Should You Give Kids Dessert? What the DOR Recommends Parents Do

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Whether you love to eat it, fear it, or both, you probably never tire of listening to people swap opinions about how to handle requests for an end-of-the-meal sweet treat!

If you’re using feeding approaches from Ellyn Satter such as the Division of Responsibility to help your kid have happy, healthy relationships with food, then this article is for you. It explains the very specific rule-of-thumb for those who are using this approach to feeding their kids.

And that’s great news for those of us who tend to get anxious about sugary treats! (I love a good rule-of-thumb when it comes to tough stuff topics food parenting topics such as sugar.)

This quick post will explain the sDOR recommendation on dessert, as well as why and how can help your kids have a healthy relationship with food and sweets, in particular.

What Does the Division of Responsibility Say about Dessert?

The official recommendation on dessert from the sDOR is this. If you chose to offer it:

  • Offer dessert alongside the meal (not afterward)

  • Offer just one serving (not an unlimited amount, which is what’s recommended at snack times)

What is the benefit of serving dessert with a meal instead of after?

Many kids (not all, but many) are extra focused on sweets and treats. In fact, kids are primed biologically to crave foods that are energy-dense because their bodies are growing, so if yours asks for sugary desserts often that’s perfectly normal!

Our overall goal for our kids is to help them feel calm and confident around food, to enjoy a variety of food, and to have the skills they need to eat what their body needs to grow and be healthy. So, due to this we want to help kids have a neutral attitude towards sugary treats—not laser-like focus on them.

When we consider dessert something that needs to be “earned” at the end of a meal, we elevate it. We make it seem like a prize or reward. To avoid doing this, Satter’s DOR recommends offering a dessert alongside other foods. This helps your kids start to see it more neutrally too. Will your kids go for it first? Maybe, especially if it is something they really love and rarely have. That’s not a problem so long as you follow suggestion number two, which is to offer a limited amount.

What is the benefit of serving one serving of dessert?

If we limit the serving amount to just one (one slice of cake, a couple of cookies depending on size, one scoop of ice cream, or a piece of chocolate), we help ensure there’s enough hunger and appetite remaining so that kids can enjoy the other foods that are part of the meal, too.

Personally, at least one of my kids tends to eat MORE of the protein and veggies on her place at dinner on the nights there’s also something sweet plated for her. I think the sweets entice to her to focus on her plate and then those first few bites of sweets stimulate her interest and appetite in the rest of the food at the meal.

Do you have to start offering dessert to our kids?

Nope! Of course not. You don’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right or isn’t aligned with your personal values or your child’s unique needs or circumstances. As a whole, we just want to make sure we’re operating from our own values and goals and not simply adopting those of the larger culture, such as diet culture.

It’s totally up to you whether you want to start rotating some desserts into your meals. It’s definitely not a must-do; however, if your goal is to help your kids feel comfortable around all foods, then I’d say working desserts into your overall meal plan is an excellent idea. It gives them experience and practice building their eating skills.

And while it might feel like scary or stressful territory if we’re worried about our child’s weight or their love of sweets, it’s particularly good for those kids who are extra focused on desserts or who seem to go overboard on portions when eating them. These kids can benefit from more exposure and more opportunities to develop their eating skills when it comes to sweets.

Does watching your kids eat sugary foods freak you out? Or are you worried one or more of your kids seems obsessed with sweets?

You’re not alone! Many of us have a natural urge to limit the sugar our kids have, either because of the constant messages we hear about how bad it is, from our own worry about our kids’ health or weight, or simply because we’ve spent decades restricting sweet treats ourselves.

Limiting is not the way to help your child have a good relationship with food, their body, or their weight though. In fact, the more we limit these foods the more of an issue they become! If giving your child more freedom with food is challenging, reach out for support. We never want our own food issues or history to get in the way of our children’s experiences with food.

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  • What this approach is

  • What are the benefits

  • What are the drawbacks

  • Best ages

  • Biggest Mistakes

  • Printable Handout


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