SHARE

Making All Foods Fit: How to Handle Dessert

Does your kid fixate on dessert and ask for it everyday? Do you dread birthday parties because you know that, once you get there, your child is going to ask, over and over, when they can have dessert and want to know exactly how many bites they get? Do you find yourself using sweets to bribe your child? Does “you need to have one more bite of your carrots before you can have dessert” sound all too familiar? Here’s a step-by-step guide to take the power out of dessert and stop the obsession.

Making All Foods Fit: How to Handle Dessert

Does your kid fixate on dessert and ask for it everyday? Do you dread birthday parties because you know that, once you get there, your child is going to ask, over and over, when they can have dessert and want to know exactly how many bites they get? Do you find yourself using sweets to bribe your child? Does “you need to have one more bite of your carrots before you can have dessert” sound all too familiar? 

We all want our children to have a healthy relationship with food. But so often, we use “tricks” (that were probably used on us as kids!) that, in the end, make our children more picky and get them obsessing over dessert. How do we “make all foods fit” so that our kids learn to enjoy a well-balanced diet that makes room for a range of foods?

The answer is take all the power out of dessert by treating it just like every other food.

That means you serve dessert with their meal. Yes, you heard us right: serve dessert regularly and keep it completely neutral. And when you offer the dessert, allow your child to eat it in any order: before their meal, after their meal, or even instead of their meal. 

This might come as a surprise, and it’s probably the opposite of how you were raised and what you see other parents doing. But research shows that neutralizing dessert takes it off a pedestal and puts it on equal footing with other foods. And when you do that, it makes dessert a whole lot less interesting, so your child is less likely to crave and over-consume it. 

Here are some steps for neutralizing dessert:

  1. Offer limited dessert everyday. Serve dessert regularly with your child’s lunch or dinner meal, but offer only a child-sized portion. If they ask for more, say “There will be more tomorrow.” Dessert can be anything you typically consume in your house, like candy, cupcakes, cookies, and fruit. Just make sure to keep the variety up because it helps expose your kids to many flavors while taking the power out of any one dessert.
  1. Offer unlimited dessert sometimes. Once a week (or on a schedule that works for your family), offer your child the option of unlimited sweets. This might look like baking cookies with them and allowing them to have as many or as few cookies as they want at snack time. 

We know what you are thinking: is a dietitian really telling me to offer my child unlimited amounts of sugar?! Yes, and while this may seem counterintuitive, this is exactly how your child will learn to listen to their body, notice when they are satisfied, and not overeat dessert. 

When you give your child unlimited amounts of broccoli but then tell them they can only have one cookie, they begin to think that cookies are extra special. When foods are put on pedestal like this, they will crave these “special” foods and jump at the chance to eat them, even when they’re not hungry. This is why we need to give our kids room to experiment with all foods in a non-judgmental way. This is how they’ll learn to eat lots of different foods and then simply stop when they are satisfied.

  1. Avoid labels like “dessert” or “a treat.” When we talk about dessert foods in a neutral way, we take them off the pedestal. When serving dessert to your child, play it cool and don’t say a word. This is so hard, but it works and is so worth it!

If you start doing all of these steps together and with consistency, before you know it, your child will be enjoying a well-rounded diet that is both delicious and healthy. 

We want to see how you neutralize dessert in your house! Show us how you serve dessert with a meal or a snack and then share it to your stories with the hashtag #makeallfoodsfit!


If you’re having trouble with picky eating or mealtime power struggles, check out our podcast episodes, Picky Eating and Mealtime Struggles: How to Bring Harmony to the Dinner Table and How to talk to family and friends who parent differently with Oona Hanson. And check out our other articles about raising intuitive eaters here and here.