Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting from Katie Workman /

So, I hope by now you know I’m not someone who over-coddles their children in any way, especially not when it comes to eating.  My kids know that if trout is on the table, it must be tried,  that vegetables are part of every meal, that soda is for special occasions, that blah blah blah. (Note: this was written long ago….many things on this ship have sailed…)

But I am far, far from militant about it.   And there’s so much of it that’s not in my control, especially as the kids get older.  Both boys went to sleep away camp this summer, and Charlie told me recently that both lunch and dinner were always followed by a full-on dessert, and that the pre-bedtime winding down ritual involved milk and cookies every night.

Plus they were each encouraged to bring a shoebox full of “candy and treats” to the camp, to snack on during bunk down-time.  Not wanting my (nervous first time camper) kid to be the loser with the box full of Craisins, I succumbed, shoving mini Hershey’s and Twizzlers into a plastic shoebox.  And it turned out that the term shoebox had been creatively interpreted by some of the veteran campers, who knew that a box that had contained boots could technically be considered a shoebox… you get the drift.

Please know where I am coming from.  My mom was one of those 70s gourmet-ish “health food” junkies, and she sprinkled wheat germ on foods as I sprinkle salt.  I was the kid with the carob.  And I wasn’t very pleased about it.

While feeling a bit sorry for myself, and my Dorito-free lot in life, I clearly remember reading Little House on the Prairie, and the rest of the tales about those intrepid Ingalls.  Somehow there the fact that white sugar was so special and so scarce in their word was enthralling, and so romantic in a way.

There was a train ride at one point, and Ma fished out a dime from her purse (as this recollection is being fished out from my imperfect 40- *cough* year-old memory) and to the girls’ absolute shock and delight bought them a box of candies from the train attendant.   They could barely believe their good fortune.

Getting a fresh orange in their stocking at Christmas?  Why this was cause for Laura and Mary to squirrel away with their bounty, savoring section after section of the juicy, sweet windfall with appreciation and relish.  They sighed when it was gone.

And I believe once there were peppermint candy sticks that were licked and licked to make them last for as long as humanly possible.  Peppermint sticks, not even candy canes.  The Ingalls were so humble they couldn’t even afford the hook part.

One peppermint stick.
One peppermint stick.

And did they complain?  Not to my memory.  There was no “Nellie has lots of oranges whenever she wants them,” or “I can’t believe we’re out of white sugar and have to eat this sorghum molasses crap that Dad harvested with his bare hands and Mom boiled in a cauldron that is like, so totally old and ugly.”

Actually, I think on one or two occasions during the course of the entire series, possibly Laura complained about something softly.  Then, (again, subjective memory at work) I believe Ma and Mary paled with shock at the audacity of expressing anything resembling dissatisfaction with the gifts the Lord chose to bless them with, and Pa, in steady but dangerously soft tones, expressed his displeasure with Laura’s ingratitude, and boy did she feel bad.

Fast forward to yesterday at a flea market, where my older son announced, “Oh, I am SO getting a blue raspberry Italian ice” like it was his birthright.  (sidebar: Let’s put aside discussions of entitlement in general; how no matter how convinced we are that we are not raising spoiled children they seem to become….well…, we’ll leave that aside.  Let’s just talk about the sweets and treats issue today).

I think, “Oh, are you?  Are you SO getting a blue raspberry Italian ice?  I see.  Well, let me hurry and grab my wallet while you decide what size blue raspberry Italian ice suits your fancy. “ (And did I mention that it was 10 a.m.?)

I’m not getting on a soap box.  Well, ok, I have one foot on a soap box, but it’s only so I can hoist myself up a little bit to look down at myself.   I’m not going to delve into why too much sugar and fat is bad, why the fact that we have become a snack nation is problematic.  You already know all this.  And so do I, but I still caved and sent my kid to camp with a shoebox full of candy.

What strikes me now, and frequently, is how unspecial treats have become.  How so many of our kids (from all walks of life, mind you) don’t really think of getting a candy or a cupcake as a treat.  Their days are paved in treats – on any given week I know my kids are enjoying Oreos after football practice, an ice cream after school with a friend, and a lavish spread at the pilgrim party at school (though I didn’t know that the pilgrims were such fans of mini doughnuts).

We don’t do weeknight dessert as a rule, but that’s not really the half of it.  Our orthodontist even has homemade chocolate chip cookies in their waiting room.  Isn’t that messed up?  Even our orthodontist doesn’t want to be the bad guy when it comes to keeping up with the river of sweets.

And so our kids will never know the special pleasure of the uncommon indulgence, the anticipation of a birthday cake, the pleasure of a lone candy cane. And they certainly will not think the sweetness of an orange something to savor.

