Monday Mission: Eat Fruit for Dessert

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Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to serve a dessert without a sweetener this week. Part off weaning ourselves down from sugar and training our sweet tooth to expect (and enjoy!) less sweetness includes appreciating the natural sweetness of things like fruit.

So offer a bowl of sliced pineapple as a dessert, or washed strawberries, or cut melon. If your family is anything like mine, they’ll look at you sideways and think you’re joking, but I’m determined to do it.

I wish I had been both knowledgeable and strong enough to start this habit with both my children as they entered the world of solid food instead of allowing them to get in the habit of a sweet thing after a meal. I kept them both from all traditional sugary desserts until their first birthday, but it was all downhill from there.

I know well the habit of “something sweet after a meal,” and at no time is it more punctuated than during Lent, when although I give up all refined sugars, I still enjoy something sweet after meals, usually a piece (or two or three) of dark chocolate. On Fridays, however, I offer up all sweeteners, including dark chocolate, honey, maple syrup, etc. It’s rough. I find myself cruising the kitchen foraging for something to tell my tongue “the meal is over.” I end up eating more dates and dried fruit than usual.

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This is little Paul at 15 months, trying his first Dum Dum sucker. It gave my dad great joy to share it with him, and I get that. It’s FUN to make children happy, and it’s fun to see their joyful faces when they enjoy something tasty. Sweets are tasty. They’re an awful uphill battle. And it’s cute, too:

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He’s thinking, “Wow, I like this new thing!”

As he grew into a darling two-year-old, I was actually really proud that I was able to keep him happy with such a small dessert as an M&M or two or a small Toostie Roll. I figured most kids wouldn’t count that as a “dessert,” so I was doing well in retaining low expectations. (This is before “real food” in our family.)

I got upset when people gave him more, because I figured if he didn’t know that something (like an ice cream cone) existed, he didn’t know what he was missing and would be a happier person (and argue with his parents less).

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I knew right where to look for this photo of his first ice cream cone. He was over two years old, at the zoo. I’m still proud that I held out that long, because once he knew what an ice cream cone was, he knew to ask for one anywhere they were available.

I was dead on right about the knowledge thing: if a child doesn’t know what they’re missing, they’re not sad about it, you’re not being a mean, terrible, strict parent, and you can still bring them joy by serving them something much healthier. Once they know the evils of dessert, you become a big meanie if you offer fruit.

This same ice-cream-faced boy used to have the same overjoyed reaction when we’d give him fruit. The kid would practically hyperventilate trying to learn to say “blueberries” every time we opened the freezer (ours are frozen most months of the year), and my extended family members can still remember him bouncing out of his high chair doing the baby sign for “grapes!”

We had friends visit this winter, and all three of them were well-trained that “fruit is dessert.” I was impressed. I also noticed that a banana could be a snack or breakfast, and I asked my friend (the mom) how that worked. Didn’t they notice that desserts were snacks and they were just having a snack as a dessert?

Apparently not. So you can get this trick by even very bright 6-year-olds, even when they were eating that ice cream cone with your son at the zoo. (Shhhhh. I’m not going to tell them.) I served healthy pumpkin muffins as a birthday treat that day, and it was a special treat, just because it was in a heart-shaped pan. Now Leah wants a heart-shaped muffin for her birthday.

What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her!

Knowledge is Power

The unfortunate part about knowledge is that you’re not fully in control of it after the child is about a year old. Any well-meaning family member and even potentially random people at stores and restaurants can bring your carefully constructed wall of dessert ignorance crashing down by lifting the veil on sugar.

I was reading our old Christmas updates this weekend and was pleasantly surprised to read that Leah, child number two in our household, didn’t know what candy was until Halloween when she was 18 months old. I admitted with dismay in the note that as soon as she knew of the sweet treat, she asked for “nanee” all the time. The veil had been lifted.

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Here’s the newly corrupted ladybug with her first sucker. How ironic is it that I have photos of all this?! I figure I’m still ahead of the curve on the standard American candy introduction schedule…but I want better things for John.

Unfortunately, it will mean removing the dessert influences in his environment, the ones who will spill the beans of the secret that he should be expecting a sweet treat after one meal per day (we weaned down from two to one when Leah was little). That means changing life for big brother and big sister.

Will they look at me like I’m absolutely bonkers when I serve pineapple for dessert tonight?


