Who would think that such a cute little cookie could provide so much angst?

I thought it would be fun to make some almond cookies in the shape of hearts for a certain holiday. These cookies were dairy and egg-free, sweetened with maple and brown rice syrup, and made with whole wheat flour. Without a doubt, healthier than what could be purchased down the street. The cookie making was fun. After the cookies came out of the oven we had one for an afternoon snack. The young child I care for eats a varied diet, but a limited amount of refined sweeteners and baked flour products. Within ten minutes she was screaming for more as if her world was about to end.

Sound familiar? Many of us want to feed our children healthy diets and for the most part we limit the sugar and highly processed food. We make our own baby food, meticulously scan nutrition labels and even avoid certain play dates. We want our children to grow up healthy and strong and to know how to make wise food choices. But, how do we find the balance between indulgence and restriction? How can we navigate a world where refined and sugar laden food is the norm? I struggle with this as much as anyone, but I do have a few ideas, starting with how the afternoon could have gone a little differently.

1.  Make small amounts. I could have made a smaller batch and smaller shaped cookies. Then, at least they are gone quickly and out of the house. As of now, we have a whole container of them hiding in the freezer.

2.  Use less sweetener. A lot of recipes can be adapted to use half of the sweetener. Alternative sweeteners that you can try are amasake, brown rice syrup, barley malt, and apple juice (not concentrate). Keep in mind that most sweeteners, even brown rice syrup and maple syrup, are still highly concentrated and refined, even though they may be better choices. Apple butter and sauce, pureed cooked carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes can all be used in various ways to provide a good quality, nutritious sweet taste. I don’t use agave nectar. To learn more bout why, here is a post from Food Renegade.

3.  Examine your motives. Honestly, this child would have been thrilled with heart shaped polenta or biscuits. Add a little sweet vegetable jam or apple butter on top and we have a treat. Sound ridiculous? Think from a child’s perspective. She wasn’t even thinking about cookies until I mentioned them. She may have been just as thrilled about getting out the paints and making heart shaped cards or cutting out heart shapes in play dough. It’s the child in me that is still addicted to sugar that wanted the cookies. I would have done just as well without them, too.

4.  Eat the treat as part of a larger meal. Why not serve dessert as a part of dinner? By saving dessert for after dinner, children sometimes feel that it’s a reward and different or better than other food. I think children should be able to view all real, whole food as good and nourishing. There should be no good and bad foods. If a food is genuinely considered bad for us then why are we eating it?

5.  Omit the baking.  When flour is baked it’s quality is changed and it becomes more drying to the body. It’s harder to digest and our bodies are required to do more to maintain balance. Desserts such as sweet potato pudding, fruit kanten and couscous cake, all cooked on the stovetop, are more gentle to the system.

These are just a few ideas from the afternoon of cookie baking. I would love to hear what works for other families.