110: Real Food Sweets “Rules” – Are They Necessary?

People ask me all the time what we do in our family about desserts and sweets.

I figured the last Healthy Parenting Connector before we take a break for the holidays is a great time to address the topic!

Today I’ll dig into:

  1. Why sugar shouldn’t be a free-for-all
  2. Our current dessert strategy and its pros and cons
  3. What special considerations we offer for holidays and special occasions


Can’t see the video? Find out how often you should eat dessert on YouTube here!

No time for the video? Here are the notes!

Dessert Rules Video Time Stamps

  • 0:08: Are you stressed out by raising healthy kids in a world of candy, sweets, and dessert? That’s what we’re talking about on our last Healthy Parenting Connector before we take a break for Christmas.
  • 0:34: My husband and I talk about how we can avoid the “rubber band effect.” That’s when a child is so restricted in a certain area that when they have freedom as a teen or young adult they rubber band off in the opposite direction and binge.
  • 0:58: Food is a common “rubber band effect” scenario. Teens hoarding candy under their bed and binging in secret, college students subsisting on fast food because they were “forbidden fruits” in their childhood.

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Why is Too Much Sugar Bad for Kids?

  • 1:19: We’re going to talk about why sugar shouldn’t be completely unrestricted, what we do in our family, and notes on navigating the holidays and other special occasions that include additional sweets.
  • 2:12: First, why is sugar bad for you (and your kids!)? Our kids eat way, way more sugar per year than our grandparents used to. I’ve done the math, and the average child eats 2 pounds of sugar per year just in treats at school parties!
  • 4:04: White sugar is linked to lowered immune function, chronic inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, feeds bad bacteria, and increases the risk of depression.

Don't cut all sugar out, be realistic, but we do need some boundaries. -Katie Kimball

Total Restriction Leads to Disordered Eating

  • 8:09: Restricting a food is a sure way to lead to an eating disorder in your child or at least make the food far more attractive to them.
  • 8:44: So where do we put the boundaries? We use the philosophy I learned from Dr. Dina Rose. She says you should integrate sweets into your day so that dessert isn’t the prize you get for finishing your food. Treat desserts more like regular food than a special reward.
  • 9:58: Our current strategy is that each child can have one dessert per day at any time they choose. It was so interesting to see my kids adapt to this change! My 6-year-old ate candy at breakfast every day for 2 months!
  • 11:22: I really like that this system puts the agency on the child and that they need to learn how to budget their treats and plan ahead.
  • 12:23: Most of my kids still have dessert after dinner because they’d developed the habit already.

It's important to take sweets off the pedestal so they don't seem like a prize or the only way to celebrate. -Katie Kimball

  • 12:44: The con to our system is that sometimes it’s clear a child is asking for a sweet because they’re bored. Sometimes I do say “not now, you can have your dessert later” because I don’t want my kids to learn that boredom = tech or sweets.
  • 14:00: This won’t work for everyone, but this is what we’re doing now. It’s hard if you often serve a dessert for the family at dinner.
  • 14:54: Little kids might have tantrums, especially when first implementing any restriction on sweets. Our rule is that if a child cries about dessert, they lose it.

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Teaching Kids to Make Healthy Choices

  • 15:49: Keep in mind that younger kids will need additional training and older kids can have more freedom.
  • 16:43: Our 15-year old doesn’t have the 1 dessert a day restriction anymore. We talk more with our older kids about how sugar makes them feel and the health effects so they can make healthy choices on their own.
  • 17:08: One idea, if you serve desserts family style is to serve dessert with the meal. That takes away some of the attraction and keeps it from being seen as a reward for eating dinner.
  • 19:01: If you do nothing else with this information, I encourage you to try serving dessert right with dinner one day and see what happens. Don’t judge or talk about it, just observe your kids and see what happens.

What About Special Occasion?

  • 20:30: Let’s talk about special occasions like parties and holidays. We relax the rules for special occasions and adapt based on the situation.
  • 22:17: My kids really enjoy healthy food, but they’d never say they enjoy that more than ice cream and I think that’s ok! I don’t want celebrations to equal unhealthy food, but it’s also fun to celebrate with chocolate in your stocking or extra pie on Thanksgiving!
  • 23:16: I give an example of what I might do if we go to a party or event with a buffet of desserts.

This is a complicated issue and I’m sure we’ll continue to adapt as we learn more, but it’s worth talking about and sharing ideas to help each other raise healthy kids!

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Resources I Mention for Limiting Sweets

setting limits on sweets

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About Katie Kimball

Katie Kimball, CSME, creator of Kids Cook Real Food and CEO of Kitchen Stewardship®, LLC, is passionate about connecting families around healthy food. As a trusted educator and author of 8 real food cookbooks, she’s been featured on media outlets like ABC, NBC and First for Women magazine and contributes periodically on the FOX Network.

Since 2009, busy moms have looked to Katie as a trusted authority and advocate for children’s health, and she often partners with health experts and medical practitioners to stay on the cutting edge. In 2016 she created the Wall Street Journal recommended best online kids cooking course, Kids Cook Real Food, helping thousands of families around the world learn to cook. She is actively masterminding the Kids’ Meal Revolution, with a goal of every child learning to cook.

A mom of 4 kids from Michigan, she is also a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, member of the American Institute of Stress and trained speaker through Bo Eason’s Personal Story Power.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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