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DS (21 months) is, as far as I can tell, just your average toddler eater. That is, sometimes he'll seem to eat a lot, and then he won't want to eat anything. One week he likes a food, the next he doesn't. Etc.<br><br>
Typically, he eats more for breakfast and lunch than he does for dinner. After dinner is when DH and I usually have dessert, and DS, of course, always wants some. So, now when he's barely eating any dinner, I find myself saying things like (and DH is doing this to), "You have to eat more if you want dessert" "You need to finish what's in this bowl if you want dessert" "You need to either finish your meatloaf or your cauliflower if you want dessert."<br><br>
I keep wondering if this is somehow "bad" - though I can't think of why it would be harmful. If he doesn't want to eat anymore, fine. But, that includes dessert, too. And if dessert motivates him to eat a little more nutrient-rich food, all the better, right? Do others do this?
 

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Personally, no. I think it could potentially create an unhealthy relationship with food when you use food as a reward. (But I'm using carob chips for potty training, so the pot is calling the kettle black here! LOL) But I've always tried really hard not to try to convince DD to eat more food at meals. If she's hungry, she'll eat, and there's food in front of her. If she's not hungry, she's done, and that's fine. I don't want to encourage her to keep eating when she's no longer hungry (obviously not healthy!), and I don't want to set up a power struggle around trying to get her to eat more. I feel really strongly about this because we house-shared for a while with a single mom who battled with her five year old every. single. night over eating dinner. I could see where she was coming from, because her son's behavior went out the window if he didn't eat, but it seemed to me that fighting with him over it just set up a power struggle that made things even worse--so he wouldn't eat even though he was hungry. So with DD, I've always been very laid-back about it: I put food in front of her, and if she wants it, she'll eat it. If she wants to eat off our plates (the exact same food, of course <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="/img/vbsmilies/smilies/eyesroll.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="roll">), that's fine too--she eats my plate, and I eat hers. If she really doesn't like what we're having for dinner, there are a few easy-to-prepare snacks that are always available (like cereal). And of course she's still nursing, so I don't have to worry so much about nutrition--I imagine I'll be a little less laid-back about it after she weans. But I really believe that toddlers will meet their nutritional needs naturally if they are offered a good variety of healthy foods.<br><br>
We also don't eat dessert every night, and if we do eat it, it's almost always after she's in bed. Dessert is a special (and rare) treat for grownups in our house. Even rarer now that I'm on a diet to finally lose the babyweight! <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/wink1.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="wink1"><br><br>
We also did baby-led weaning, so she never ate baby food and was never spoon-fed; she's always fed herself ever since she started eating. FWIW, she's a GREAT eater now--and she actually prefers healthy food.
 

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Forgot to say that I've also found she's way more interested in food when she has a hand in preparing it. She learned at Montessori school to peel clementines, and now that entertains her to no end--she'll eat three or four of the little ones in a row. Right this minute she's cracking shelled peanuts (DH taught her that one, lol) and eating them.
 

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I don't do that.<br>
But we don't usually have dessert either.
 

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If my children ask about a treat during the day I will tell them they can have it after dinner. I don't deny dessert because they didn't eat 'enough' dinner but I do limit it to a few bites. I think an alternative for you would be to wait until later for dessert or choose something healthy that you would like him to eat like fruit.
 

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I don't. We rarely have dessert anyways and I just don't get into the all the food battles.<br><br>
When we have dinner at my mom's (once a week), there's always something there they want and I tell them they can have it after dinner. But I'm not using it as a bribe, they'll get it whether they eat or not, it's more of a not right now thing.
 

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Hmm, maybe I'm over-simplifying things here, but we just don't pull out the dessert (when we have dessert, which is... twice a week at the most) until I feel like DS has eaten his fill of whatever he's eating. If the cookies or whatever come out before he's really full, he's probably going to want the sweets in place of whatever's on his plate. But if we wait until he's finished eating of his own accord and THEN bust out the sweets, I figure he's eaten his fill of healthy food and a cookie on top of it isn't going to hurt... and then a lot of the time he's full and doesn't even finish the cookie.
 

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As far as I'm concerned, bribery is one of the most effective implements in the parental toolbox. Especially when it comes to toddlers and finishing meals. If you're going to be having dessert anyway, why not make it the incentive to finish dinner?
 

