Dessert Week: How much is too much?

Dessert Week: How much is too much?

We’ve tried every­thing — from every night to once a week. It’s always good but I just don’t want to argue about it, you know? Dessert, peo­ple, I’m talk­ing about dessert! Recently Esme said to me that she could live with dessert only once a week if she could be the one to decide which day of the week and if she could move that day around. I think she hopes we’ll get so con­fused that it ends up being when­ever she asks for it. I really don’t want our kids hav­ing dessert after every meal but like most food-related tan­gles, what I really want to avoid is the con­ver­sa­tion. Few things depress me more than a meal where the only con­ver­sa­tion is us encour­ag­ing them to eat, demand­ing they eat some­thing green if they want ice cream or warn­ing about forks in glasses of milk. So. Bor­ing. We asked some of our friends from the blo­gos­phere how they approach the issue of dessert. They had a lot to say!

photo: Maya Vis­nyei

Julie Van Rosendaal of Din­ner With Julie had this to say:

This is a big ques­tion to answer. My par­ents rarely served dessert, and we didn’t often get sug­ary sweets, so I grew up obsess­ing about them a lit­tle. When I was old enough I spent my allowance on junk when­ever I could get my hands on it. I chose my friends based on what junk they had at home when we went for lunch or to play after school. I’d buy sug­ary cere­als and choco­late that went on sale after hol­i­days and stash it under my bed. On the other hand, my hus­band was raised on sug­ary cere­als and junk food, and has no issues with them now — he could care less if some­thing is in the house, whereas a choco­late bar will call me from the top of the fridge until I eat it.

I really try not to let dessert or other food treats be a reward, so we never give dessert as a reward for clean plates. (In terms of clean plates, I do enforce fin­ish­ing of veg­eta­bles and other healthy things, but like the boys to stop eat­ing when they’re full, not when every­thing is fin­ished.) My rule around sweet treats and desserts is that you can’t eat food that has lit­tle nutri­tional value unless you eat enough food that does. I don’t keep it from them com­pletely, because I don’t want them to become obsessed with what they can’t have. I’m casual about it, but teach them what food does for us and why some foods are just treats, with lit­tle nutri­tional value.

I’m also a fan of small suck­ers like chupa chups and mini Toot­sie pops, which con­tain about 4–10 grams of sugar. They take a long time to eat, so the treat lasts longer. I always get a chuckle from par­ents who “don’t allow sugar”, yet give their kids unsweet­ened apple juice boxes (unsweet­ened doesn’t mean no sugar — in this case there’s enough sugar in juice already!) — which con­tain 23 grams of sugar, com­pared to 17 in a full-sized KitKat bar. Ditto sweet­ened yogurt, which con­tains 36–42 grams of sugar — as much as pop! I don’t serve either of these, but they’re com­mon foods for most kids. Around here fruit snacks are con­sid­ered candy, too.

Aviva Gold­farb from the fan­tas­tic Six O’Clock Scram­ble asked her read­ers how they han­dle the dessert issue. Here’s what they told her:

Did I eat enough broc­coli to get dessert?” used to be a typ­i­cal ques­tion at our din­ner table.  Andrew and I got tired of using veg­eta­bles as pawns in the game of con­trol over our kids’ diets, so we’ve made desserts the excep­tion, rather than the rule. I was curi­ous about how other par­ents nav­i­gated the dessert land­mine, so I asked some par­ents we know.  Like us, most par­ents I spoke to have set some dessert bound­aries, but each fam­ily had a slightly dif­fer­ent approach.

Some fam­i­lies find that hav­ing a nightly dessert helps encour­age their kids to eat decent din­ners, and even found that the kids stopped nego­ti­at­ing so much once they got used to the rules.  Some fam­i­lies offer only healthy desserts, such as diced melon, straw­ber­ries and whipped cream, low fat ice cream or pop­si­cles, smooth­ies or applesauce.

Accord­ing to the most recent Six O’Clock Scram­ble poll, most of you do not serve dessert after din­ner on a reg­u­lar basis, but it’s closely divided.  Only about 1 in 6 of you serves dessert nightly, while about 1 in 4 of you hardly ever serves dessert.  43% of you have dessert at least a few times a week, and 56% of you have it once a week or less.  Looks like we Scram­bling fam­i­lies don’t have a con­sen­sus on after din­ner sweets.

For many of us, dessert car­ries a cer­tain nos­tal­gia (or sense of depri­va­tion) asso­ci­ated with our own child­hood.  My dad was one of the orig­i­nal “health nuts,” so at our house dessert was rarely an option.  My brother, sis­ter and I eagerly antic­i­pated Fri­day night din­ners at our grand­par­ents’ house, where we got to pick two pieces of candy from a jar nor­mally kept out of reach.

Some­times, I’m over­whelmed by the abun­dance of sweets that sur­rounds our kids, from piñatas at par­ties, cook­ies at schools, even lol­lipops at the gro­cery store and bank.  Some of us are con­cerned about our children’s weight or phys­i­cal or den­tal health and we find it hard to strike a bal­ance between care­fully man­ag­ing the sweets they are exposed to and how much of it they eat ver­sus deny­ing our chil­dren some­thing that brings them great plea­sure. This con­flict can present us with a dilemma on a daily basis, or so it seems.  If your kids are old enough, per­haps you can dis­cuss with them a good approach for your fam­ily to take regard­ing sweets and desserts.

