Dessert, chocolate, candy, ice cream (insert other nutrition-less food here). It wasn’t until being a parent and appreciating the intricate art of child bribery that I realized why so many households continue to choose to eat desert every night. “If you eat your dinner, you’ll get to have a sugary dessert”. Seems as simple as 1+1=2 and the trend seems to be as old as….well… the word “dessert”.

Indeed, as a new(ish) parent, I’m noticing that the generations before us seem to have established a trend of eating dessert as an after-dinner reward, or that candy and ice cream could be used as a means of bribery any ol’ time of the day. Do our kids have that special aunt or grandpa that loves to show up (without fail) with a bag of gummy bears or chocolate coins? You bet they do! How our society ever arrived at a place where chronically poisoning our kids with sugar, artificial flavour, artificial colour and artificial preservatives was the reward for good behaviour still continues to elude my logical faculties; like many traditions, it is one that needs to progress and change for the better. I can appreciate junk food in moderation, but unfortunately statistics have proven that it many households it is a staple. This needs to change.

As a nutritionist, I obviously find this status quo difficult to digest (no pun intended) and my wife and I have no doubt devised a simple solution. Why not replace the traditional “dessert” foods with healthy alternatives? The essential use of bribery (reward) can continue and your kids become healthier in the process. Why isn’t this the status quo?!

Shelly Linehan's classic rainbow fruit shish kabob

Now all kids are different and have different taste preferences so naturally this will require some experimentation to find out what your children will accept as “dessert”. Here’s a few of our most popular suggestions involving nature’s candy:

- Frozen green grapes, red grapes or blueberries (delicious!)
- Vanilla yogurt and berries (sometimes with granola)
- Yogurt parfaits
- Fruit slices (apples / oranges etc) in yogurt dip
- Homemade fruit salad
- Real fruit popsicles (use real juice / pureed fruit with popsicle molds like these)
- Chocolate or orange creamsicle protein shakes (we have loads of healthy shake recipes)
- Fruit smoothies
- Fruit shish kabob
- Watermelon cake (smother a layer of greek yogurt between 2 slices of watermelon)
- Melted dark chocolate and nuts over chopped banana
- Homemade protein cookies
- Homemade healthy muffins (or “cupcakes” as we like to call them)
- Apple slices drizzled in honey or maple syrup
- Apple with natural peanut butter dip

The list goes on and the variations are endless. Nature has plenty of delicious and healthy treats on offer without added fat, sugar or harmful chemicals. With a little experimentation in the kitchen all kinds of unique combinations are possible and some of them are guaranteed to work with your own kids.

We’ve also found that even some natural health products such as probiotic chewables or powders, lemon-flavoured fish oils or even some high-potency gummy multivitamins (as opposed to the ones that are mostly just regular old gummys with a tiny hint of multivitamins) can be a perfectly acceptable substitute for classic candy. In fact, our daughter spends several minutes per day begging for a probiotic candy and chewable multivitamin and we leverage it for good behaviour!

Shaping the behaviour of our children should always involve some sort of reward system. Whether its food or something else entirely, it’s essential that we reward our children with healthy choices. There will always be a time for a special unhealthy treat, but when you reward your children with good food choices it becomes a win-win of healthy, well behaved (successfully bribed) children, and good nutrition begets good behaviour. It all comes Full Circle!