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No, we dont bribe for dessert. But then dessert is a rare thing in our house. Diabetes runs rampant in dh's family and has killed his 2 grandmothers. He has an incredibly unhealthy relationship with food, a huge part that was learned in his childhood. To me dessert is not needed and something that we occassionally have on family date night as a surprise to the kids (once every few months). I'd much rather teach my children to eat their food because they are hungry and because they enjoy the benefits of a healthy balanced meal. We don't eat perfectly and have take out from time to time. But it's really important to me to stop the cycle of food issues so that my children aren't dealing with the severe health issues of their relatives. And bribery was one of the key issues my dh grew up with, so we agreed together it would never be used in our home.
 

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We kind of do this, but it's not truly dessert. DD loves raisins and eats them like candy, so we occasionally use them as a bribe to get her to eat her veggies.
 

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We like to eat dessert in our family, but the rule is you have to finish dinner first. What that means is that DD actually eats. I don't try to get her to eat more, but sometimes she wants to skip dinner and go straight to dessert. (Okay, so do I sometimes!) So the rule is dinner first, dessert second. I don't make her eat everything, but I ask her to try at least a bite of everything on her plate. And I limit the amount of dessert she can have. Sometimes this means she eats a little dinner, eats dessert, then goes back and finishes her dinner later. Funny, but fine by me. I try not to force feed her, but I also don't want her to think that dessert is the evening meal (if that makes sense.) We also don't start eating dessert until everyone is finished eating dinner, so there isn't an issue of "why am I eating peas when you're having ice cream?"
 

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Bribing with dessert became exhausting for us when we were doing it. Every dinner became about "how many bites? How much do I have to eat? Can I have dessert now? What about now?" It was awful.<br><br>
We finally decided to generally get rid of dessert after dinner. These days if I have a treat to offer, I usually offer it after breakfast or lunch.<br><br>
My kids get a portion of everything on their dinner plates. If they want seconds of something (always the carb), they first need to eat a full serving of vegetable and some protein. I guess this is similar to bribing with dessert, but there isn't the same frenzy of NEEDING the extra carb like there is when there's a sugary treat up for grabs.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Thanks for the thoughtful replies so far. Just to clarify, DH and I don't start eating any dessert until everyone (DS included) is done dinner. We usually don't have our treat until maybe 20-30 min. after dinner is over. DS goes to bed when we do, so there's no time when DH and I could eat dessert without DS there...and DS has mega dessert-radar...he knows when I've just stuffed a cookie in my mouth, or when DH is carrying a cup of ice cream. DS only gets a little bit of whatever dessert we're having (e.g. little bites of daddy's ice cream).<br><br>
Growing up, I was never hassled about how much I ate or didn't eat. I almost never finished everything on my plate and my parents were fine with that. I was never deprived of dessert as a child, although I don't remember if dessert was even an option when I was DS's age. I've always had a major sweet tooth, so I don't see letting go of that "quality of life" aspect. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/orngbiggrin.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="orange big grin"> No eating issues in my family of DH's, but I also don't want to get into power struggles with DS either. He was a 95th percentile weight baby when he was born, and is now down to the 15th percentile (I was always slightly "underweight" growing up and DH and I are both slender now...although I do have some post-preggo weight/mummy tummy that I'd like to whittle down <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/winky.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="Wink">), so I think a part of me is always concerned that he eat enough. Also, he's not much of a veg eater...loves the fruits, not so much the veg (and he is exposed to a wide variety of vegetables, loves to help pick them out at the store, etc....but doesn't really eat them too much), and dinner is when we usually have our vegetables. And, it also frustrates me to no end that the foods that we make that seem so toddler friendly (e.g. meatloaf, veg. and chicken pot pie, shepherds pie, mac n' cheese), he either won't eat at all, or will only have a bite or two.<br><br>
DS loves fruit and eats it all day...and we probably could use it as a "bribe" in place of bits of ice cream or small pieces of cookie...but as soon as he sees what DH and I have, he'll want that, too - and, like I said, I just can't give up my dessert. I do hear and understand the concerns about unhealthy relationships with food...I think that's what was in the back of my mind...but then I felt like what we're doing just seems so...practical, kwim? And in a year or so, (I anticipate) DS will have an earlier bedtime than us, so we could eat dessert after he's gone to bed.<br><br>
Hmmm...much to ponder...
 

