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Finishing Well (Dealing with Dessert at the Family Table)

Desserts in our house are usually a casual affair. Only about once or twice a month will I actually bake up a “real” dessert. On the other nights, we offer things that aren’t technically desserts, but that our kiddos define as “treats”. Pomegranates and mandarins are winter favorites. Honey sticks are well-received, as is a bowl of applesauce, or plain yogurt with some jam stirred in. There is usually a small candy stash in the cupboard from the most recent holiday, and if the Sweetie Pie and I are feeling particularly generous (or if dinner is particularly challenging) then the kids may choose a piece of candy.

I also love to serve things like fruit crisp or gelatin molds for dessert (the home-made kind, not the J-E-L-L-O kind. I’m giving you a recipe for one of our recent favorites below.) Treats like these can easily be made without a recipe according to whatever fruit and juice I have on hand, and I don’t use refined sugar in them, just some honey. Plus they’re fun–what kid doesn’t love a dessert that wiggles and jiggles??

It seems like every family has their own unique method for how to dole out dessert at the dinner table. In our house, dessert is a privilege and not a right. Therefore, it must be earned. Just in case you’re ever visiting our family table and would like to receive dessert after your dinner, here’s how we do it.

As a family, we decided on three rules that we felt were pretty simple and pretty important to everyone’s dinner table enjoyment:

  1. Chew with your mouth closed
  2. Don’t talk with food in your mouth
  3. Sit on your bottom

We wrote these on a dry erase board and posted them near the table.

Then, we set three forks in the middle of the table. Every time someone breaks a rule, a fork goes back in the drawer. At the end of the meal, if there are still forks on the table–hooray!–dessert for everyone! If not, the Sweetie Pie and I eat all of the dessert after the kiddos go to bed (There’s no use denying it. They’ve figured out that we do this.)

Now, if you’re below the age of five, then you can’t actually lose forks for forgetting your manners. You’re “in training”. Our kiddos take this responsibility very seriously. The Pickle just turned five last week. Pre-birthday he was getting several reminders every meal about the rules. Post-birthday, he hasn’t forgotten a single one.

This system works really well for our family. I love that the kids have to work as a team and are accountable to each other for their behavior. And I love that we can add rules as the kids get older. We recently added a fourth rule, No elbows on the table, because this a particular pet peeve of the Sweetie Pie. I’m having a hard time remembering this one.

I’m kinda curious to know how others handle dessert with their families. What’s the dessert protocol at your table?


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Pineapple-Orange Gelatin

This recipe is so easy to adapt. Swap out the fruit and the juice for whatever you have on hand.

Source: More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre

Course: Treats (Misc.)

Main Ingredient: Fruit



  • 1 Tbsp unflavored beef gelatin
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 3 Tbs honey
  • 2 T orange juice concentrate
  • juice from unsweetened pineapple chunks
  • 1 cup drained pineapple chunks
  • 2 oranges peeled and diced
  • 1 banana sliced


  1. Combine the gelatin and water in a saucepan. Add the honey and warm just until gelatin dissolves.
  2. Add the oj concentrate. Add water to the pineapple juice to make 1 1/4 cup and add to the saucepan. Chill mixture until syrupy.
  3. Fold in the fruit and pour into desired container(s). Chill until set.

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