-from-scratch 6 layer cake that mama's been pining after. I want desserts to be a regular part of my kids' scenery so they learn the intricacies of maneuvering wants and desires and their own state of health. I want them to try, taste, savor and enjoy. I don't want them to view desserts as "forbidden foods" that they feel deprived of and eventually binge on when out of my care. Rather, I want them to experience the positives that can come out of eating sweets in moderation and without guilt.

So when dessert is on the menu, my kids know that they can have it. Even if they didn't eat anything for dinner. Even if they disobeyed earlier in the day. Even if they had dessert yesterday. If it's served, it's fair game. No question. And it probably comes as no surprise that they've never turned it down. And why would they?

But what do I do when dessert is NOT on the menu and the kids are still asking for it? Let me give you three easy phrases you can begin to use if this is a problem you encounter in your home. First of all, acknowledge how good dessert is. I know sweet girl, I would love some dessert tonight too. Next, remind them why we don't eat it all the time. But our bodies are made to have desserts all the time so there are some days when we don't have any sweets. Then reassure them. I promise that we will have them again soon, like how about tomorrow at your cousin's birthday party?

If you've found yourself acting as the "dessert police" more than you'd care to admit, you will be surprised how much easier things get when you surrender the role and resume operating under the guidelines laid out in the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. There will no longer be battles over trying to get your kid to eat their dinner first before having dessert. Oh man will it ever be hard watching your child down a bowl of ice cream without even touching his dinner for the first time. Oh yes it will. But keep the big picture in mind and remember you have a say in whether dessert is served tomorrow or the next day or the next. The goal here is to get out of the battle and erase the idea of "forbidden foods."

One surprise benefit you might experience when you adopt these practices around desserts is that your kids will begin to beg for sweets less. It may seem a bit counter intuitive but when kids finally realize (and accept!) that sweets will be a regular part of their diet, their desire for them may wane from what comes across as an innate "need" to a mere want, purely for pleasure. Isn't this the kind of attitude we all want to have toward sweets?

No comments:

Post a Comment

posted by kelsie