It is sometimes difficult to get my daughter (1 yo) to eat her whole main course : she usually loses interest halfway through.

However, she gets interested again when dessert comes.

So I devised an evil plan to make her finish both plates : I alternate between a random number (between 1 and 3) of spoonfuls of the main course and a random number of spoonfuls of the dessert.

It works quite well, but my wife is afraid this could mess up her future eating habits. Is there such a risk ?

2 Answers 2


I think that there is a risk that this can mess with future eating habits, although perhaps not exactly the way you expect. By dictating how much she eats, you are circumventing her ability to learn how much food she needs to be full. This is the case whether you state how much food must be eaten before she earns dessert, or you bribe her with sweets during the meal (which is really just a smaller bribe to earn a smaller treat).

Useful reading on this subject is Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding. In essence, the parent gets to decide what is served, but the child (at all ages) gets to decide how much of it to eat. Excerpt:

The Division of Responsibility for infants:

  • The parent is responsible for what.
  • The child is responsible for how much (and everything else).

Parents choose breast- or formula-feeding, and help the infant be calm and organized. Then they feed smoothly, paying attention to information coming from the baby about timing, tempo, frequency, and amounts.

The Division of Responsibility for babies making the transition to family food:

  • The parent is still responsible for what, and is becoming responsible for when and where the child is fed.
  • The child is still and always responsible for how much and whether to eat the foods offered by the parent.

Based on what the child can do, not on how old s/he is, parents guide the child’s transition from nipple feeding through semi-solids, then thick-and-lumpy food, to finger food at family meals.

I think that your method could work somewhat if done carefully. You can have both the dessert and the main course set in front of her, offer alternating spoonfuls, and see how she deals with that. However, if you turn down a demand from her for more spoonfuls of dessert before another spoonful of not-dessert, then you're back to removing control and the risk described above. (And I speak from experience: this is an incredibly difficult process as a parent, largely because it's not how I grew up and I don't want my kid to eat nothing but ice cream.)

If you suspect she's eating less than she really needs at dinner in order to save room for dessert (typically I saw when my kids were older than one, but not much older!), have a few meals without a dessert course. When she's hungry later, offer the leftovers from the entree that she did not finish.

Some additional/related answers that may be of interest:


This kind of depends on what you consider good eating-habits. Having your meal in courses is really a cultural thing.

I am currently failing to come up with actual sources, not second hand notices, but is seems like Arabian countries as well as Thailand do not know "courses" as we do. As long as doing this does not lead to her eating MORE dessert, she should be just fine health-wise.

But yes, once she is used to it, it may be a hard habit to break. But it would be just that: a habit not quiet in synch with your culture. But at 1 year, there is plenty of time left to get her used to "course-based" eating. For now, make sure the portions are ok, she enjoys the meals, and gets to experience lots of different food.

And if she wants to put peanut-butter onto her pickles, at least at home, let her do that, too ^^. This is persona believe, but I think if you get to try strange mixes as a kid, you will end up more open to unusual mixes as an adult... and so, more open to more exotic cuisine.

  • 1
    Peanut butter and pickles is actually really tasty ;)
    – Acire
    Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 11:53
  • 4
    I should have known.. NO MATTER what combination I would invent, someone would chime in and eat just that ^^.
    – Layna
    Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 11:58

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