Would you pay your kids to skip dessert?

Mar 11, 2011   //   by Evhen   //   Blog, Family, Kids, Nutrition  //  1 Comment

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Image by danedeasy via Flickr

Would you?

I would. At least I think I might start.

Let me explain.

We were at Pan­era for din­ner and our 7yo son, after he had eaten his fair share of chicken noo­dle soup, sand­wich, and yogurt, asked if he could have dessert. The rest of us were still eat­ing, so I fished out a $5 bill and then he went up with my wife to buy his choice. A few min­utes later, he marched proudly back, car­ry­ing a huge cin­na­mon roll and $2.51 in change.

Nor­mally we would pay for the desserts using a credit card along with the rest of the food. But this time, see­ing the cash really brought home the value of one cin­na­mon roll. Two dol­lars and forty nine cents! That’s a lot!! Granted, it was a big one, but its size just served to under­score how inflated (and waste­ful) all of this really was. The cin­na­mon roll was more than he really needed, and $2.49 was more than it should really cost.

So I asked him a ques­tion. I asked him if he had the option to take the two dol­lars and fifty cents and either buy a cin­na­mon roll or keep the money, what would he do? After all, either way I end up spend­ing the money anyway.

He said he’d keep the money and skip dessert.

Now, we’ve been pay­ing our kids a weekly allowance for a while, and our rule is that when we go to Tar­get or any­where else, instead of beg­ging us for toys or any other ran­dom item they may want on a whim, they can buy what­ever they want (as long as it is appro­pri­ate) with their own allowance money. Because of this, our kids now know what $3 will buy, what $5 will buy, and what $10 will buy. They know that for the big­ger, bet­ter toys, they need to save for a few weeks. They get to make their own deci­sions and take respon­si­bil­ity for those deci­sions, instead of all the con­trol and deci­sion respon­si­bil­ity being with us (mak­ing us the bad guys every time we say no).

I won­dered if the same con­cept could work with desserts.

My seven year old, the one who said he’d skip dessert and keep the money, is a dessert fiend. He would eat sweets con­stantly all day if he could. This kid lives for dessert.

So lately, enforc­ing good nutri­tion has felt more and more like a bat­tle with him. He’s always try­ing to see how lit­tle “real” food and how much dessert he can get away with. And we’re always remind­ing him that he needs to make health­ful choices.

But what’s his moti­va­tion? Dessert is com­ing any­way, and Mommy and Daddy are always pro­vid­ing it. Any occa­sions where he has to skip dessert are occa­sions when Mommy or Daddy are being the bad guys and mak­ing the deci­sion for him. And then it’s no longer about liv­ing and eat­ing health­fully — it’s about us being mean to him and what lit­tle edu­ca­tional value there might have been in the dis­cus­sion is sud­denly lost.

And when you look at the long range con­se­quences of that, how are we prepar­ing him to make good food choices inde­pen­dently? If we always tell him what to eat and what not to eat, how will he ever learn to make his own deci­sions later when he’s on his own? Maybe we’ve just been rais­ing a mon­ster — one that will go out and buy sweets every chance he gets when he’s on his own to make up for all the sweets that his par­ents had deprived him of.

And this is where I had my big epiphany.

Why not let him start mak­ing the choices now?

Of course if we just ask him whether he wants dessert or not, he’ll always say that he wants dessert — as long as we’re buying.

But once he has the choice of get­ting the dessert or get­ting the money, now he has to think about what that dessert is worth to him. Yes, it will taste really yummy right now, but with $2.50 he could buy two Hot Wheels or a pack of Silly Bandz. Or, he could skip a few desserts and get a new stuffed ani­mal or maybe even a Bey­blade! Now instead of a hol­low choice of sweets or no sweets, a whole new world of pos­si­bil­i­ties opens up for him.

The point is, the choice is his. He can learn that desserts don’t just mag­i­cally appear. They have value, and their value can be under­stood in rela­tion to other things. And he can finally decide for him­self that per­haps he doesn’t really need that humon­gous cin­na­mon roll.

It’s a far cry from mak­ing deci­sions based on nutri­tional value and health and other adult con­cepts, which are vitally impor­tant but aren’t real to a seven year old — but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

What about you?

1 Comment

  • I LOVED this arti­cle! What a great take on eat­ing healthy w/​kids. Mine are just like yours and we are feel­ing the same way…the big bad bul­lies! They love allowance and “buy­ing” things so this is sooo up their alley! Thanks for much for shar­ing this =)
    ~Suzy