I knew of a boy whose mother would give him cottage cheese with peaches and call it an ice cream sundae. He gobbled it down until the first time he went to a friend’s house and was given an actual ice cream sundae. Obviously, it blew his mind—not only how much more delicious ice cream is than cottage cheese, but also the realization that his mother had lied to him. I thought it was a mean and pointless (albeit funny) trick to play on a kid. After all, it’s just a matter of time before even the most sheltered of children are exposed to Count Chocula and Fun Dip.
As parents, should we teach our children to abstain from sugar? Or how to practice safe sugaring?
Children enter the world with a sweet tooth. Breast milk tastes sweet, and evolutionarily speaking (from our nut-and-berry cave days), sweet means good and bitter means bad. Now, books advise new parents to offer puréed vegetables before fruits to “train” their children’s palates beyond sweet.
Of course, fruit isn’t the problem—nor is sugar in moderation. It’s eating too much sugar too often that leads to cavities, obesity, diabetes, and, in some circles of belief, behavioral issues and hyperactivity. And, because sugar-heavy foods tend to contain empty calories, they displace the nutritious foods that children need to thrive, and often set up a cycle of cravings.
But where’s the joy in a lollipop-free childhood? I took a middle-of-the-road approach to introducing sugar into Maisie’s diet, giving her smaller tastes of higher quality sweets, yet never using it as a reward for finishing her dinner. Five years later, while she’ll still make fast work of a blue Ring Pop if given the opportunity, she tends to choose desserts that are less sweet and will often choose cheese, baguette, fruits, or veggies if she’s still hungry after her evening meal. I’m careful not to label foods as good or bad, but rather distinguish between those that just taste nice and those that actually nourish us.
Occasionally, when we are out together, we’ll stop for a “special treat.” Luckily, we live in a town that values quality over quantity, because seeing grotesquely large cupcakes and cookies is the quickest way to grow eyes bigger than one’s stomach. The mini cupcakes at Sweethaus, the honey bunches at Java Java and C’ville Coffee, and the bambino cones at Splendora are all perfectly child-sized (and priced).
So much of parenting is about laying groundwork and then letting your children make their own decisions. The last time I took Maisie to Paradox Pastry—even when faced with a case full of towering layer cakes and face-sized cookies—she chose a pear and almond tart. It was big and rich and probably meant for two. Even though I had visions of her gorging herself and then regretting it, I didn’t offer any words of caution. I just watched her enjoy exactly half and then say: “I’d like to save the rest for tomorrow.” Then I did a happy dance inside.—Megan J. Headley
Great-Grandma Violet’s Apricot Spice Bars
These wholesome, not-too-sweet bars that my grandmother makes are Maisie’s all-time favorite. Even at Christmas time when new frosted, sprinkled cookies were coming in by the dozen, she’d choose one of these, relishing every last crumb, often with her eyes closed—how she shows that she’s “savoring” something.
1 3/4 cups flour plus extra for dusting
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground clove
1/3 cup butter plus extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
6 ounces dried apricots, finely chopped
1 cup chopped pecans
For the glaze:
¾ cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tbs. lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in a small bowl and set aside. Cream butter, brown sugar, and honey with a paddle attachment or electric egg beater. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, then stir in the apricots and nuts by hand. Spread into a greased and floured 10″x15″x1″ pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Make glaze by adding lemon juice to powdered sugar. Allow bars to cool for 15 minutes before drizzling them with the glaze.