Will they claim they are being cheated, that fruit is NOT a dessert?

You betcha.

Am I going to likely have a fit (or two) on my hands and grumpy children?

Sigh. Yes.

But I think I’m going to do it anyway.

It’s the first step in saving John from the habit of a sweet dessert, so I’m willing to give it a try.

Who’s with me?

UPDATE: Here’s how it went.

(Watch for more ideas on how to share the idea of sweetness without actually using a sweetener later on when I cover fruit sweeteners in the Sweet, Sweet Summer series.) For some recipe ideas, you might like the fruit-sweetened power balls (like homemade Larabars) in Healthy Snacks to Go.


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36 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Elizabeth says

    My four-year-old daughter, Anna, is my sugar junkie. And I know exactly where she gets it from. Me. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the amount she consumes when she’s with us. I’m definitely going to start serving fruit for dessert. They ask for dessert every night. If it’s fresh fruit, we can definitely have it every night.

  2. Megan says

    What about baked fruit dishes? Like your apple crisp? Or I’ve done a nut-free version of your power bars from your snack book that get my sweet tooth!!
    We just don’t have dessert very often, but my son’s just 18 months so doesn’t know any better yet! And here’s where I’m thankful for his multiple food allergies– he’s allergic to milk and wheat so no cookies, cake, or ice cream at grandma’s house!

    • says

      I like the power bars for the sweet tooth, too – have you tried the apple crisp without any sweetener? I guess I always add some sweetener to that one, so it’s just a regular dessert in the way I’m speaking of in this challenge…

      Who would have thought you’d be happy for food allergies, right? Great silver lining!
      :) Katie

  3. ali says

    I’m facing this same quandary with my 4th who is 13 months. I’ve already had well-meaning parents at church give her a cookie and Fruit Loops (I almost started hyperventilating at that one–artificial colors, flavors, and sugar!?!? I’ve never been ok with giving even my older kids that as older kids!) but I was able to politely let them know we’re not giving her those foods yet…and I know it will just get more common and difficult to curtail the older she gets! I love this idea of fruit, since I’ve already been cutting back on sweeteners everywhere in our house. I wonder if they’ll go for it (maybe if I serve it with fresh whipped cream…)

  4. Katie G. says

    I’m so glad my parents only gave me dessert once a week when I was little (it was a special ice cream/movie night/family time). It wasn’t until I was older that I got used to the sweet finish to dinner, and I’m very thankful my taste buds will accept fruit as that sweet finish.

    Might I suggest giving them a dip with their fruit to make it more special? Peanut butter always makes apples taste sweeter to me. It might make it better if you make the fruit look more fancy, like stick pineapple and strawberries on a swizzle stick and call it “fruit kebobs”, they might temporarily forget its plain old fruit and be more likely to accept it.

    I wonder if I can go a whole day without sweeteners of any kind :) I might just have to try that now.

  5. Pam says

    Growing up, dessert was almost always fruit. To this day, when we visit my folks’ house, it’s still fruit for dessert. I do make sweets but your post made me realize that we don’t eat them as dessert, but rather a standalone treat during the day. Nonetheless, my kids still get pumped about having an orange after supper.

  6. says

    Fruit is dessert most of the time for my kids. It started out that way because if I served fruit with dinner, they would only eat that. Since I wanted them to eat some veggies and perhaps some meat, fruit became dessert. Now it doesn’t bother me a bit when they clamor for dessert after dinner….and lunch…and breakfast!

  7. Sarah R. says

    Great idea! My husband and I both gave up sweets for lent, so this will be good for us. I didn’t realize how much I expected to have a sweet at the end of the meal until I had to go without one!

  8. Kathryn says

    I have a 16 month old and he is starting to notice the things that I give the older kids that he doesn’t get. My 3 year old is addicted to sugar and I’ve really been trying. It’s been really hard for us.

    • says

      Sounds like you’re at a critical point – but if you see the problem, at least you know the target to shoot at, you know? For your 3yo and 16mo, you can do this! Try dried fruit based snacks to help your 3yo wean down from the sugar, and at least start using honey/maple syrup instead of refined sugar. You can do it!! And if you feel like it’s not working this week, just try again next week. It’s never too late to start a good habit.

