First, let me dispel a common myth: Nutritionists do enjoy sweets. Dark chocolate is pretty hard for me to resist. And sometimes I just need to make chocolate chip cookies! What I don’t love, however, is the notion of a guilty pleasure. No one should ever feel bad when they’re eating something that tastes good. So I propose taking that phrase out of our vocabulary.
Instead of feeling bad about eating something that brings you joy, I’d like you to ask yourself why you’re seeking it out. Do you want something a little bit sweet after a meal? Stop and think about why: is it just out of habit or pure impulsiveness? Or do you really want this food right now? If the answer to the last question is yes, go for it. It’s OK! Just do it mindfully and savor every bite. Those chocolate chip cookies I adore? I happily whip up a batch, but I bake only about six of them and freeze the rest of the dough. This way, I don’t have so much dessert sitting around the house. And when I want cookies, then I can have warm cookies—as well as the enticing aroma when they’re baking—so that makes the whole experience even more gratifying.
If you’re reaching for something sweet out of routine, it’s time to change your pattern. Start by having fresh fruit for dessert, but serve it in a way that truly hits the spot. Once when I was in Italy, I was given a dish of sliced ripe pears with cinnamon. A piece of fruit for dessert might sound boring, but those pears were perfectly ripe, beautifully sliced and fanned out on the plate with a sprinkle of the spice. I was surprised at how satisfying they were! Today, I often end family dinners by bringing out a bowl of berries drizzled with a little honey and tossed with fresh mint leaves. It’s a light and fabulous way to end a meal. My favorite way to categorize foods is as “usually,” “sometimes” or “rarely.” A fruit dessert like this can be a “usually.” You can have it every day.
My chocolate chip cookies or a similar treat are more of a “rarely.” In the real world, that plays out to once or twice a week. Plan for it. Enjoy the whole process: Look for a recipe, shop for the ingredients or decide where you’ll go to order it. Then, at dinner, pull back on the extra calories. Skip that second glass of wine or piece of bread to save room.
Last, don’t settle for whatever is on hand out of pure impulse. When you do have an indulgent dessert, make sure it’s of high quality. Really savor it. Let it melt in your mouth. Notice the different layers of flavors. And enjoy every bite—with no guilt at all. There’s room for sweet tastes in your life if you’re mindful about them.
Registered dietitian Ellie Krieger is a Mindful by Sodexo culinary ambassador and the star of “Ellie’s Real Good Food” on Public Television. Her latest best-selling cookbook, “You Have It Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals,” was recently honored with a James Beard Award of Excellence in the health book category.