I owe my older son three batches of homemade cookies. It’s the remaining part of a gift certificate for “one six-month taster membership with Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs.” I gave it to him for Christmas. Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs is just me having fun in my kitchen, and this gig has been fun for both me and this son. (And that doesn’t even count the Guinness Brownies we tried on St. Patrick’s Day).
But I’ve been reading The Abascal Way, a book that explains why what– and how–we eat as a culture is all wrong, and what makes more sense. Cookies are definitely not part of what makes more sense. So I’m having second thoughts about saying “I love you” to my son with refined sugar, refined flour, and bad fat.
I’ve given cookies as a demonstration of love ever since I was old enough to make them. Both my sons, my step grandson, and each of my life partners have gotten full batches of their own favorites many times. I even managed to ship a batch to Australia that were still edible when they arrived. I’m a good Cookie Mom.
I do put thought into making them more nutritionally commendable. Whole wheat flour works–sometimes. Dried cherries—high in nutrients—taste pretty good. Really dark chocolate is “healthy.” The molasses cookies I made with oat bran in them when my sons were teens were favorites for a few years. (Alas, Abascal doesn’t consider oat bran particularly healthy…) The guys in my life have been okay with me sneaking “good for you stuff” in their goodies over the years.
But this book made me look at this fun part of my life through a stronger lens. Am I harming my sons—and all of my loved ones—with these nutritionally derelict professions of love? No matter how much good stuff you cram into them, if you want a cookie that tastes like a cookie (rather than cardboard), you need to use significant amounts of refined sugar, refined flour, and bad fat.
I’ve focused on keeping my kids healthy since they were born. Have I been wrong with the cookie thing all these years? Or does the plus of being a tasty “I love you” offset the negative that they’re made with “inflammatory foods?”
This dilemma isn’t just about cookies. Am I being loving when I serve red meat to guests? Am I doing the right thing when bringing gourmet macaroni and cheese to a potluck? Where does “smart eating” intersect with “having fun together?” It’s just not the same when a group of friends sits down to brown rice, steamed veggies, and ice water.
There are a lot of “shoulds” in this nutrition thing. How many of them are legitimate? How many of them are essential at all times? How many of them are too much?
The first piece of the answer lies in giving up the General Manager of the Universe title (one more time). The only thing I control is whether to create and give the cookies. The recipients are adults–they decide what to do with them.
When my kids were little, they didn’t get cookies whenever they wanted them. They had to eat balanced meals and cookies were a treat in addition to those. They grew up to be both wise about their nutrition and good cooks. They don’t exist solely on cookies when I give them. For all I know, they may be choosing to throw most of them away (but I doubt it).
Abascal adds a bit of advice that helps. She recommends that when you give yourself a treat made of “bad stuff,” you promise yourself to eat some vegetables soon. It doesn’t have to be in the next fifteen seconds, but sometime that day, eat a few extra antioxidants. Progress!
I don’t have a lot of traditions with my kids. I did that on purpose because there were too many when I was a new mother and it was an incredible source of stress for my young family. But cookies are one of our traditions.
So, after much thought and a bit of angst, I’ve decided there will be more cookies from the Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs. I might try to make some with brown rice flour. Or they may arrive with a bouquet of curly kale. If I give them, they will be tasty though—and they will say “I love you” as always.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
Mary Lloyd is a speaker and writer and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website.