      I just read something about using the “Oops, we’re out of x!” excuse with kids, which is brilliant – you just run out on purpose. Then you forget to put it on the list. Then when it’s on the list, you accidentally miss it at the store. Poor mommy brain, can’t keep things straight. The kids will just have to “make do” like my poor husband does w/o his cereal… 😉 Good luck, we’re all pulling for you! :) Katie

  9. Shannon says

    Ironically, I just read on Simple Bites this morning a recipe for fruit salad with a honey-based syrup. Of course, honey is an added sweetener, but maybe a transition from sweet dessert to sweet fruit dessert to just-fruit dessert would be easier…?

  10. Kathy says

    Hi! I wanted to add my suggestion–have your fruit FIRST! The reason for that is bcuz the fruit digests very quickly, and if eaten after other foods, it can cause stomach problems. This happened to me everytime I ate fruit after a meal-esp pineapple–a memorable stomachache! But if I eat it first, I have no problems! Google it to see if I’m right-if the digested fruit cant get out, it ferments…

  11. says

    Same here! Well meaning grandparents lifted the veil, earlier than I wanted to for sure. Funny thing is, I taught my 3 year old about why too much sugar is not good for her, now when someone offers her candy she says “That’s not good for me, I can’t have that!” Puts a smile on my face! We all love sweets, so I do bake my own cookies regularly and we indulge in some superb organic ice cream about once a week in the summer. Speaking of summer, I make frozen ice pops with fruit and yogurt, she loves them!

  12. Kathy says

    …carbs and meat esp take awhile to digest…sorry this gets in the way of your dessert dilemma! Maybe you could switch it to dessert for breakfast of dessert FIRST! :)

  13. Deborah Jennings says

    I prefer to have fruit for dessert! IF I have dessert. That is my very favorite dessert ever! It is what I get when we eat out. We actually rarely have dessert of any kind.

  14. Susan Alexander says

    Funny, we definitely don’t eat healthy enough, but dessert is just not a habit in our household. Occasionally we’ll have some cookies on hand and the kids might get one as dessert. We do have a Sunday tradition of dessert or something equally “bad” for lunch. But mostly no dessert. That’s not to say we don’t have sugars, they are just usually breakfast (think pancakes, waffles, french toast, crepes, etc) or a snack… *shrug*

  15. says

    I held out on sweets for my oldest until he was almost 2 – well except the 1 year old birthday cake. We didn’t eat dessert after meals and rarely had candy. now I have 4 kids and fight the candy battle So frustrating! I wish I had known more when they were younger.

  16. Mary says

    I wonder about your “zert” girl!!!! Talk about an uphill battle!!
    And then there are the grandparents and great-grandparents who like their sweets and love to share.
    Good luck1

  17. says

    I actually have been planning a post about ways to have fruit for dessert. We rarely have dessert at all, it’s just not a habit that we ever started. However, occasionally, we have do have dessert and more often than not, it’s fruit. One of my favorite really easy desserts is frozen blueberries (I actually posted about this a few weeks ago.) One of our new favorites is banana “ice-cream.” Freeze bananas (pre-slice!) Then put the frozen bananas in the food processor and process until smooth. Fresh Pineapple is almost always reserved for dessert in our house. I buy it and leave it sitting on the counter until the kids “beg” for it and ask if they can have it for dessert. The fact that they have to wait and can’t eat it until I’m willing to cut it, makes it more appealing :)

  18. Mish says

    My ten-year-old (The Baby) has a serious Sugar Problem. He put on a ton of weight this year taking advantage of the fact that I wasn’t home most afternoons to be the “Junk food Police” at snack time. Bad thing about Big Brothers as the babysitters? They don’t usually say, “no”…they say “go away and leave me alone!” So the younger two would just raid the cabinet for whatever they found. And they usually found someone’s Easter/Halloween/Christmas stash and scarfed down handfuls. I know they went for a “bike ride” around the park and stopped at the Quik-Mart for candy bars. “Only ONCE, Mom” without batting an eyelash, can you believe it?

    I quit working the end of November, and after their yearly checkups (when both younger boys had gained a LOT of weight), I put them both on Sweet Restriction. Well, I put us all on it. They get one homemade treat per week, and they need to plan for it. No more “well Grandpa made ice cream, PLEASEEEEE” if they already had something at home before we went to visit. Grandma (the cookie and cake baker) has been a REAL hard nut to crack on this one. She likes to treat the boys ’cause she knows I don’t give them a whole lot of sweet stuff at home–they don’t starve, believe me!–and she isn’t allowed to have sweets on her diet….so she likes to spoil the boys. The older ladies at church come to mind too…. LOL

    Weekend treats are usually a cake with fruit or cobbler or (if there’s a special event) I’ll even pull out the white sugar/flour and made something REALLY BAD. But I don’t offer sweets or dessert during the week anymore. They’re surviving.

