Why We Stopped Eating Dessert After Meals

posted by Andrea | 09/23/2019

Over the course of my life, I recall very few meals that did NOT end with dessert… just a little something sweet to finish the meal — even if we weren’t actually hungry anymore (most of the time, we were not).  

This trend of enjoying dessert after every meal continued into adulthood, up until this past summer when Dave and I decided to try something different.

Believe it or not, we have actually stopped eating dessert after our meals!

I know, you’re shocked! 

Whenever I share a meal plan on the blog, I get SO many questions about our daily desserts — yes, we really do like our sweets, and that probably won’t change any time soon!

We just aren’t eating them after every meal anymore. 

WHY?

Our reason for implementing “no-desserts-after-meals” was truly NOT for health purposes, although there is that component for sure… we have no plans to cut out all sugar from our diets (not even close!) 

Our family still enjoys sweet treats every single day — just not directly after each meal as we found our kids would often get fixated on what we were “having for dessert” and if it was something they really liked, they wouldn’t eat as much for dinner to “save room” for more dessert. 

Also, our boys eat painfully slow. Waiting for them to finish dinner is hard enough — if we needed to sit around and wait for them to finish dessert too, we’d never leave the table! 

How We Made the Transition to No Desserts: 

Right around the 4th of July (after the parade candy influx) we let our kids choose a piece of candy for dessert instead of a more filling dessert like cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, etc. 

They thought this was fantastic — and they ended up eating more for dinner since they didn’t have anything much to “save room” for. 

Soon after that, we simply said, “We’re not going to have dessert after every meal, and instead we’ll enjoy sweet treats other times throughout the day. “ (clever, I know!)

Simon started crying right there on the spot (the other kids were whining too), but by day 3 no one even mentioned anything about it! They just brought their plates to the counter and went outside to play!

Dave and I were SHOCKED! 

I think it was honestly hardest for me as I’ve been so used to this ritual after every meal (yes, I agree that sugar CAN become addictive!)

Our New “Sweets Routine”:

I hesitate to call it a “routine” (I’m not THAT scheduled) but this is sort of the pattern our sweets have taken now that we aren’t eating an official dessert anymore.

We almost always have something sweet with breakfast — syrup, jam, honey, chocolate chip pancakes, banana bread, etc. etc. In my opinion, these sweets are much more nutritious than a more traditional dessert (brownie, cake, ice cream)

I also usually pack the kids some sort of sweet treat or a small piece of candy (ex: Hershey’s Kiss) in their lunch — which they can choose to eat whenever they want throughout the school day.

They don’t always have snacks after they get home from school (mainly because we eat dinner so early), but if I do serve a snack, it’s usually a very small bar or cookie.

After we’re finished eating dinner, we simply read a few more chapters in whatever book we’re in the middle of and then they help clear the table and go off to play outside or upstairs. If for some reason they are still hungry after dinner (even after 2nd helpings) they can have a banana, a slice of bread with butter, or yogurt with fruit. 

Bedtime snack is almost always grapes + cheese. 

Yes, we still eat sweets! 

I still LOVE to bake.

My family still LOVES to eat sweets.

We still enjoy dessert when we have company over.

We still celebrate holidays and birthdays with special cakes and sweets. 

It’s just no longer an “every meal” sort of thing.

I want to reiterate that our goal for eliminating desserts after meals is NOT to eliminate sugar from our diets — but rather to eliminate (or at least lessen) our children’s obsession with what we might have for dessert after each meal — their feelings of entitlement for a sweet treat every time they ate something.

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So far, we are happy with how well it’s going, and we don’t plan to start up post-meal desserts again with any sort of regularity. 

I’m curious, how do you (or did you) handle desserts and sweet treats with your family?

