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If your children are anything like mine, they ask for dessert every day, at every given opportunity. In other words, after breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner - oh, I almost forgot about those random requests that don't seem to be attached to any particular meal. "Dessert fishing," if you will. I know these pleas are really nothing more than a form of pushing boundaries. But it never ceases to amaze me how much energy my children put into seeking out unhealthy food.
Here's one rule of thumb I've heard: Parents are in charge of which food is served, children are in charge of how much of it they eat.
Sounds simple enough, but what about the idea of making foods so taboo that they become irresistible? Let me give you an example. My childhood was pretty much devoid of regular dessert offerings. Don't get me wrong - I had my share of treats. But dessert just wasn't a regular feature in my house. I'd visit my friends' houses, and inevitably, they'd have a candy stash in their kitchen or ice cream chillin' in the freezer. And what did I do? I pigged out! I couldn't get enough of those little temptations. Sadly, I can't say I've evolved much from those early days.
This personal experience only feeds my confusion. "They" say food is supposed to be neutral. But for me, dessert is rife with exotic mystery and worse: emotion.
To this day I have self-control issues with sweets. As you might imagine, one of my biggest fears is passing along my obsession with junk food to my children. So I've tried to defer to my husband in these matters. He grew up in a house where dessert was offered every single night after dinner. And it wasn't pseudo-dessert either (i.e., fruit). It was the real deal - pound cake with whipped cream, chocolate pudding, strawberry pie. You get the idea. Anyway, the point is, my husband doesn't care much for sweets. Heck, on the rare occasion that our pantry is a dessert-desert, he doesn't even miss it. (If I didn't know any better, I'd think he had a secret canteen of hot chocolate stashed somewhere.)
For a while we tried a Dessert Treaty in our house. We decided we would offer a treat three times a week. It was up to my daughter to decide when those three occasions took place. Could be any time at all - breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one day or spread out throughout the week. I thought it sounded so wise, brilliant even! But I quickly learned that what was good in theory was a disaster in practice. We were constantly monitoring when we had had dessert last or evaluating what would happen over the weekend if we happened to have a playdate that involved a trip to the snowball stand. Many an argument was had over this blasted subject.
Finally my husband pointed out that my idea wasn't panning out, and I admitted defeat. Since then, for lack of a better plan, we have done what worked so well for my husband. We offer dessert every night after dinner. The portions are pretty small, but just the act of indulging seems to satisfy my children's cravings.
The Great Dessert Debate still rears its ugly head from time to time, like when that darned ice cream truck comes trolling down our street. I still haven't worked out how to comfortably say "no" where dessert is concerned. Given all that I've heard about eating disorders and connecting negative feelings to eating, I REALLY don't want to argue about it! I'm still befuddled by this part - and the rest of it for that matter. My best hope is that my children won't be saddled with my baggage.