If you believe most of what you read, you and your family should be focusing on a whole foods-based diet, organically grown, with particular emphasis on whole grains and produce. Prepared foods, snacks and dessert are passé, and could lead to a wealth of issues, including, but not limited, to: cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, ADHD and depression.
It’s gotten so that fear-based media has programmed some of us, if not most, to be afraid of how we feed ourselves and our families, and even of the act of eating itself.
This is how disordered eating can be born, and in fact, the recently-coined term orthorexia is being thrown all over the place – a condition simply described as being obsessed with eating foods deemed healthy or ‘safe’. Moms are a target audience for this kind of thinking – if we don’t eat perfectly, we will be unhealthy, set a bad example for our children and be unattractive – and some moms even go so far as to consider a child’s diet, even one somewhat-based upon convenience foods, akin to neglect or even abuse.
We’ve gotta stop reading too much, ladies.
Remember when you were a kid, when an ice cream cone didn’t carry the weight of guilt, and didn’t kick your self-esteem down 10 notches? I remember dessert being something delicious, enjoyment wrapped in a small package, and even (gasp!) something that brought happiness. Heaven forbid that we seek happiness from food. Instead, now dessert’s something society and health articles have taught us is something to avoid, consider sinful, budget calories because of or starve in preparation (or reparation) for. Now, dessert, to some, is the equivalent of failure or poison.
This seems, to me, linked in part to our living practices, and where we live. In certain cultures, dinner is a two-hour (or longer) meal, where the entire family talks, eats multiple courses slowly, and simply enjoys the time together while also nourishing themselves. The focus isn’t on rushing through a meal just to say that they ate dinner before rushing off to get something else done; focus instead is given to bonding, sharing stories and enjoying the process. These families don’t eat to live, they, on some level, live to eat.
In smaller, more rural areas, children might come home from school to find their SAHM’s baked a fresh batch of cookies. These kids sit with a cup of milk and a couple of sugar-laden morsels, and they share their day with their mothers, describing the happy and stressful moments, upcoming events and tests they’ve got to prepare for.
In the city, dinner tends to be pre-planned days in advance, so as to compensate for the rush of everyday. While there are some conversations about how everyone’s day was, dinner is something to get through, and even seems a stepping stone to the next activity. Dessert is forgotten because schedules permit only a meal, sandwiched between work and play (or more work). Not to mention how we’ve been practically programmed to assume that dessert is an unneeded luxury – one that will do us more harm than good.
Let’s table that thinking for a minute.
Think back to the last truly great meal you enjoyed. For some, a heavenly meal is a creamy alfredo sauce sopped up with crusty bread, accompanied by a full-bodied merlot and followed by a rich chocolate mousse, topped by a single strawberry and sprig of mint. This meal spans two hours, while diners laugh and chat in a warm place with people that mean the world to them. In this fantasy, the credit card slip is signed with a flourish and everyone around the table is satisfied with their time and financial investment.
This is not just an anniversary picture. This is the premise of how all meals could be. Content, satisfying, like the best time you’ve had all day. And it starts with a simple thought: food is not the enemy, it’s something we nourish our bodies and souls with.
I’m not suggesting that we indulge in rich, creamy foods at every meal – that would be irresponsible of me. I’m not telling you to cut back on your responsibilities so far that you spend six hours a day around the table, to the detriment of the rest of life. I would never say that you should ensure your children receive an ample dose of processed sugar with every meal.
Here’s what I’m saying: let’s bring back dessert. Let’s remember that happiness can be found around the table and it can look like the lop-sided chocolate cake that you made that afternoon with your toddler. Let’s stop persecuting everything that brings us enjoyment, even if it does carry the weight of potential pounds added – though you’ll probably be surprised to find out that this kind of mindful, soulful eating can help you drop weight, since making something taboo tends to increase its draw (that’s how some of us can find ourselves leaning over the kitchen sink, inhaling Twinkies while no one’s around).
Let’s consider the thought that putting a simple meal together, including Italian ice cream, helps us savour life, and it can be the Prozac we all need sometimes.