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32 comments

  1. Rachel

    10/11/2019

    This is something I’m really discouraged about . . . I kinda have a different problem, in that my kids will only eat dinner if they know there’s a dessert reward afterward. They don’t eat less dinner to “save room” for dessert–it’s kinda the opposite for us. They’ll only eat dinner if they know they’ll be rewarded for eating with dessert. I started this years ago because it was the only way I could convince my kids to eat any dinner at all and now it’s ingrained in them. I wish they’d eat more produce but they won’t touch anything they don’t immediately recognize. So frustrating. That said, those are the only sweets they get during the day at all, so I guess that’s okay, I just hate tying the sweets to eating dinner.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Rachel,
    Kids actually have significantly more tastebuds than adults — so they taste things much “more” than we do. Sour is MORE sour for them, spicy is MORE spicey for them, produce has stronger tastes and flavors for them. So it’s actually not super surprising that kids don’t naturally love produce.
    I’d encourage you to continue giving them a bite or so of various “new” produce items — they will most likely aquire a taste for them later in life if you introduce them now!

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  2. Liane

    10/01/2019

    Over the years we’ve transitioned from the standard American diet to a pretty ancestral eating pattern. Both my mom and mother in law were both borderline anorexics, terrified of gaining an ounce. Both took great joy in having invisible pregnancies and not wearing maternity clothes. So of course, meals did not include sweets. My dad would occasionally take us to Baskin Robbins for a scoop of ice cream.

    Currently we have three strategies to reduce inflammation and improve our sleep — elimination of all sugar with the exception of small bits of honey or Canadian maple syrup. That’s very very rare.

    Second strategy is elimination of all grains including corn, and most legumes. My whole 30 taught me I can’t eat legumes.

    Third elimination is seed oils. We use only avocado, coconut and ghee.

    We do eat some dairy and that’s where the rare desserts come into play. A bowl of fresh berries with whole cream is a delightful thing.

    It’s possible that not having commercial baked goods in the house as a kid never gave me a taste for them. Some people (like me) crave crunchy salty snacks. Give me a can of macadamia nuts and a package of Oreos and I’ll eat all the nuts and leave the Oreos unopened.

    When the brain fog from processed foods lifts things like desserts just don’t seem to be appealing. Another tenet of the paleo diet is you eat till you are sated, not stuffed. Can you image our ancestors eating dessert along with their freshly caught game and recently gathered fruit?

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  3. Katy

    09/27/2019

    I have never given my children a dessert after a meal. There are biscuits around if they want a sweet snack and often homemade cake. The only rule is that you are not allowed a snack 1 hour before or after a mealtime.

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    Andrea Reply:

    that sounds like a good rule — we usually say the same thing regarding eating right before or right after a meal.

    [Reply]

  4. Paula

    09/26/2019

    I’m a dietitian who treats eating disorders, disordered eating & family feeding struggles. Food addiction is very rare – instead restriction (physical or mental) causes cravings. It is well understood in my field, but not by diet culture, which is pervasive. Kids who are limited in sweets at home (amount restriction) will eventually binge on them at friends homes or when they feed themselves as teens/adults. I encourage you to check out the Division of Responsibility in feeding kids from the Ellyn Satter Institute. There are only so many years of limiting kids intake, then they feed themselves and restriction, even subtle restriction, backfires. It’s complicated & very misunderstood.

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    Dawn Reply:

    I agree with this 100%. I grew up the youngest of 7 kids and my parent’s rarely gave us sweets. Money was tight and if I had one scoop of ice cream every couple months I was lucky. Portions were very controlled as well. When I moved out my eating habits were out of control. Desserts, candy, cookies….pretty much anything I could get my hands on. If I bought Oreos I would eat a row of them. To this day I cannot buy a bag of candy for home because it will bother me until it’s gone.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    In general, our kids will only take a reasonable amount of sweets or treats when offered to them (even when we aren’t restricting them). Simon is really the only one who doesn’t have a ton of self-control right now. I know he’s “only” 5, but it’s definitely on my “radar” as something I want to monitor as I don’t want it to get out of control as he gets older!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thank you SO much for the recommendation Paula! I just liked her Facebook page and am browsing her website.

    I have so many friends who have horrible relationships with food and Dave and I don’t have that. We don’t have that crazy obsession with what we “can” and “can’t” eat. We just eat when we’re hungry (usually relatively nutritious foods) and stop when we are full. We like sweets but we aren’t fixated on them… and I do NOT want my kids to be that way either.

