One of the most frequent questions parents have about their children’s diets is whether they should serve dessert after meals. Many adults struggle to limit their intake of cookies, cake, and candy in their own lives and this struggle complicates their ability to simply offer the occasional sweet. Many parents err on the side of caution and ban sugar from the household altogether, telling their children that it is bad.
It is dangerous to deem any food inherently “bad,” or off limits. Forbidding a food or group of foods such as sweets or sugar can set it up as mysterious and desirable. I have heard stories from men and women who, denied sugar at home as children, ate it continuously at friends houses and continue to crave it as adults. In most cases, it is better to allow desserts in moderation and to make children discriminating consumers of the sweet stuff.
So, do not make desserts the desired forbidden food, but do not allow complete and unlimited access either. Many adults who ate dessert after every meal while they were growing up say that they do not feel that a meal is complete unless they end it with dessert. They are restless until they have something sweet signaling the end of a meal. Children will learn limits with everything, including dessert, when adults teach them.
Teach your children limits with sweets. Offer desserts on a limited basis, for example, only on the weekends. Explain to your children that desserts might be tasty, but that they do not provide nourishment. Getting good nourishment should be the primary goal of eating, although taking in sweets for entertainment can be okay in moderation. Making children discriminating consumers means that they can learn to turn down ordinary vanilla ice cream because they know that it will be available any time, anywhere. They can be encouraged to occasionally choose a homemade treat or something out of the ordinary.
Offer alternative “sweets” on a daily basis. As is done in many European countries, serve fruit after dinner. Children can get used to finishing their meal with fruit: whole fruit or fruit salad. In this way, instead of craving something sweet like chocolate after every meal, their meals will feel complete when ended with fruit.
Do not make sugar the enemy, but make peace with the fact that some sweets can be okay.
Talk about the fact that desserts are entertaining but do not provide nutrition that the body needs, therefore they are eaten with limits.
Be sure that the limits you set are clear and enforced.
Make or buy just what you need for any occasion; do not allow sweets to stay in the house to cause temptation.
Enjoy fruit after dinner each evening – even on “dessert nights” - so that children learn to crave alternative sweets.
In answer to the question of whether to serve dessert, the answer is yes, in moderation.
Written by Lisa Hinz PhD
Written on Jan 20, 2014
Last updated on Mar 26, 2014