By: Jodie Shield, RD
On a hot, humid day, nothing tastes better than a cool, refreshing dessert. Go ahead and let your family eat dessert especially if it’s healthy. Before you start, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Work it in. Desserts should complement your child’s meal by adding nutritional value. Most of the time, you should try and offer deserts that count as a serving from one or more of the MyPlate food groups – Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein, and Dairy (www.choosemyplate.gov). For example, an ice cream cone would count as a serving from the Milk Group (ice cream) and Grain Group (cone). To trim fat and calories, use reduced-fat ice cream or low-fat frozen yogurt.
Practice portion control. Keep an eye – rather than a fork – on portion sizes. All desserts, even fat-free cookies and low-fat cake, have calories. If you’re buying dessert, always read the package label to see what’s considered a serving size, and serve accordingly. Or, if you’re preparing a homemade dessert, check the recipe for how many servings it makes so your child doesn’t overindulge. And remember, smaller children tend to have smaller appetites, so offer them about two-thirds of a portion you would serve yourself.
Focus on fruit and fiber. A great way to minimize fat and maximize nutrients is to offer your child desserts made with fruit (like apples, raisins, strawberries, and bananas) and whole grains (like oatmeal, graham crackers, and whole-wheat flour). A couple of examples: frozen yogurt topped with fresh berries and low-fat granola, or a fresh-fruit pie made with whole-grain crust.
Maintain equality. Many registered dietitians (RD), including myself, discourage parents from using desserts as a reward – something that can be eaten only “after you finish your vegetables.” It’s good to emphasize that all foods are important when eaten in moderation. And according to the research: Bribes backfire. Kids end up wanting the healthy food even less than before!
Cut back. Find ways to cut the fat and sugar but not the flavor from your child’s favorite desserts. As a rule of thumb, you can cut the fat in a recipe by reducing the amount of butter, margarine, or oil by one-third or the amount of sugar by one-fourth without affecting the taste.
Keep ‘em moving. No matter what type of dessert your child eats – whether it’s cake or frozen yogurt – make sure he gets plenty of physical activity every day. This will help burn off excess energy and keep your child’s weight in line. Encourage your child to go outside and ride a bike, shoot hoops, or jump rope. Whatever gets them away from the TV or computer screen, and keeps him moving, is fine.
Oh those hot summer nights! What do you serve your family for dessert?