I grew up eating dessert every day after dinner, but I didn’t continue that tradition when I became a mom. In fact, I don’t serve dessert at all.
Why I Don’t Serve Dessert
I don’t think that serving dessert to kids develops healthy eating habits. Sugar is addictive, especially for children. So if they know a slice of chocolate cake is waiting for them, they’re likely to pass up much of the healthy dinner on their plates.
Everyone’s solution to this seems to be to turn dessert into a prize that is earned by eating the whole dinner. But this is where I can’t get on board.
I am just gonna say it: sugar is a drug. Most children crave sweets, as well as fats. From what I understand, this is an adaptation from long ago when they needed to eat lots of fruits and berries and to get enough fat to sustain their growing brains, but in today’s (first) world where food is easily accessible, it looks like an addiction to cookies and cupcakes.
Kids will finish their dinner to “earn” dessert whether they like the food or not. They will keep eating when they’re body is telling them they’re full.
I want to raise children who are in touch with their body’s cues. I want to encourage eating when hungry and stopping when it feels like enough. Using treat foods as motivation to eat healthy food doesn’t sound like the way to do that, to me.
Compounding all of this is the fact that sugar impacted my child’s sleep tremendously, as well as her behavior. When working with a sleep consultant we were advised to keep all sugar, including natural sugars like those in fruits or honey, out of both lunch and dinner, as well as any time after dinner.
Despite my opinions on sugar, I do not like to restrict foods. During my childhood my mom strictly limited my added sugar intake, leading me to rebel and consume primarily mocha frappuccinos and Oreo cookies as a teen and into my twenties. I still struggle with sugar addiction and binge eating sweet, high fat foods.
As a mom, here’s what I do instead of dessert: I offer sugary breakfasts a few times a week. I picked up this idea from my Italian husband who grew up eating morning meals like Nutella on toast. I serve peanut butter and jelly or Nutella and banana sandwiches, pancakes, or a sugary cereal like Lucky Charms generally on the weekends. Throughout most of the week I stick to oatmeal and fruit.
I also offer fun treats for the afternoon snack a few times per week. The standard snack is yogurt and fruit but I like to throw in things like s’mores, cookies and milk, or even go out for ice cream if it’s warm out.
Serving dessert foods in the morning makes sure they don’t mess up my kid’s sleep. Afternoon snack also proved to be far enough away from bedtime to not impact it. This also helped make sure that at lunch and dinner my child had a healthy appetite and was ready to eat a full, balanced meal.
In the end I have to fully admit that sharing sweets is one way my family bonds! I would never want to cut sugar out of our lives, but I am definitely on board with limiting how much of it we consume and deciding when in the day is the best time for it!