How Much Dessert is Ok for KIDS?



Parents often ask me about giving their kids dessert. Should they be allowed to have dessert every night? How often is ok? What is a portion? What if they have one overweight child and one who isn’t?

When people find out I am a Nutritionist, I often get a lot of questions about specific foods or people assume I am watching everything they eat (don’t worry, I am not). As a Pediatric RD, my job goes beyond WHAT kids should or shouldn’t eat. Much of what I do is about HOW you are eating or feeding your child. Helping kids develop a healthy relationship with food is as important if not more important than WHAT your child is eating. So, YES! I think your child should be allowed to eat dessert even if your child is overweight.

Many RDs believe that if you offer dessert AFTER a meal, it becomes a reward for finishing food. So, many people in my field suggest giving dessert with dinner. For example, putting carrots, broccoli, chicken, potatoes AND a cookie all on the same plate. While I am totally for the idea that dessert shouldn’t be a reward, it’s hard for me to get behind giving a cookie with dinner. I know very few kids who won’t pick that and won’t pick that first. I am all for giving kids choices, but as a MOM myself, I still offer dessert after dinner. But, I do recommend these guidelines:

-Separate dessert and dinner by at least 30 minutes. A child who knows dessert is coming as soon as the meal is cleared away may easily skip dinner knowing he or she can fill up on dessert in 5 minutes.

-Set limits. What does that mean? You serve your child 2 cookies. A child doesn’t help themselves to more servings as they might with dinnertime food choices.

-Accept that special occasions may mean eating “too much” dessert. We have all overdone it with eating too much dessert and kids need that opportunity as well. It helps them learn to self-regulate hunger and being full when we aren’t always doing it for them. And, birthdays, holidays and other special occasions often mean having a little too much dessert. That is OK!

-How much? A good rule of thumb is the serving size on the package - ex. 1/2 c of ice cream or 2 small cookies. The dessert portion should be smaller than a dinner portion. So, if your child ate 3 bites of dinner, dessert should not be double the size.

-Dessert does not have to mean junk. It is whatever we teach kids is dessert. Dessert can be some sort of fun fruit dessert presented in a way (like below) that just seems better than plain apple slices.





Overweight kids should be allowed to have dessert too. Maybe their portion is small most nights, or maybe their dessert is also mixed with fruit more often, but restriction doesn’t work. As most of us know, being forbidden to eat something only makes us want it more. Teaching kids to be healthy and at a healthy weight means learning to have a balanced relationship with food for your whole life.

Try out some of these healthier desserts below to mix in with less healthy desserts (photos from top left: Apple Waffle Sandwich @amummytoo, Berry Yogurt Bites @thesalty canary, Banana Pops @keyingredientrecipes, Chocolate Covered Apple Pops @tayttaelamaa, Brownies In Disguise @bailey_thechef, Berry Yogurt Squares @scottchrissy553, White Chocolate Freeze Dried Strawberry Bark @platesandplaydates, Chocolate Dipped Kiwis @helenanorup)