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Nope - we have the "No thank you bite" rule for meals. If you have something on your plate (veggie, new item etc) you must take 1 no, thank you bite to try it.<br><br>
If that can't be done, then we tell our DS his bedtime snack must be a healthy one (apple slices, banana, carrots) instead of a graham cracker, cheese, granola bar or etc..<br><br>
Its not a big loss to him, since most of his bedtime snacks are healthy ones usually by his own choice <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/shrug.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="shrug">
 

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This happens sometimes in our house, but not often. DS (who is three) will sometimes get REALLY distracted at dinner, so occasionally if he's still hungry, or has hardly eaten but is losing interest, we might use dessert to bring his focus back to the meal. While it doesn't happen every night, I don't think it's the end of the world. We have never refused him dessert if he hasn't eaten a lot. Then again, like a lot of people who have already replied we don't have dessert on a regular basis.
 

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No, we don't do this, for a couple reasons. We don't ever eat dessert unless it's someone's birthday & then of course DS can have cake regardless of how much or little dinner he's eaten. I also try not to attach any added "value" to food. Food is simply that...food, not a reward, punishment, bargaining chip, or something to fight over. DS is free to eat as little or as much as he wants of whatever is served. If I do choose to serve dessert, that's included in his freedom of choice.
 

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I don't use sweet foods as a bribe. I have blood sugar issues (not officially diagnosed but I can tell the mood swings are strongly related) and I talk about them with my daughter. I will say, "Wow! I'm being really moody and having trouble controlling my temper. I shouldn't have any more sugar today, huh?" When she is having a really hard day of tantrums/crying/just not doing well I will tell that she can't have sugar if she asks. But it is always framed in such a way as to be about how her body is feeling, like: "It seems like you are really having blood sugar crashes and you will feel much worse if you have sugar. How about some protein?" Then I list off things like nuts or cheese or... She is already starting to understand this schtick and she's not quite two.<br><br>
In general I try to keep her sugar consumption to early in the day. It's very common for her to ask for dessert with lunch and I don't see a problem with that. She knows that if she has sugar later in the day it makes it harder to deal with bedtime so she rarely asks. If she asks for candy after breakfast I will usually tell her yes. But she gets a very small amount of candy at a time and no more than once a day. (Like two gummy worms or 5 jelly beans--really not a lot.)<br><br>
Most of this situation is a compromise between my values and her dad's. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/orngbiggrin.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="orange big grin"> He was completely denied sugar as a kid and has MAJOR sugar issues as a result. He believes that denying children sugar is a serious problem and he simply won't have it. I'm not willing to deal with the behavior issues that come up from him giving her treats at night so we agreed that I will supply them during the day and if she's having a hard day it's ok to tell her no. It's good to find compromises in parenting. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/smile.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="smile"><br><br>
But as to getting her to eat dinner, we just don't worry about it. Dinner is by far her smallest meal and because I know that she eats a lot earlier in the day I don't fret. She just isn't that hungry in the evening. Her growth is quite adequate, she's brilliant (as every child is!), and her energy levels are pretty steady and reasonable.
 

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<div>Originally Posted by <strong>jkn</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/15392264"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">This happens sometimes in our house, but not often. DS (who is three) will sometimes get REALLY distracted at dinner, so occasionally if he's still hungry, or has hardly eaten but is losing interest, we might use dessert to bring his focus back to the meal. While it doesn't happen every night, I don't think it's the end of the world. We have never refused him dessert if he hasn't eaten a lot. Then again, like a lot of people who have already replied we don't have dessert on a regular basis.</div>
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This. Super-distracted eater. I prefer to avoid bribing as I'd rather she listen to her own body... I believe that's the healthiest. I do my best to provide her with healthy foods to choose from, and let her determine how much and which ones she eats. My DH brings sweets into the house though. Actually, DD eats more fruits and veggies than DH does!! /digression<br>
That said, there have been times where I've been in tune enough to know that she's getting too distracted and isn't eating enough (over the course of an entire day or several days) and so then we will get a little more serious about getting her to focus on eating.
 

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We don't and I don't intend to use dessert as a bribe. I don't want to create good foods and bad foods and yummy and yucky ones. Eg. "If you finish your (yucky/undesirable) main course you can have some (yummy/desirable) dessert". All foods are equal - it's just that some are more appropriate to eat in larger quantities.<br><br>
A really great book is My child won't Eat. It's published by LLL <a href="http://www.amazon.ca/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325&tag=motheringhud-20&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.ca%2FMy-Child-Wont-Eat-Prevent%2Fdp%2F0912500999" target="_blank">http://www.amazon.ca/My-Child-Wont-E.../dp/0912500999</a><br><br>
Also I don't give desserts that I'm not happy with DD eating. Even if she doesn't eat much main course, I'll give her some dessert. If she wants more I'll give her a tiny token amount more. If she wants more then I'll offer her her dinner.
 
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