    Nora and James are not sweet lovers at all — but Simon is BIG TIME. We’ve tried several approaches for him but so far, the “best” we’ve found (for now) is not having it as an option at mealtimes so he doesn’t need to worry about it. It’s a snack at other times throughout the day, but not a “reward” for eating his meal.

    That said, I will certainly look into the resources you mentioned. Who knows, I might be back in another year or so with a totally different approach to this matter! 🙂

    [Reply]

  5. Karen

    09/25/2019

    My daughter has a pretty good approach now that they have a 20 month old. She doesn’t want her daughter to grow up thinking it’s a reward or something better than other food so she simply puts the “dessert” on the plate along with her other food and she eats it as part of her meal.
    Now sometimes I DO find her parents in the pantry with the door closed… sneaking… but Ellie now knows the sound of the pantry door closing and runs to it so that ploy is out the window! 😀

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is great — and such a funny story too!

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  6. Melissa

    09/24/2019

    We don’t have dessert every night but if we have something in the house and then are eating it every night for a few days, both kids (age 7 and 3) start asking about sweet treats all the time. And then ending their dinner early because they want to eat dessert. Once we cut it out altogether for awhile they stop asking. Until the next holiday comes along and we have stuff in the house that we either made, bought or was given to us. I like the idea for a mid afternoon treat instead, but we aren’t always home from work/school early enough to make that happen far enough away from dinnertime.

    We have donut holes in the house thanks to my parents’ visit along with apple cider donuts we got at a visit to a farm. My daughter ate two donut holes last night as dessert and then 20 minutes later tells me her belly hurts. So she really shouldn’t be eating too much sweet anyway and has probably learned her lesson. At least for now.

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  7. Shelly

    09/23/2019

    We also used to have dessert (or something sweet) after almost every meal (or with it, in the case of breakfast frequently!) As my boys got older (probably close to the ages of your kids now) I realized that they were overly focused on the sweet, and none of us needed that much sugar in our diet! We implemented a rule of “one ‘sugar’ a day.” Initially we counted it all: sweet rolls or doughnuts, a piece of pie or cake, or even a few pieces of candy. So, the kids had to consider if they wanted to use their “one sugar” treat early at breakfast, or save it for something later in the day. Now that they are all teens (and all swimming daily in a competitive swim club) we’ve relaxed the rules a bit, especially on birthdays and holidays, but overall I’m glad we cut back and I know it will help them make better choices as they grow into adults in charge of their own diet very soon!

    [Reply]

  8. JoDi

    09/23/2019

    That’s an interesting change. Since you grew up eating dessert regularly, I’m curious how your parents handled the situation you’re facing with your kids when you and your siblings were kids.

    My husband and I grew up with daily dessert after dinner and sweet treats at other times. As adults, we still have daily sweet treats in our house, usually after dinner, but sometimes at other times. Our son is grown, and although we had the occasional issue with him eating when he was a kid, dessert was only an option if he finished dinner, so the eating battles weren’t ever dessert-related. I’m not sure he eats sweets much as an adult or keeps them in the house, but he will usually have something when he comes over for dinner.

    No one in either of our families is overweight or has sugar-related health issues, and I’m guessing it’s because although we eat them regularly, sweets have always been kept to small portions.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    My sisters and I were all really good eaters — we love fruits and veggies and never had issues clearing our plates. Our kids, especially the boys, will just ask about dessert and say they aren’t hungry for their food. So I don’t think my parents really had the same issue we’re facing right now — that might be part of the reason they just kept going with dessert — because it was NOT an issue!

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  9. Lea Stormhammer

    09/23/2019

    I grew up with dessert being something you had once in a while, for a birthday or a dinner with company over or something like that, rather than an everyday. Occasionally we would have cookies or cake or pie or crisp or something for a snack but desserts just weren’t part of the everyday diet.

    My husband grew up with desserts being the main part of what they ate every day along with fast food – often substituting ice cream or cake for an actual meal due to ease of presentation.

    Now we treat dessert the way I did growing up. Honestly, I’m always so surprised when I hear of people having dessert every day after dinner. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore!

