How Desserts Can Fit Into a Healthy Family Lifestyle

For growing families, good nutrition matters at every meal. Let the goodness of Michigan dairy guide you, even when you want to enjoy that occasional treat.

It’s hard to overstate the value of good nutrition for growing children. It’s our job as parents to make sure we guide our kids toward the best food choices possible, and that includes desserts.

But how do desserts fit into a healthy lifestyle? It’s true that some desserts — like ice cream — are best enjoyed only as an occasional treat, but how can you think more broadly to include new and traditionally healthy ingredients into the desserts you make?

No matter what, a glass of milk brings 13 essential nutrients to each member of your family, and it’s a perfect complement to any dessert.

There  are so many choices to satisfy that sweet tooth, but you don’t have to get fancy or complicated. Instead of looking beyond cakes and cookies and, of course, ice cream, think instead about what nutritional treasures are within these sweet favorites.

Here in Michigan, we are lucky to have rich diversity of agriculture and rank second among the largest producers of fresh dairy products in the country, according to Registered Dietitian Jenn Fillenworth.

Eat your (dessert) vegetables

“Since vegetables and dairy are a Michigan staple, why not pair them together in a new and unexpected way?” asks Fillenworth. She plays on the idea that carrots are wonderful in a cake topped with cream cheese frosting, so why not extend that concept to other vegetables for the dessert plate?

At Milk Means More, you can find several unique recipes that may even become your kids’ favorite desserts, including Parsnip and Blueberry Tart. This cheesecake-like dessert is filled with the goodness of fresh buttermilk, basil, blueberries and parsnips — that root veg that we seem to forget about when it’s not Thanksgiving. With a sweet butter-based crust and candied basil that kids can help make, we bet this spiced tart will be a hit.

Cookies and milk are even more fun when you can incorporate interesting flavors. Sweet Potato Cookies are loaded with a time-honored combination of pureed sweet potato and pumpkin pie spice. For an extra treat, and a great opportunity to enjoy creamy dairy in a new way, Fillenworth suggests serving these cookies with Warm Cinnamon Milk. A blend of milk, honey and cinnamon, gently warmed on the stove, Warm Cinnamon Milk can be enjoyed any time of the day, but is particularly satisfying as a dessert. This tasty addition provides 8 grams of protein and 30% of your daily calcium needs, too.

Nothing could be easier to prepare — or more welcoming to healthier ingredients — than a smoothie. Put this Berry Dairy Delicious smoothie in a tall glass and watch it disappear. Your family will love the blend of vanilla yogurt, creamy milk, fresh or frozen strawberries, honey — and (surprise!) frozen cauliflower. This could become a trend in your home.

We all scream for ice cream

Who says no to a bowl of ice cream for dessert? While you can’t beat the convenience of the grocery store variety and there are plenty of gourmet flavors to choose from, why not keep it simple and put your freezer to work with homemade ice cream?

Michigan food and nutrition expert Marcia K. Stanley swears by homemade ice cream for its minimal ingredients and make-ahead convenience. And because you’re using real ingredients, like fresh Michigan milk and cream, you can control the flavor and sweetness to suit your family’s taste.

Give your family a treat  by serving ice cream during National Ice Cream Month, or on special occasions throughout the year.

Try this Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream for a familiar-yet-unique blend of fruity flavors, made even more intense through an easy roasting step. The smooth and silky dairy is always the highlight of this ice cream.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, this Vanilla Ice Cream in a Bag recipe is a great basic that doesn’t require any fancy equipment. Fresh milk, sugar and vanilla extract become ice cream with the help of ice, rock salt and a couple of energetic kids who want to shake their way to a delicious, calcium-filled dessert. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can get creative with fruit, caramel, chocolate and other favorite flavors.

What ever happened to whipped cream?

Let’s take some time to recall the dressed-up feel of fresh summer berries topped simply with a dollop of real whipped cream. Creamy and delicious, real whipped cream is also crazy easy to make . Whipped cream can really elevate any dessert, from shortcake to apple pie.

A basic recipe requires nothing more than heavy whipping cream, a little sugar, maybe a dash of vanilla and some elbow grease or an electric mixer. Greek yogurt fans can even add it in for a new and interesting flavor.

Just for fun, try these delicious whipped cream variations, including mocha, berry, espresso and bourbon. Let us know your family’s favorite flavors and combinations.

Learn more about the benefits of Michigan dairy and explore many more recipes at


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