Should we serve dessert after dinner?

Traditionally most of us serve dessert after dinner. The idea of this is that our kids eat what I call ‘growing foods’ first and then they eat dessert. However, for some of us, this might not be working so well. This is because:

  • Kids race through dinner to get to dessert, therefore eating very little dinner.

  • It can easily become a power battle between the child and adult with the adult wanting the child to eat more of the dinner and the child only focused on the dessert.


If this is the case, why not try one of the following four strategies?

1 Serve the desert at a different time, rather than right after dinner, for example, mid-morning or mid-afternoon treat?

2 Serve a healthier dessert sometimes, like fruit salad and ice cream so that the dessert also contains some ‘growing foods’.

3 Get you kids involved in making the dessert so that you can decide exactly what goes into the dessert.

Some sweet alternatives to sugar are:

• Lots of different fresh or frozen fruits including bananas, cooked fruit like stewed apple and dried fruit.

• Flavoured dark chocolate. There’s lots of different flavours available including ginger, orange and mint.

• Other flavours like vanilla.

• Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and mixed spice.

• Lots of coconut products including desiccated coconut, coconut oil, creamed coconut, coconut water and coconut milk.

six teal icing cupcakes with sprinkles

Some savoury alternatives to sugar are:

  • Onions like onion granules

  • Salty flavours including cheese.

  • Herbs like chives, basil and mint.  

  • Garlic like pesto, garlic powder or roasted garlic.

  • Sweet vegetables like roast squash, sweet potato, carrots and parsnips.

4 Another novel strategy is to serve dessert at the same time as the meal. This means kids choose when to eat the dessert, for example, they may choose to eat it first and then continue with the rest of the meal. This has been shown in research to work successfully as it avoids the scenarios I mentioned above: with kids racing through dinner, eating very little dinner and the power struggle.

This works best if a small portion of dessert is served, so that is doesn’t fill them up. Then there’s still space for eating the rest of the meal. This of course means the dessert is no longer used as a reward for eating the dinner.

sliced cakes beside stainless steel forks on round white ceramic plates

I personally like this idea because it helps to ‘normalise’ desserts and indeed treats. By this I mean they’re more part of the meal rather than being a separate event.

Lastly, I recommend that generally if possible, everyone sits down at a table when eating dessert, the same as eating any meal or snack. This helps prevent mindless eating. Research shows that all of us eat more when they eating-on-the- go instead of when we eat sitting at the table.

Children's Healthy Eating Specialist



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