    Your dessert recipes are always so good, Andrea! I appreciate you sharing both the recipes and what’s working for your family currently.

    Lea

    [Reply]

  10. Nancy Johnson

    09/23/2019

    We’ve never eaten dessert after every meal. Growing up my family just had dessert on Sundays. I never made it every meal for my own family. I did bake lots of cookies and my daughter had cookies in her lunchbox every day. I don’t eat dessert when we eat out, either, for two reasons. One, I can’t hold a meal plus a dessert, and two, I bake and have been disappointed in most of the desserts I’ve eaten in restaurants because they are not as good as homemade, so I stopped ordering them at all. When I make desserts at home, we do not eat them after a meal, we have them mid-afternoon. (We’re retired.)

    [Reply]

  11. Jennifer

    09/23/2019

    My son and I have a square of super dark chocolate and if he is hungry later he can have a banana, milk, half an oatmeal bar, or something along those lines.

    Now I want to devour the tray of goodies in your main photo!

    [Reply]

  12. Lori

    09/23/2019

    Never have dessert, unless it’s a bd gathering and we have cake or sweet to celebrate. Or a special occasion!

    [Reply]

  13. Sarah

    09/23/2019

    This is SO helpful today. In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing the same issue with my boys (ages 6 and 3) – hurrying through dinner to get to dessert. And, if there is no “proper” dessert, holy moly!
    I have been trying to find a better way. You’ve given some great ideas here and I’ll definitely be making some adjustments.

    As a side note, your philosophy REALLY helped me with the school lunch business this year! Last year, I kept putting Pinterest-worthy-lunch-box pressure on myself, trying to make the lunch cute/healthy/varied…all the things, ya know? But, this year, I’m sending the same basic set-up every day (sandwich, chips, fruit/veg, a little treat/candy). And, guess what? No complaints! Amazing.

    I always appreciate your “help” across the miles, Andrea.
    Hugs from NM 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh good — glad my post came to you at the “right” time!
    And yes, the school lunches are SO much easier when we’re not worried about making them overly healthy or “cute” 🙂

    [Reply]

  14. ruth

    09/23/2019

    That’s really great to get them use to it while young. Good job Mom!

    We will eat fruit if we want something sweet. Eating a sweet pastry after meals is an American thing for sure and one that isn’t helping anyone! haha

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my cookies and chocolate, but I will eat them thru the day. It makes me eat less because I think if I eat a sweet after a meal, I eat more of it. whereas if I eat it by itself, it’s just too sweet

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    interesting — I suppose you’re right too. If I eat a sweet on its own, I do often eat LESS than a large piece of dessert!

    [Reply]

  15. Annalee

    09/23/2019

    I love your blog and I have gotten SO many helpful tips from reading it over the years, thank you!
    As for the dessert conversation, I think I’m coming at it from the other side. In my journey to raise intuitive eaters at home (my kids are age 10, 5 and 10 months) I had to sort out the dessert issue. I grew up having dessert and I love dessert. With my kids we went for a time without desserts at all and I found my kids became obsessed with dessert at all other opportunities to have it.

    We now treat dessert like any other food. In our house there are no ‘good’ foods or ‘bad’ foods – in other words foods do not take a moral stance, they are all just food and there is value to all foods whether it be energy, satiety etc. If we are having dessert I will usually serve it at the same time as the rest of the meal. For example I’ll put a plate of 4 brownies on the table at the same time as the main meal and my kids are free to eat their brownie at whatever point in the meal they wish. This really takes the power away from the dessert. I try to serve as many of our meals family style so that each child (that is old enough) is able to fill their plate with the foods they would like to eat at the meal. Ellyn Satter says it best in her Division of Responsibility in Feeding: The Parent is responsible for What, When and Where and the child is responsible for How Much and Whether.
    On the days I do not serve dessert and my kids ask about it this is my answer: “I love dessert and I know you love dessert. We don’t have any dessert planned for today, but you know we will have it again very soon because dessert is wonderful and we enjoy it!” This answer works every time because they know it’s true and they don’t need to obsess about the next time they will be able to enjoy dessert.

