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Should you give your kids dessert before dinner is done? A dietitian’s answer might surprise you.

August 28, 2016

As a Registered Dietitian, I have come to learn the importance of how every food can fit into a healthy diet. Yes, even chocolate cake and peanut butter cookies. With this thinking, why not let your children eat dessert with dinner instead of after dinner? Might sound too good to be true, but there is good reasoning behind it. Eating dessert with dinner teaches kids something vital; all foods can fit in a healthy diet. 

Like me, many children are fixated on that sweet treat after dinner. It can be that package of fruit snack gummies, chocolate chip cookie or that double fudge caramel brownie, pretty much anything sweet that catches their attention. During dinner, many kids wait impatiently for dessert to be available to the family, even when they feel full from dinner. Many kids have caught on to the idea of skipping dinner just because they know dessert is coming next. This is often when parents start making “dinner deals” with their kids, just so they can eat something on their plate. These deals can range anywhere from “you can have dessert if you eat your vegetables” or “if you do not try every food on your plate, you will not get a cookie”. When these “dinner deals” begin, it often gives kids the wrong impression – dinner is a punishment and dessert is the reward. 

When “dinner deals” begin, it often gives kids the wrong impression – dinner is a punishment and dessert is the reward. Holly Malcom, Registered Dietician

When we introduce a small (yes, portion control!) dessert with dinner, kids can have choices – to eat it before dinner, during dinner or after dinner. At the beginning I am sure most will choose to eat their dessert first, and that is okay. Believe me, you will probably get a few confused looks when you place a pudding cup next to their steamed broccoli. Over time, your kids will begin learning about self-control and balance as they get used to this new normal. 

Since the dessert is competing with other foods on the plate, make sure to keep the portion sizes to a minimum and refrain from allowing second dessert helpings. A good goal is to keep the dessert around 100 calories to prevent overindulgence and spoiling the rest of their dinner.

Here are some examples of with dinner desserts…

  • ½ cup of chocolate frozen yogurt
  • Small chocolate chip cookie
  • Chocolate or vanilla pudding cup
  • Fun-sized candy bar
  • Fruit snack gummies
  • Mini donut hole 
  • Chocolate square
  • Mini blueberry muffin 
Try introducing dessert with dinner tonight. See what you discover, you might be surprised with the results.