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How Much Dessert Should I Let My Kid Eat?

In my last post I talked about how often you should serve dessert, and some DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to dessert with kids. Today I’m talking about how much they should have in one sitting. The recommendations may surprise you! 

Dessert with a meal

I mentioned in my last post that it is often better to serve dessert with a meal instead of afterwards. That way, dessert is not treated as a reward that comes only after they finish their meal.

When you choose to serve dessert with a meal, instead of afterwards, your kids should get one serving. That might be two small cookies, or a scoop of ice cream, or a small piece of cake. I’ve noticed that in my own house, when I serve dessert with a meal, my son won’t even ask for more than what I offer on his plate, surprisingly.

Unlimited dessert- sometimes!

But it’s also important to sometimes allow them unlimited servings of a dessert. Take a moment to process that. 😉 It is okay and even encouraged to occasionally offer up as much as your child wants to eat. A good time for this would be during an afternoon snack, or maybe at a party where desserts are plentiful. An example of what this looks like would be putting a plate of cookies on the table, and allowing your child to take as many as they like. Or at a party, allowing them free reign at the dessert table.

Studies show that restriction just doesn’t work. Restricted children tend to overeat whenever they are allowed access to “forbidden” foods.

Some of you may have experienced this as children. I often hear adults tell me how they never had treats in their house growing up, so they would go wild at friends’ houses and eat junk until they felt sick.

Child feeding expert Ellyn Satter advocates for occasionally offering unlimited sweets. This means no restrictions on how much your kid can have. No comments about how much to eat, no “looks” at them like they are doing something wrong. If they ask to have more, you nonchalantly tell them to have as much as they would like.

If you do this regularly (not every day- just every once in awhile) children learn to have a neutral view of dessert. They may still get more excited about it than regular food, but it no longer holds this special power as a “forbidden fruit.” They know that they can have as much as they want, and that makes them less likely to go overboard. They don’t feel like this is their only chance to have dessert, so they can stop at an appropriate amount.

My own experience

I admit, as a parent, it can be hard to do this, when you rather your child fill up on healthier foods. But, it is not every day. It is just once in awhile. And it’s important to develop confidence in your child’s ability to decide for themselves when they have had enough.

I recently offered my son a whole bowl of m&ms because he kept asking me to have m&ms (like, every day, for a week) and I wanted him to stop bugging me about it. So one afternoon I brought him to the kitchen table at snack time and put down a bowl of m&ms, and we chatted, probably about trucks. And to my surprise, he didn’t eat the entire bowl. He ate until he decided he was done, and then left the table and played, and he didn’t say anything more about m&ms since then. (That was over a week ago!)

Just try it

If you’re feeling nervous about letting your kids have as much as they want, remember that it is not an everyday thing. Try it as an experiment, and see what happens!

1 Comment

Melinda · March 8, 2023 at 5:43 pm

I love the example from your own experience! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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Kacie Barnes holding an apple
Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.


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