    I feel like this is in line with your ‘candy everyday in the lunch kit’ idea – which I have totally adopted as well:)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Annalee — this is such a great idea and one we actually toyed with for a few weeks. We served dessert right along with the rest of the meal, but it did not go so well for us (at least not yet).

    The boys only at dessert and then said they were full… and Clara kept screaming for “more” dessert 🙁
    It’s an idea we may revisit again when they are older because I do really like it!

    I love the quote you shared and will have to think through that more (maybe I’ll have to look up that book too!)
    Also, glad your kiddos are enjoying the candy in their lunches 🙂 LOL!

    [Reply]

    Paula Reply:

    Your kids response was a “normal” response of restriction. We see it frequently in kids who feel restricted. Annalee sounds like she has really come to understand the Division of Responsibility & her kids response is one of kids who trust all foods are available to meet their needs. Satter’s research indicates kids get a portion of dessert at meals, such as the brownie. With meals that’s the portion of dessert – they decide if they’ll eat it first, later in the meal, etc. However, unlimited amounts are allowed at other times – for example snack time with cookies. Kids get to decide how much. Be ready for them to Eat a lot, they feel restricted. Over time when they realize they’re in charge of how much their intake will stabilize.

    [Reply]

  16. Brooke

    09/23/2019

    We call sweets “special treats” in our house, and they are not everyday. We do dessert on Friday nights and Saturday afternoon after synagogue. We will occasionally have dessert one other weeknight if the kids ask, but they don’t often ask.

    [Reply]

  17. Maggie

    09/23/2019

    We never have dessert.
    In Holland, it’s not customary to have cake or things like that for dessert, but most people do eat yogurt, custard and sometimes ice cream after dinner. When we had to cut out dairy (allergies) I switched to fruit for a while, but that caused other digestion problems, so then we just stopped eating dessert completely. Never missed it. Now I find I often forget to plan for dessert when we have people over for dinner (but it helps to always have ice cream in the freezer) 😉
    We don’t eat a lot of sweets (I can’t eat sugar, my husband doesn’t care for it), but when our girls were younger, I’d give them sweets after school (if they wanted to, they often opted for something savory instead).

    [Reply]

  18. Kate

    09/23/2019

    We have seconds at the dinner table rather then dessert, once in a while my kids will ask for a bowl of ice cream or I make pie or brownies on occasion. They do have dessert at Grandmas house and when we have people over ,holidays, birthdays ect. but other then that it has never been on regular rotation. When they arrive home from school they need to have fruit or cheese or something healthy before they have a snack food. I don’t bake every week either so when I do it’s a treat! Like you said it has a lot to do with how you grew up, we had access to snacks and baked goods , but not following every dinner . I have a family member who married someone who always had dessert following dinner and always had baked goods each day and she is having the same issue with a couple of her children, asking constantly what is on the dessert menu and can I have just one more , she tried to eliminate sugar all together and it didn’t work . Because truly it can become an addiction or habit just like you said.
    I always tell my kids sugar won’t fill you up so if you are really hungry something healthy will fill you up and then you can have a treat. I think it’s just as important not to be overly strict about it because that makes them want it more. Most things in moderation seems to work well!

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  19. Katie Teesdale

    09/23/2019

    We have recently moved away from automatic dessert after meals too. My sons rarely eat enough to get the dessert anyways so this was hardest for my daughter, who, like me, craves sweets after savory food. The last time my mom visited, she was searching for something sweet after lunch and I realized where we got our sweets habit from!

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  20. Kim

    09/23/2019

    I think my husband’s habit (from childhood) to automatically have a dessert right after a meal is a huge part of him being 20lbs. overweight. It is habit, not hunger, and I don’t know that he will ever change. Sigh. I don’t bake much, but he finds desserts in freezer I have there for packing his lunches. I love how you are teaching your children to enjoy fruit in place of dessert.

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  21. Adri

    09/23/2019

    My kids are teens now, but when they were younger, I’d make a dessert when it was a meal I knew they didn’t love. If they wanted dessert, they had to eat dinner first. Now, they just eat constantly (all are runners). Lol. Dinner, plus +… it’s never ending keeping them full. I like your idea!

    [Reply]