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Developing Healthy Dessert Habits

Unless your child was born without a sweet tooth (yeah, right!), you know there are a lot of sticky issues when it comes to serving dessert. Parenting got some pointers on handling end-of-meal matters from two experts:

  1. Consider broadening your definition of dessert. "Sure, it can be ice cream or cookies. But it can also be healthier foods, like strawberries dunked in warmed-up Nutella, a great fruit crisp with an oat crumble topping, or pudding made with low-fat milk," says Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston. Even a small dish of Lucky Charms (or another sweet cereal that you'd rather they not load up on for breakfast) can be a winner as an after-meal treat.

  2. Don't make it forbidden. Try to remember: Everything is okay in moderation, says McManus.

  3. Offer it often, but not every night. "I think it's fine to include three times a week or so, but it should be something that is treated as fun and a little special," says McManus.

  4. Try explaining it to your kid this way: There are healthy foods I want to make sure you get every day and others that aren't as nutritious -- even though they may taste good. So we don't have dessert every night. Then just leave it at that. "The more you explain and debate the issue, the bigger it gets built up in your child's mind," says Sarah Hampl, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, MO.

  5. Your child needn't clean his plate before he gets dessert. "That encourages overeating and teaches your kid to disregard his internal hunger cues," says McManus. "You can, however, make sure he tries a bite of everything first."

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