It was Sunday morning and Big A pointed out that she was going to have dessert three times that day. First was cake at church to celebrate her first communion, second was a birthday party and third was dinner at Granny’s. In a very serious tone, she said, “Granny always has dessert.”
I could have told her to choose one sweet item or just throw caution to the wind. Instead, I chose the third option. An experiment of sorts.
I told her to notice how each dessert tasted as the day went on. Specifically, I asked her to be very aware of how much enjoyment she got each time. She agreed.
Dessert #1: Cake: The offering was chocolate cake, one that she likes. She said she enjoyed it and ate most of it.
Dessert #2: Cupcakes: She almost skipped this one cause we ran out of time. But just as we were leaving the mom handed her a cupcake for the road. She ate it on the way to the car and we waited in front of the car for her to finish (we don’t allow eating in the car). I asked her how it was tasting.
“It’s just not as good eating it without my friends,” she said. Then she asked to toss it.
Dessert 3: Brownies: It was time for the final dessert. Big A admitted this was her favorite of the day. She ate it but only ended up having a few (they were brownie bites).
I asked her about the taste and enjoyment compared to earlier in the day and she said it was still “really good” but if she knew her favorite was last, she might have waited. “Because the first dessert tastes better compared to the last?” I asked.
“I think so…”
The Theory behind the teaching
I explained to Big A something scientists call “sensory-specific satiety”(without using those big words). It’s basically the idea that food enjoyment declines as a food is being eaten. Generally, the first few bites of eating are the most enjoyable. This is particularly important for eating sweets, a food that’s meant for pleasure, not nourishment. My explanation was basic and ended there.
The way society has responded to a world filled with palatable, energy-dense food is to cut-out or control how much of a palatable food is eaten. But this brings up another problem briefly explained in this review in Appetite.
Eating is more rewarding if one is hungry and it is more rewarding if the food tastes good. Intake, however, is subject to additional influences. For example, dieting or serving a small portion puts a ceiling on the amount eaten – in which case the eater is likely to experience the food as ‘moreish’ because without satiation eating remains rewarding.
This is why taking a restrictive approach with kids doesn’t work. But if you can teach kids to be mindful that enjoyment comes early in the eating experience — and frequent eating of indulgent foods makes them less enjoyable — it changes the dynamic. Instead of struggle, it becomes a preference. Over time children can learn to be selective and that they really don’t need that much when they do eat. Trust me, this works a whole lot better than teaching portion control or asking kids to always make the healthy choice.
People always tell me they get in trouble because they enjoy food too much. I beg to differ. I think the trouble starts when we fail to make pleasure the center of our table.
Do you agree?
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