The din­ner table is an oppor­tu­nity for us par­ents to exert some man­ner of con­trol over our kids’ diets, whether we seize it or not.  And, like every­thing else, the exam­ple we set in our own eat­ing habits surely influ­ences how our kids view food, includ­ing dessert.

P.S.  We keep a kitchen drawer stocked with sug­ar­less bub­blegum, and find that a piece in the after­noon often hits the after-school sweet spot for Solomon and Celia.

Emma Waver­man, co-author of Whin­ing and Din­ing; Meal­time Sur­vival for Picky Eaters and the Fam­i­lies Who Love Them and the always riv­et­ing read at Embrace The Chaos.

I have a very lib­eral view of desserts and sugar. I am per­son­ally against mak­ing any food ver­boten. That breeds a huge back­lash – maybe not now but even­tu­ally. Fight­ing about food gives food a lot of power and emo­tional weight to that par­tic­u­lar food.  That said, our dessert pol­icy is that if dessert is on the menu, then it is on the menu for every­one who sat at the table. We don’t cre­ate some stan­dards that the kids have to mea­sure up to get dessert, as long as they sat at the table and par­tic­i­pated in some way at din­ner. That said, dessert is a child-appropriate size and is often a home­made pop­si­cle or cookie and some fruit. We teach the mantra: every­day food, some­time food and treats. And we enjoy our treats and appre­ci­ate them for what they are; unhealthy but deli­cious bits of goodness.

Karen Humphries from the lovely and amaz­ing Notes From the Cookie Jar.

Ahhh…sugar. My answer is going to be long. Got a cof­fee?  (giggle)

Sugar, I think, has a time and place.  After din­ner, or a treat in a lunch box (my 15 year old son Kevin gets a cou­ple of home made cook­ies daily).  Not for break­fast, not in place of a reg­u­lar meal, and the kind of sug­ary item is also impor­tant. We don’t buy or drink pop at all, except on the rare occa­sion Kevin and I may go to the cor­ner store for an artisian soda as a very spe­cial treat.  Sug­ary treats in the form of candy/soda are gen­er­ally reserved for really spe­cial days-the last day of the school year, Hal­loween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.  The funny thing is that Kevin often for­gets that he has candy after those hol­i­days and it sits in the cup­boards for months until I have to tell him to eat it or I’ll throw it away.  Last year his Easter bunny lasted until Hal­loween. I do not buy choco­late bars, chips, cook­ies, ice cream, pop, or candy and we don’t eat fast food. It’s not because I’m a big health food advo­cate, but we just don’t like it, nor do we need to have it around and with everyone’s food issues (Dia­betes, lac­tose intol­er­ance, sen­si­tiv­ity to red food dye/msg/corn/soy and my aller­gies to nuts and var­i­ous fresh fruits), we can’t eat a lot of it anyway.

When Kevin was lit­tle (2–10)  we did reg­u­late his treat intake quite strongly-on Hal­loween we’d have him trade at least half, if not more, of  his haul for a toy (and then throw the candy away).  He could have one cookie in his lunch, and then we had fruit after din­ner. On Sun­days we would go for a hike as a fam­ily and then out for a small treat, usu­ally some Tim Bits that the fam­ily would share. I never did buy things like fruit roll ups or choco­late dipped gra­nola bars for his lunches, mostly because I didn’t like all the addi­tives and preser­v­a­tives in them. All the treats in our house have always been home made cook­ies, brown­ies, etc.  Partly because they taste bet­ter and are more sat­is­fy­ing, and partly because then I know exactly what is in them and every­one in the house can eat them with­out wor­ry­ing about allergies/food intolerances.

As Kevin has got­ten older, I’ve backed off on con­trol­ling his sugar intake because I want him to lis­ten to his own body.  We still don’t buy any of the items I listed above, and Kevin doesn’t buy them for him­self, either. He does con­sume more baked treats now than he did as a lit­tle guy, but he reg­u­lates him­self.  It’s funny to lis­ten to him; “I’ve had enough sweets today.” He’s tall and skinny and very active, so I don’t worry about him in that way at all.  He never pigs out on sugar, and eats a lot of healthy food so it’s a non issue for us.

I think that if you stay away from the processed sug­ary junk or fast food with kids when they are young they won’t develop a taste for it, and if instead you let them have high quality, good  food, they’ll choose that more often. There is a fine line though-you don’t want to com­pletely for­bid it so that they see it as some­thing they need to sneak around to get and hide from you. When Kevin was young, if he was des­per­ately want­ing to try some­thing I’d nor­mally never buy (like fruit roll ups), I’d buy it once.  I’d make it clear that this was a ONE time thing.  He could have it as a spe­cial treat and I’d dole it out the same as candy.  And then I’d never buy it again. He usu­ally just for­got about it after that-because it had lost it’s mys­tery, and I sus­pect he thought they really weren’t that good anyway.

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