Am I done?  Oh, I think so.  I didn’t mean to go on for so long, though I could go on for longer.  Anyway, I have to go bake cookies for my son’s back to school party.


  1. I’ve never read your blog before, but I’m coming back! I’ve recently gotten married and acquired 3 stepchildren. My mom was the 2nd Ed Fit for Life in the 90’s lady. We had candy very occasionally and I had a few carob snacks that I vividly remember. I’m trying to come to grips with the new prevalent snacking and junk world. It’s as if we have become so educated to what is healthy and what is not that we are immune and just say, “Oh well, everyone else is doing it.” I appreciate your honesty on the tight rope walk one is supposed to balance today.

  2. I am fully on your side, BUT did you never try to sneak into the kitchen to get an (unallowed) slice of cake? Didn’t you stuff your face with candy on the rare occasion you had access to it? Didn’t you daydream with rivers of chocolate after watching Willy Wonka? I do think it is a pity to lose the magic of the special treat, but I also think it demistifies sweets, if they are more available. The challenge is to educate your children to handle it (which I don’t think is easy, but still…) It took me a while as an adult to learn to control the amount of sweets I ate, because living away from home and doing my own grocery shopping was suddenly a carte blanche to feast on junk. I am hoping my kids grow up with a healthier relationship with unhealthy food.

    1. Meg, I am with you all the way. It’s so so hard to find the right balance, especially these days (I have now officially turned into an old person, using the term these days). It feels like everything is a bit of a boomerang or a landmine. And the only way to get around that is to try one’s best, and try not to let it be too much of a focus at the same time. Easier said than done.

  3. The shoebox full of candy annoys me. Exactly when did foisting snacks on children anytime and for any event become so prevalent? When I went to Girl Scout camp in the late ’80s, we were given CAROB chips for our s’mores due to CA’s calorie guidelines (rules?) for children at the time. I only remember snacks at school being served during the last week of the school year and never at dance/softball/gymnastics/tennis/etc.

    1. I know, it’s all quite flummoxing. One when my older son was about 8 and very anxious about playdates and other separation stuff he went to a friend’s house who knew he was nervous. The mom’s very well-intentioned solution was to put out huge bowls of candy so he would be happy. Good intentions, but…..

  4. Wow — I am surprised by your summer camp! Seems like a lot of sugar. Our camp had a no food packages policy. And, the orthodontist! Wow — have never seen that with an orthodontist or a dentist. Holy smokes. Kind of heart breaking. Both of those situations might be deal breakers for me…

    1. Someone just told me she saw her child’s pediatric dentist on Halloween in full costume handing out candy on the street with her card stapled to the candy. That was the winner for me.

  5. Love this post! I distinctly remember one of the best parts of sleeping over at my grandmother’s house was that she had Lucky Charms to eat for breakfast. Sugary cereal for a girl who lived in a corn flakes & cheerios world seemed like the biggest treat ever. We don’t have Lucky Charms in our house but my kids are so used to accessible treats of one sort or another that it seems like there’s no “treat” in them – if you know what I mean.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. And I love going to my grandmother’s, who has those mini boxes of sweet cereal just for us, and choosing which one to have was SUCH a treat!

  6. By the way, I just got the Mom 100 book at the library and I love it. Your writing is such a pleasure to read. My older son and I made the ‘Shrimp Shrimp’ last night and had a lot of fun. So much so that my younger son (who started out declaring that he would NOT touch the shrimp dish) eventually asked for a taste. It’s no fun to be left out . . .

  7. You know, in thinking about my own relationship with food, I realize that I, too, am tempted to use sweet treats to get through the day. I’m tired, I’ve been working all day, maybe I worked through lunch, and I really want to sit down and put my feet up but I can’t, because I’ve gotta go pick up this kid and that kid, and take the other one to karate . . . Caitlin Moran wrote (in “How to be a Woman”) that food is the addiction you can practice while still fulfilling all your responsibilities. So this is how I “take care of” myself, how surprising is it that I “take care” of my kids the same way? And as you point out in your post, it’s EVERYWHERE.

  8. Oh, I love this post! So many thoughts. We are treating ourselves all the time, I think, because modern life is in a lot of ways, a life without meaning. We don’t have too much that is special in our instant gratification world, so we make the everyday things special with treats all the time. I have to fight myself from being over indulgent all the time. I jus decided that I am not bringing treats or anything special for my son’s birthday to school. I’m just not going to get in that habit. And for what it’s worth, this 40 year old, loved Laura and Mary too. I still put oranges in our stockings at Christmas because that’s what the Ingalls did.

    1. oh I love your comment! yes. but nice to think about a time when one was NOT constantly re-assessing, cause things just were!

Rate & Comment