Should we serve dessert after dinner?
Traditionally many of us serve dessert after dinner. The idea of this is that our children can eat the ‘healthy foods’ first and then they get dessert. However, for some of us, this might not be working so well. This is because:
  • Children may race through dinner to get to dessert, therefore eating very little dinner.

  • It can easily become a power battle between the children and adult with the adult wanting the children to eat more of the dinner and the children only focused on the dessert.
If this is the case, why not try considering one of the following four strategies?
1 Serve the dessert at a different time, rather than right after dinner, for example, mid-morning or mid-afternoon when it won’t affect dinner?
2 Serve a healthier dessert, like fruit salad and ice cream so that the dessert also contains some nutritious foods.
3 Get your children involved in making the dessert and mix it up by making a healthier version sometimes.

six teal icing cupcakes with sprinkles

Some ingredients to consider that are sweet alternatives include:
• Lots of different fresh or frozen fruits including bananas, cooked fruit like stewed apple and dried fruit.
• Flavoured dark chocolate. There is lots of different flavours available including ginger, orange and mint.
• Other flavours like vanilla.
• Spices such as cinnamon and ginger.
4 Another novel strategy is to serve dessert at the same time as the meal. This means children are free to choose when to eat the dessert, for example, they may choose to eat it first or at the end of the meal. This may work well as it avoids the scenario of children racing through dinner, eating very little dinner and the power struggle between children and adults.
This works best if a small portion of dessert is served, so that is does not fill up children’s tummies. Then there is space for eating the rest of the meal. This has the benefit of ensuring the dessert is no longer used as a reward or punishment for whether the dinner is eaten.
sliced cakes beside stainless steel forks on round white ceramic plates
I recommend this strategy because it helps to ‘normalise’ desserts a little. By this I mean that the dessert is more part of the meal rather than being a ‘separate occasion’ we all look forward to, like a “grand finale”.  Of course the same strategy can be used with sweets and treats, with a small portion of sweets and treats being served at the same time as a meal.
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 and the tendency to eat more when eating-on-the-go.
Written by Dr. Colette Reynolds, Nutrition and Child’s Healthy Eating Coach and founder of Growing Healthy Eaters as well as being Mum to 2 young boys. Growing Healthy Eaters provides one-to-one personalised parent support online.
Children's Healthy Eating Coach