The Dessert Dilemma: Part 1

Growing up, we always had dessert after dinner–and sometimes lunch too. I never thought much about it until I had kids and realized that if dessert is on the horizon, they couldn’t care less about the healthy dinner I just spent 45 minutes preparing. And oh, do they put on Oscar-worthy performances: Clutching their overstuffed bellies, they will beg in pained, sickly voices to be excused from the table–only to run back five minutes later asking for ice cream.

This is irritating. And unhealthy. So over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to figure out ways to put less emphasis on dessert, while still giving my kids the treats they love (and in many cases, that I love too).

I wrote here about a seemingly insane strategy: serving dessert with dinner (scary but surprisingly effective!). And in my next few posts, I’ll be including more tips for tackling the dreaded dessert dilemma that I know many of you struggle with also.

Hopefully they’ll help tame any dessert demons (and divas) you may have at your table as well.

Up first, two tactics that sometimes work around here:

Designated Dessert Nights

One evening at dinner, when one of my kids inquired about dessert before his fork even pierced the first bite of food, I calmly explained that we would be having dessert only on the weekends. Do I always stick to this? No. Birthdays happen. Surprise plates of delicious cookies from neighbors happen. But this policy is there when I need it. My toddler still protests a bit, but my seven-year-old accepts it as fact. And when they find out there really is no sweet treat afterward, they miraculously find more room in their tummies for dinner.

Retooled Sweet Treats

One of the accidentally brilliant moves I’ve made this summer is freezing all of the kids’ yogurt. Because in their minds, this has magically transformed it from a regular snack food to dessert. I wrestle with the place sweetened yogurt has in their diets because it is, after all, a sweet treat. So putting a stick in it and calling it a popsicle feels right. I’ve been doing the same with leftover morning smoothies. I freeze them in popsicle molds and they become goodies. They love it, and I love that they’re getting yogurt and fruit (and yep, even some flaxseed) for dessert.

Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3 & 4 of “The Dessert Dilemma”, which will feature ideas from some of my favorite dietitians and feeding experts.

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  1. says

    My youngest sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 6. From that moment on, desserts were gone except for special occasions. I’ve carried on the no dessert tradition in my house and Lil never asks. It’s much harder to quit once the habit is in place…

  2. Michelle Montgomery says

    Great topic! My husband was raised in Ireland by a good Irish mam who baked a dessert for the family EVERY day. Apple tarts, plum pies, baked Alaska, you name it. She never missed a day. And my husband could not be a more reasonable, balanced eater. He can take or leave dessert to this day. It’s like she demystified it or something. I always wonder if he’s so rational (I would bite off his arm to get to a klondike bar in the freezer) because he never felt like there was any shortage of desserts to go around? (sort of a longer term theory on the ‘serve desert with dinner’ idea)

    • says

      How interesting, Michelle. There is definitely a theory that if a food is always available, it loses its “power”. My next post is going to feature an RD who has a tip along those lines. (I love the image of you biting off your husband’s arm to get a Klondike Bar, by the way!)

  3. Shannon Sheridan says

    Sally, I am always so impressed at how careful you are with your children’s nutrition. It’s impressive. I can’t say my kids have ever had flaxseed! We had the dessert problem here too, so I did make the drastic move of simply ending it. It took about a week to get used to, and then they were over the withdrawal. We still have sweet treats, they are just no longer associated with the idea of rewards or with dessert. I explained that while a sweet treat every once in a while is just fine, I just didn’t think the whole dessert concept was healthy for our family. Life without dessert has been much better. I never liked urging my kids to eat everything on their plates to get dessert since I really do just want them to eat until they are satisfied (even if that means less than I have served.) I also despised the ritual begging for dessert. I didn’t like always having to scrounge for something resembling dessert. I didn’t like engaging in their persuasive arguments about why they deserved or needed dessert even if they ate one bite of dinner. We still have our m and m’s and ice cream for treats, but my kids no longer sit at the dinner table like Pavlov’s dogs, waiting for the dessert bell to ring.

    • says

      I’M so impressed with all of you who simply doesn’t serve dessert. Truly, I think my own sweet tooth gets in the way of putting too many limits on it! Shannon, I love your description of “life without dessert”.

  4. says

    I have to agree with rule #1. When I was growing up, dessert was for after a big Sunday dinner and that’s pretty much the same way I do it today. However, like you said things do come up. Even now that I’m an adult I do sneak the occasional cookie or ice cream hours after dinner, but I do agree that if isn’t expect more real food is eaten. Keep up the good work!


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