For the Love of Cupcakes

I still remember the cupcakes my mother made for me on my 5th birthday.

She arranged them on a tray and used frosting to write one letter on each cupcake, spelling out “HAPPY BIRTHDAY SALLY” ( if you look closely at the photo, you can see the little boy on the right has the “D”).

I thought those cupcakes were about the best thing in the whole world. And while I already knew my mother loved me–she showed me in a million ways every day–those cupcakes made me feel loved too.

I posted yesterday about a story my friend Vicki wrote–“Food Nazis Invade First Grade”–about a cupcake ban at her daughter’s school. Her piece was laugh-out-loud funny, but she ended it on a highly personal and honest note: Sending in birthday treats…made me feel like a good mom.

Reading those words was enormously helpful to me in understanding the visceral reaction my team snack suggestions sometimes evoke. I knew some moms were reacting against something deeper. I just didn’t know exactly what it was. The realization that I could be threatening the parent these women wanted to be–and what they thought a “good mom” did–was my Aha! moment.

Vicki was brave to say what she did (and she certainly caught flak for it from some readers). But I can relate: Though I don’t feel the same way about cupcakes at school, I know that I have my own ideas of the mom I want to be–and that some of them, for better or for worse, involve food.

I know that I love the sound of my kids stampeding into the kitchen to lick frosting off of the beaters, just like I used to do as a child.

I know that buying a package of freezer pops in the height of summer (yep, the pops with the artificial dyes) will make me a hero in my 7-year-old’s eyes.

I know that joy welled up inside of me last weekend when my 3-year-old got his first soft-serve ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles and his eyes lit up with wonder. He held it carefully the whole way home without wanting to lick it so he “could show Daddy”.

Though I work hard to center my family’s diet around mostly whole, nutritious foods–and that I also feel joy when my kids get excited about fresh, farmer’s market peaches–I can’t deny that ice cream, Popsicles, and cupcakes also play a role in how I mother my kids. And part of the reason that I push for healthier sports snacks is so that I can preserve that. When my kids are getting goodies from other people at seemingly every turn, I feel like I can’t do those special things anymore. So in a way, the idea of the mom I want to be feels threatened too.

Which side of this debate are you on? And does your idea of a “good mom” involve food in any way?

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  1. says

    You have to have fun food and food to grow- right? Everything in moderation- right? I agree kids should enjoy childhood and the treats we had as children. However, when we were kids we did not have the abundance of treats, fast food, convenience food, boxed foods, etc. Today we are overloaded with sodium, sugar and artificial colorings/flavorings. I remember playing soccer and all parents brought oranges, grapes and water. Today it is sugary treats and gatorade. I think balance is best and we should enjoy our food- including nature’s fast food- fruits and veggies along with the occasional treat. We need to keep it a treat, right?

    • says

      I agree Clancy. Things are much different now–way back when, we played outside all day, didn’t watch a ton of TV (because there was nothing on), and weren’t confronted by treats at every turn. But I hate that a “treat” has become a package of chocolate chip cookies (that may not actually have any chocolate in them) that the kids are scarfing down after a soccer game without even noticing the taste. I’d rather use those “treats” for a family trip to get ice cream or homemade cookies that my kids will really love.

  2. says

    Love, love, LOVE this post, Sally! As you know, I’m on your side of the debate. I feel like I barely ever get to treat my kids because everyone else is doing it for me. My mom was the mom who brought lemonade and cookies to my tennis practices, and she definitely showed us love through food. I’m just trying to redefine it, so that I’m showing my kids love with fresh, wholesome food. And when it’s time for a goodie, I would like to be the one to give it to them for a change!

  3. says

    I really like this Stacy: “I’m just trying to redefine it, so that I’m showing my kids love with fresh, wholesome food. And when it’s time for a goodie, I would like to be the one to give it to them for a change!” That’s exactly my approach–or at least what I’m striving for. Some days we get a good balance between goodies and wholesome food, sometimes we don’t–sometimes it’s out of my control, sometimes, frankly, I mess up. But at least we’re trying, and my kids see my making an effort to balance goodies (ie: sugary, fatty stuff) and wholesome food (whole foods)–because someday, they’re going to have to do that for themselves.

  4. says

    I appreciate this post since you completely nailed something I’ve been thinking for a long time: with everyone pushing sweets in front of my kids, where is there room for my homemade sweets?

    As a dietitian, it’s sort of drilled into us to love our kids with hugs and reassurance and never with goodies. But there is, in my mind, room for that too…as long as it’s truly a treat and not an everyday. I wrote a post a while ago with a recipe for what I call “Whole Lotta Love Bars” ( because sometimes we do want to spread the love, whether it’s with the kids or our friends with something warm and wonderful and yes, perhaps a little decadent.

    • says

      Totally agree, Katie. Gotta check out those bars! And I find it hilarious that I was commenting on your blog at the exact time you were commenting on mine… 🙂

  5. says

    I think that making food together with love is what’s really important. That’s what builds sweet memories – not that the food itself is sugary.

    One of my favorite childhood memories was proudly arranging fruit on a tray for family brunches. My daughter also loves doing this. She is as happy handrolling whole wheat dinner rolls as she is decorating cookies.

    I think we can everything we want – the memorable rituals and healthy children – by keeping in mind that our kids will remember our attitude and love most of all.

  6. says

    I totally agree with Stacy – I think I show my love as a mother each and every day by spending time planning meals, cooking dinner and filling our fridge and pantry with healthy choices.

    I’m glad you had this a-ha moment, Sally, and I hope others can relate because it is so much easier to help move people along to healthier eating when we can understand the complex reasons that are behind the choices. Great discussion!

  7. Jessica says

    Just discovered your blog this morning, linked to it from notaboutnutriton, and I must say that I love all of the stuff I’m seeing. You are definitely an inspiration to me as a someday mom and a preschool teacher who is trying to instill healthy eating habits in 19-3 year olds every day.

    In my class I actually cherish when parents bring in special treats for their kids. I’m right next to the parents taking pictures, which I post on our classroom shutterfly. I love giving that special attention to that one child. Some parents bring in healthier treats, some bring in much less healthy treats and some don’t bring in anything because it’s not part of their culture, but no matter what that child is sung to and made to feel special because it is their special day.

    I realize that parents show their children that they love them everyday in many different ways but if they want to do it on their birthday I have no problem. It is made very clear to the children why we are having this special treat, we sing, and say thank you. They are all then given a cupcake or whatever usually at 9 in the morning, because that is snack time and easy for parents to be present for at drop off.

    They only get one serving though and if they are still hungry we offer a healthy choice that is not a grain, since they just ate a grain, sometimes it’s accepted other times they don’t want it so they clean up their space. We even have kids who don’t want the special treat and more power to them. Children have to learn how to make their own choices with some guidelines and this is an opportunity.

    I’m not so worried about the 0-3 times a month when a parent brings a birthday treat compared to the kids who get baby food in their lunch when they are 4 years old!


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