Five DOs and DON’Ts of Dealing with Dessert for Kids

Aug 30, 2010 by

Fresh Fruit Cake

You’d like to have a calm, peaceful dinner where everyone eats the meal, and cheerfully and without fanfare enjoys a little dessert afterwards at least once in awhile. Instead, you find yourself in a battle over eating the meal or not, or if we can just eat dessert, and how much dinner has to be eaten, or how much dessert can be had and who got more. It’s enough to make you wish away their childhoods.

Here are a few tips on reaching a peaceful coexistence of children and dessert.


  1. Don’t differentiate too much between dinner and dessert. Be casual about dessert, rather than acting like, “Wow, at last something we can enjoy after the drudgery and duty of dinner!” Show equal and genuine enthusiasm for a good meal, without going overboard and being manipulative about it. If you position dinner as something you want children to eat and dessert as something they want to eat and have to eat dinner to get, you reinforce the good-for-you equals yucky and bad-for-you equals yummy fallacy.
  2. Don’t use dessert to make a child eat dinner. Never make getting food contingent on eating some other food. It’s counterproductive.
  3. Don’t allow kids to fill up on dessert after refusing a meal. It allows them to keep doing it.
  4. Don’t let them eat anything later if they are still hungry after eating only dessert.
  5. Don’t pay attention or react to their fussiness about dessert or dinner, or let them draw you in to arguments or power struggles over food.


  1. Do allow them to start with dessert if they really want to. They might eat dinner after that when they realize they’re still hungry. Also when everyone else is enjoying dessert together later, they’ll probably be sorry theirs is already gone.
  2. Do allow them to eat only dessert, if that’s what they really want to do. Act like you don’t care, but are only a bit surprised.
  3. Do allow them to remain hungry after a meal if they choose not to eat when it’s time to eat. Temporary hunger is the best teacher.
  4. Limit the amount of sugary food. It’s one of the most detrimental things you can eat. One serving is certainly more than enough, especially if it’s a daily habit.
  5. Replace purchased dessert items with fresh fruit. It’s impossible to overeat fresh, unsweetened fruit. The next best thing is to serve only homemade desserts. Homemade desserts are fresher and more natural, with fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients. Purchased, industrially produced desserts are also easier to get, so we tend to eat them more casually and more frequently. Homemade is more special occasion. It requires work, so that’s another speed bump. Make it worthwhile if you are going to eat dessert.

Coming soon:

How to Have Dessert without Making it a Bribe

Related posts:

How to deal with food tantrums

Leveraging dessert to get kids to eat dinner every night

Why dessert as a bribe is a bad bargain

Six ways to insure kids eat dinner whether there’s dessert or not

Eating power struggles with kids: Why they’re useless and how to end them