    My hubby on the other hand…

    One question for you though–the boys are out almost all summer, and they love homemade popsicles. I used to do frozen Jello or juice pops. Any suggestions for something a little less sweet that will still cool them off??

    • rosebriars says

      Make green smoothie pops! Fruit plain yogurt & greens blended & frozen (you can’t taste the greens and if you use berries you can’t see them either).

    • says

      Yogurt pops with whole grapes or blueberries in them are really fun–you can suck the melting yogurt from around a grape until it comes loose and then pop it into your mouth. (Not good for younger children who could choke, though.)

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Oh, man, I hear you. Treats for the summer are worrying me, because it seems that my little guy will probably be offered popsicles at others’ houses quite often. I realized I need easy treats that I can offer to all the kids like that, something that actually tastes good! I’m thinking blending yogurt with fruit and making popsicles out of that. Currently when I make too much green smoothie ( I freeze it and send with the 6yo for lunch, and it’s defrosted but icy by lunchtime. For your family and not for sharing, a smoothie is a great idea, and very cold and refreshing if you make it with frozen fruit. Again for your guys, a cup of frozen blueberries, straight up, or grapes, is wonderfully refreshing.

      Good luck- you’re doing the right thing, and you can succeed! They’ll thank you later when they’re healthier adults! :) Katie

  19. says

    Switching to fruit is a good move, but in the long run you might do better getting away from the idea that you have to have something sweet at the end of a meal. I hear that it’s a hard habit to break, and I don’t have any good advice for you because I never had that habit myself! I just wrote about why we don’t save room for dessert. It works well when it’s taught from birth…but my dad was raised with sweets after every lunch and dinner, and once my brother and I were older he let us see that he often snagged a couple of cookies right after dinner!

  20. says

    we have never done the sweets after dinner thing. once in a while i will actually make a dessert, like chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (my specialty), but my kids know that is a special occasion and not an every day, or even every week thing. the habit wasn’t started in me as a kid, so i have never started it with my own. i do love chocolate and once in a while will have a piece of dark chocolate, but it isn’t a necessity every night.

    i love your fruit idea – we do this a lot, especially in the summer (can anyone say watermelon??!!)

    my recent post: being brave

  21. Margaret says

    My husband’s family has never done sweets at the end of the meal (except for special occasions), mine always did. I’m trying to adjust my desire for something sweet. Some days I succeed, some days I don’t. Still, I think saving the sweet for special occasions, and then only after a break from the meal, is probably a good habit…if I can convince my taste buds that salad is dessert…

  22. says

    After seeing this I did a little bit of internet research (always dangerous.) All of the information on the topic was woven in with other information about food combining. Unfortunately, in order to follow these rules, you would essentially have to have fasted for over 3 1/2 hours before you should ever eat fruit, and most reasonable meals would be out due to other food combining rules (no protein with carbs, no protein with acid, etc. etc.) I finally just decided to stop reading and decided that, at this point, this was something I was not going to worry myself about- (Of course, this is not to say that I wouldn’t be interested in reading it, if you decided to write one of your wonderful well researched balanced articles on the topic :) )

    • Katie G. says

      Its always good to listen to your body, as the woman who wrote above about getting a stomach ache if she ate fruit with something else does. I’ve never had this problem, and I can tell when I don’t digest something (primarily gluten). Keep it all in perspective and listen to your body.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I was thinking about the fruit thing, too, when my kids each had an apple on the way home from faith formation at church b/c that causes us to eat earlier and they were very hungry. I thought, “Hmmm, what should we be eating instead? Can’t be grain, carbs are bad for you. Veggies would probably be too fibrous and hard to digest, right, and I’m sure there’s a problem with just about any other food group I could bring in the car…” Honestly, I came to a similar conclusion as you did w/o doing any research: I just had to say to myself, “If we’re eating real foods in their whole form, I’m not going to get picky about when and where. I worry about enough already.”

      So…for us, fruit it is! :) Katie

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