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Why the occasional ice cream for breakfast is my parenting win


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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 09/03/22

My kids are learning to practice self-control and intuitive eating through this habit of saving half their dessert for later.

Ice cream for breakfast? Are you nuts?

Let me clarify. I’ve never actually served my kids ice cream for breakfast! It’s something else entirely. Let me tell you a little story…

Growing up in the 90s, I experienced a huge emphasis on the concept that kids had to “finish their food.” I remember adults declaring that we had to be in the “Clean Plate Club” after every meal, and otherwise being forced to eat more than I naturally wanted to.

Does this sound familiar to you?

I don’t really understand why adults were so obsessed with kids finishing whatever amount of food they were given, but it was definitely a thing.

For me, it led to an unhealthy relationship with food. To this day, I feel weirdly guilty if I leave food unfinished, even if I’m no longer hungry and don’t really want to eat it.

So when I had kids, I knew I wanted to raise them with a different mindset around food. I read about a concept called intuitive eating.

A positive relationship with food

Intuitive eating (IE) is a way of eating that promotes a positive relationship with food and the body. IE helps teach adults and children to listen to and follow their physical hunger and satiety (fullness) cues as opposed to emotional or external triggers when determining when, what, and how much to eat.

That sounded much healthier than the “finish your food” mentality! So I have tried to implement it in my home. Instead of telling my kids to “eat everything on your plate,” I encourage them to “listen to your body and stop eating when you’ve had enough.”

I don’t care if they finish their plate; we can always save the rest of their food for later. What matters is that they follow their natural hunger and fullness cues. We also talk about the effect different foods have on their bodies; how protein gives us “long energy” and carbohydrates give us “shorter energy,” and how colorful fruits and vegetables help our bodies fight germs and stay strong and healthy.

I’m not the only parent I know trying to take this more child-led approach to food. My friend Mariana recently took a course on intuitive eating, and she shared a little of her family’s story with me. Intuitive eating has been a positive change for their family. “What results from restricting foods is an obsession with those foods,” she said. “My kids would beg for them and crave them, and when allowed to have them, binge.”

It seems to be working really well for my family, too. While my younger kids can be picky at times, we don’t have battles over meals, and they are all healthy and generally willing to try new foods. 

One of the biggest things I want to teach them is that they can stop eating at any time. There is no need to finish the entire plate or dessert; it will always be there for them later, when they want to finish it!

Saving dessert for later

So that brings me to the funny habit my daughter developed, which has now spread to my other kids. On the rare occasion that we have ice cream at home, maybe once or twice a month, she never finishes her serving. Instead, she eats about half of it and puts the rest in the freezer for later, with the understanding that she can finish the rest at any time she wants. 

Sometimes that means she pulls it out of the freezer the next morning for breakfast! No big deal. I offer other foods, like oatmeal, eggs, or fruit, alongside it. But the understanding is that she can finish it at whatever time she wants, and I stick to my end of the bargain. She often eats a little at a time over several days, really dragging it out, which I also think is great.

This might sound really weird to you (and my husband would like you to know that he does not endorse ice cream for breakfast!), but to me, this is a win on several fronts. 

My kids have learned to listen to their fullness cues. They don’t obsess over desserts. They know the food will be available later, and they don’t have to stuff it all in now in a rush. And most of all, they’re practicing self-control and intuitive eating through this habit of saving half their dessert for later.

An answer to sugar obsession?

The real proof that this unusual approach is working came when we were at a birthday party a few weeks ago. The kids were all served cake and ice cream, and after a few minutes, they ran off to play. One of the other parents commented that every kid had finished every last bite of their dessert, except my kids. 

“Your kids barely touched their dessert! They ate less than half the plate!” he said. “Are they not obsessed with sugar like my kids?”

“No, they’re not,” I said candidly. “We don’t make a big deal out of sugar. I just tell them to listen to their bodies and stop eating when they’re full, and I guess they were done eating.”

So it might sound crazy, and you definitely don’t have to do what I do, but in case you’re also trying to raise intuitive eaters who don’t obsess over sugar, let your kids know they can save the rest of their dessert for later. And “later” can be whenever they want. Yes, even for breakfast tomorrow morning!

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