Do you offer dessert if your child doesn’t finish their dinner?

It’s been a while since I blogged and I apologise for that. Life got busy, in particular, my clinics got super busy and after a crazy term 2 of completely full clinic days, a waiting list, several presentations and speaking events, I got sick with the flu  and couldn’t get out of bed for close to 2 weeks. Thank you to all my lovely patients who sent me “get well soon” emails and kindly rescheduled all their appointments. So term 3 is going to be different, I’m going to slow down with my clinics and remind myself why I left public health and went into private practice – flexibility and ownership. This also means that I need to stop working around the clock which may mean that patient admin work doesn’t get done immediately (just me here on my own running a practice)- I am going to try and keep my work to weekdays only and make sure I spend family time on weekends without checking emails and writing reports. Fingers crossed.

toddler eating with name copysmaller

Which leads me onto this blog post. Once parents of my fussy eating patients find out that I’m a mum of 2 boys (and one particular fussy eater), they want to know what I do with meals. My answer is that I follow the “division of responsibility” rule by Ellyn Satter. Which means:

I decide: where the kids eat (at the dinner table), when they eat (this includes spacing snacks and main meals well apart) and what they eat (more on that point below).

They decide: if they eat it and how much – very big rules in my family that I honestly stick to.

But here is where I am human – my husband doesn’t get home until 7 – 7:30pm. So whilst the kids are still very young (and are in bed by 7pm), they eat dinner earlier but on the weekends, we try to eat together as a family.

Do I make them finish their plate?

– NO WAY!!! I encourage them to eat until “they are full”, I make sure I plate up food that I know they can eat (so if we are having a new food eg curry then I make sure there is something (eg bread, rice or pasta) that is the failsafe – I know they will always eat that).

– If they don’t like what I plate up, I encourage them to eat what they can and then “learn about the rest” – this means talking about the smell, colour, what it feels like on their forks, on their fingers and if they are ready, what it tastes like on their tongue. Remember they have the failsafe to fill up on.

– If they refuse to eat, then I remind them that they won’t get anything else after this meal (and I mean that!!). I’m lucky, because the boys like competing with each other and often if one eats, then other will start eating. If one refuses to eat, he does have to stay at the table until the other finishes because meals are more than just about food, it is about communication and interaction.


Do I offer dessert?

– Yes – every night, I offer 2 courses. This means that if they don’t eat their main meal, they will always get dessert in my family.

– But here is the key difference that comes back to the division of responsibility that I spoke of earlier – I decide what is for dessert and it might be healthy, it might not or it might be a combination. Here is the other thing – I don’t attach “emotions” to food, I plate up dessert and give them a kid’s serving. If they want more, they can have it – but if they didn’t finish their dinner, they don’t get more, because I remind them that they are probably hungry because they didn’t finish their main meal. They can then chose to go back to their dinner (which they often do) or leave the table. We do talk about nutrients and why we eat different foods both at meals and when cooking meals and even when shopping for meals. Food talk plays a big role in my family.

– Does it always work?  well have a look at the picture below – as you can see, my 5 year old ate everything (apart from “learning about the blueberries” – who doesn’t like blueberries?) but my 3 year old ate a bit of his fruit and very little of his yoghurt but he ate the chocolate block. Did I say anything? No, because I don’t attach emotions to food. When he was finished, he said so and I said he could leave the table. Tomorrow’s dessert probably won’t have chocolate, it might be just fruit or just yoghurt or even a healthy muffin. We vary it up and we offer fruit and vegetables throughout the day so it doesn’t faze me. I won’t get into a food battle with him – I decided what to serve – he decided if he wanted to eat it and how much – back to the division of responsibility. Easy.


Do I eat with my kids?

– No – I would love to say that my family all sit down at the table and eat dinner together every night but my reality is different, my husband works long hours and my kids are young. So I eat dinner with my husband when he gets home at 7:30pm and kids eat earlier. But I do sit down with my kids when they eat – I often have a cup of tea when they eat their main meal and I always join in for dessert … but I usually just eat fruit or vegetable sticks with dip – that I also offer them for dessert.  I eat because I never seem to eat enough fruit or vegetables during the day and I’m often hungry at 5:30pm but I also sit down with them because mealtimes are more than just eating. Having said that, we do have the TV on… sometimes… see just human!

– But weekends are another thing, the rules are different and that’s another blog post! But I promise, it’s a good one!

What are your food rules in your family? Do you eat with your children?

Until next time, Val

This website and information on this blog post is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant or intended to replace Speech Pathology assessment and management nor medical or nutritional care for a child. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns or questions you might have with your Speech Pathologist and managing Doctor and develop an individualised team plan specifically for your child