Is serving kids dessert alongside dinner a good idea? Nutritionists weigh in

Would you serve your kids dessert with dinner? (Getty)
Would you serve your kids dessert with dinner? (Getty)

A mum’s video revealing why she serves her kids dessert alongside their dinner has gone viral on TikTok.

Emily Dingmann of @myeverydaytable said she only serves small portions of dessert with dinner, like a single cookie, and the reason behind this is to keep food “neutral”.

"The number one reason why I do this is because it helps keep food really neutral and it doesn't give more power or less power to any one food,” Dingmann says.

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"So, what we accidentally do a lot is if we give children a dessert after they eat a bite of broccoli, we're actually implying that the broccoli tastes bad and desserts taste good and this just sends the wrong message."

Dingmann, who is a nutritionist and recipe developer by trade, added that another reason she does this is that it allows children to “listen to their own hunger cues” and to not overeat.

While the video has been ‘liked’ over 250,000 times and received over 2,300 largely positive comments, the idea has received mixed reactions from the nutritionists we spoke to.

“This is something we would not recommend at all,” Olga Preston, nutritional therapist at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, tells Yahoo UK.

“Children presented with both options at the same time are more likely to opt for the dessert option first. Their small stomachs will fill up quickly on the dessert option when instead they should be eating a healthy, nutrient-dense dinner and only having a sugar-filled dessert such as cookies or cake, as an occasional treat.”

Nutritionist Resource member Cressida Elias agrees, adding that, ultimately, kids should not rely on dessert to feel like they have had a proper meal.

“I understand the psychology of giving a cookie with the meal, but physically it is not helpful," Elias says. "It means that each meal has a higher amount of sugar which depletes minerals at the best of times, can cause sugar fluctuations and would possibly allow children to expect all means to contain sugar.”

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However, nutritionist Sarah Hawkins said it was an “interesting approach” and seemed like a “great idea”.

“At face value, it may seem very strange to us all as we've been conditioned to see dessert as something that comes after a meal or even as a reward or treat for finishing the less exciting main meal,” Hawkins explains.

“When we use food as a treat or a reward, it can put these foods on a pedestal, reinforcing the idea that these foods are 'bad' or 'shouldn't be eaten'. Unfortunately, this can stay with us long into adulthood feeding the guilt and shame when we do consume these foods and sometimes in excess.”

Hawkins explains that we crave these foods because we’re not “allowed” to have them, whereas foods like fruit and vegetables aren’t often craved because we can always have them.

“When we place restrictions on anything, we want it more. Lockdown is a great example. If we weren't told to stay home we'd probably be happy to stay in for days on end,” Hawkins says.

“This approach will benefit her children in both having a neutral view of food, as well as being able to understand their own hunger and fullness cues instead of relying on external factors.

"I think this is a great strategy to help her children grow up with a healthy relationship with food.”

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Uta Boellinger, another Nutritionist Resource member, says parents should reconsider serving their kids dessert at all, and agrees that dessert-style food shouldn’t be seen as forbidden or as a reward.

“The way you speak to your kids about food is really important and I am a huge advocate for not making foods ‘rewards’ and not talking about 'good and bad foods’ or ‘guilty pleasures’,” Boellinger adds.

“From this point of view serving dinner and dessert at the same time makes complete sense as parents are less likely to accidentally give messages about certain foods being good or bad.”

Boellinger notes that for optimal health, we want to keep our blood sugar as balanced as possible as this reduces cravings and improves energy levels.

“The best way to keep sugar levels balanced is to not eat too much sugar, but the second most important thing is to always have some protein first as this slows absorption of sugar into the blood stream,” she says.

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Both Boellinger and Preston warn against giving kids dessert every day.

“There is no good nutritional reason to give a child a sugar-filled dessert with every meal,” Preston says.

“Instead fill them up with healthy snacks such as carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes or olives. These are perfect little bite-sized morsels of goodness that contribute to that all-important 5-a-day.

"If you do give your child a dessert, try a fruit salad or if you are making a cake, use lots of fruit.”

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