Most parents dread dessert because it’s the source of so much mealtime tension, but I don’t.  I celebrate dessert.  In fact, I think dessert is so useful that I dish it up every night … with delight.

No, I’m not a glutton for punishment, and I’m not worried about turning my daughter into a sweets-loving, cake-coveting, ice-cream-adoring Cookie Monster. On the contrary.  I’m pretty sure that serving dessert on a regular basis has turned my daughter into a stellar eater. Read Dessert: How I LOVE Thee

Believe it or not, dessert is one of the most overlooked tools for teaching kids to eat right.  You might even say…a dessert a day keeps the doctor away!

You just have to change what you serve.

Change what you serve for dessert and revolutionize your kids’ eating habits.

The problem with dessert isn’t dessert, per se.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I’m going to assume that you are not ideologically opposed to the final course of the meal.  Instead, what you’re worried about is the quantity of crap your kids regularly consume.

But that’s the nutrition perspective. Turn your attention to habits and you can see more of the problem.

I’m not denying that most after-dinner delicacies are sugar-laden landmines, but that’s not what makes dessert so lethal.  Dessert is dangerous because it produces a bad family dynamic — think of it as the Dessert Dance: dessert makes kids gloss over the good stuff to get to the good stuff, and this, in turn, makes parents push the peas, do the two-more bites tango, and otherwise beg, bribe and cajole their kids into eating more of the main meal.

This kind of interaction is stressful and it sets up a struggle. What’s more, it teaches kids to value dessert, not veggies; it teaches kids to eat dessert when they’re already full; it makes them fight you for control over their eating.

The solution is to make dessert delicious, but not the usual confection.  The key is to serve fruit.

Fruit neutralizes dessert. Takes it down a peg or two. Makes mealtimes manageable.

Most parents know they have to restrain the role of dessert, but the tactic they use—limiting how often it is offered—makes matters worse. By banishing dessert (or temporarily exiling it) parents make it even more desirable.

Serving fruit preserves the pleasure of dessert—your kids will still get excited about it—but eliminates the problems. Here’s how:

1) Your kids won’t clamor for fruit dessert; kiwi just doesn’t have the same appeal (or sway) as cake. That means your kids won’t be tempted to forgo their real food for it, and they certainly won’t beg, whine and wheedle their way to it.  In turn, you won’t be tempted to use dessert to get a few more bites of broccoli into your beauties. The dessert dance will be over.

2) Fruit dessert will teach your kids the right way to end the average meal—and give them a little European flair.

3) Serving fruit for dessert will mean you can relax knowing your kids can top off a poorly eaten meal with something healthy.  Think of fruit as a built-in back-up.  For more on back-ups read How Cottage Cheese Changed My Life.

4) Fruit dessert will help your children evaluate whether they’re really still hungry; people don’t usually pound down a pear just because it’s there.

Serving fruit won’t automatically solve all your mealtime problems (no single strategy is that good), but it will take the most explosive element out of the equation.

And when you do serve sweets and treats your kids will know that sweets really are treats.  Now that’s a lesson for a lifetime of healthy eating!

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

P. S. Breakfast is another missed opportunity for teaching kids to eat right.   To learn more about that, read Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day.