Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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« When a Child Steals | Main | Serve Veggies FIRST »

Cookies and the Cycle of Guilty Eating

Everything that is wrong with the nutrition mindset can be summed up in two words: WhoNu? cookies. 

When did everything we eat have to be nutritious?  And why can't cookies just be cookies?  The answer has got to be when we started feeling guilty about the way we eat.  The problem is, that instead of making things better, cookies that are souped-up on steroids only make things worse.

Give your kids cookies with added nutrients because you worry they aren't getting the nutrition they need from "real" foods and you'll train their taste buds away from "real" foods—the first ingredient in the chocolate cookies is sugar. Then you'll have to give your kids cookies with added nutrients to make sure they get the right nutrition.  It's a vicious cycle.  (Never mind the fact that adding nutrients is a form of  Manufacturing Magic and it doesn't make a food nutritious.)

Just as importantly, give your kids cookies with added nutrients and you won't be teaching your kids to enjoy their treats guilt-free.

As far as I can tell, there is only one reason to serve kids these cookies: guilt.

  1. We feel guilty that our kids don't eat enough healthy food to get the nutrients they need.
  2. We feel guilty that our kids eat too many cookies —and other sweets and treats.

In fact, the manufacturer plays to parental guilt, "Our cookies are intended to replace other cookies or indulgent snacks that offer no nutritional value..."  

I, for one, believe we should teach kids to eat indulgent snacks, to enjoy them, to savor them, to revel in them! That's what treats are for.  And really, no matter what you do to a cookie, it's still a cookie.

Remember, it doesn't matter what your kids eat. What matters is how often they eat it.

Ironically, it's easier to teach kids to eat right when you give them indulgent treats.

When you blur the boundaries between healthy food and treats, it's hard to:

  • Convince your kids to limit their intake of treats.  
  • Teach your kids the importance of eating healthy foods.

After all, when the cookies deliver as much iron as a cup of spinach, why should your kids eat the actual spinach? Give your kids Oreo cookies, however, and the difference is clear.

(Of course, the nutrition in WhoNu? cookies isn't all it's cracked up to be. Read why Fooducate gives WhoNu? cookies a C-.)

Eating cookies for their nutritional value promotes the idea that there are "good" foods and there are "bad" foods and teaches your kids to feel guilty when they eat the "wrong" things.

You'd be better off teaching your kids: 

  • To eat foods in proportion to their healthful benefits 
  • That adding nutrients to a food doesn't make it nutritious
  • That indulging in treats is a good thing—as long as it's done in moderation.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (10)

Great post, Dina! I really liked this one. I mean, I like them all, but this had a spin I've never really thought about.

It makes me wonder what you think of the whole idea of hiding vegetables in things like brownies, etc. I can't remember who made a ton of money on those cookbooks, but I know they've been somewhat popular. The same thing would be true though, I suppose.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

This is a great post! I agree with you so much! When our kids began getting too many sweets at school, I came up with a "check" system. If they chose to decline to eat the treat and turn it in to me at the end of the day they would get a "check" At the end of each month they could redeem their checks for a fun activity...or ice cream cone...whatever we choose. It gave them the power to say no and limit what they were eating...but it was always their choice! They turn stuff into me just about every single day!!

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLuanne

It's so funny to see you posting about these. I wrote my own little rant about this product a while back. I fully agree -- if it's a cookie, let it be a cookie, for heaven's sake, and don't try to assuage your conscience!

August 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBri

Rachel: Don't get me started on the whole "hiding veggies in mac n cheese" thing. Let's just say it's a high risk proposition because the kinds of foods people tend to hide veggies in are the very ones that reinforce kids' distaste for veggies.

Luanne: I love the check system. I'm so glad you shared it. Watch out, it might just show up in a post someday!

Bri: I LOVE your "rant." Thanks for the link. It's good to know other people believe cookies should be cookies, and learning how to put them into the diet in the right way is preferable to "pumping up" the goods.

Thanks for everyone's share.


August 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I don't think that hiding veggies in foods is necessarily a bad thing. It can so easily be ruined, but there are rare people who treat these foods right. For example, hide spinach in brownies, but serve an appropriate portion to children for dessert as an occassional treat and don't mention the healthy ingredient. Furthermore, offer fruits and veggies at meals- Clearly visible fruits and veggies. If you're hiding healthy ingredients in with the meal (extra pureed veg in the spaghetti sauce, zucchini in the muffins, etc), then those are just an added bonus. The message is lost when kids don't know that they are eating hidden spinach on a regular basis or even if they know that they are eating spinach, but only eat it when it's a paltry amount hidden in a "kid friendly" food. For the WhoNu cookies, wouldn't it be better to skip the extra dessert altogether and just offer a kid a multivitamin?

In your opinion, Dina, do you think parents will offer WhoNu cookies as a snacktime alternative to chips or other cookies instead of offering an actual healthy snack? I've seen the commercial and that's what it seems like the ad is pushing parents to do.

August 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeg


I agree that there are times when it is appropriate/acceptable to add vegetables to other foods, but I don't actually agree that they should be hidden. If the smoothie tastes good why not tell your kids spinach is one of the ingredients? Parents would reveal the other ingredients (strawberries, bananas, yogurt...). Hiding the vegetables contributes to the message that vegetables are bad and undesirable. Kids learn this lesson early.

I also agree that if you are going to add vegetables to other foods you should still serve real vegetables so kids get used to seeing and eating them.

And yes, I do think parents will offer their kids WhoNu? cookies instead of a healthy snack because parents will think these are healthy enough. No doubt, that's what the manufacturer is counting on.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment,


August 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Piggybacking off Luanne, I would LOVE to see a post on how to handle the huge amounts of sweets kids are given/offered. It seems like everytime we go to run an errand, go to a friend's house, etc., she's offered a popsicle, or a cookie, or some candy. I don't want to act like it's some kind of forbidden fruit, but even if that were 100% of the sweets she got (it's not -- we occasionally go out for ice cream/froyo and of course there are birthday parties, etc.) I think it's just too much on a day-to-day basis. I may have to try that check system......

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervictoria

Victoria: I agree that dealing with the world of sweets and treats offered by friends and strangers is a tough one. I'll write something on it soon.


August 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I love your blog and all that you have to say. I have a preschooler and so far eats 'all right' . Cant say she eats everything put in front of her, but eats a fairly wide variety of natural food and some once in a while treats. So far all I have had to do is to provide only the foods I want her to eat and keep the availability of junk food in the house to a minimum. But that cant go on for ever. A time will come when I will need to talk more about food. And my fear is will such talk set up kids to problems like anorexia? When I grew up, there really was no processed food available like today, so have no point of reference. What do you think? Is anorexia and other eating disorders a result of control over food in the home?

January 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSana

Hi Sana,

Thanks for the kind words about my blog. It's always lovely to hear.

It's true that control struggles can sometimes lead to eating disorders like anorexia. That's why it's important to talk about eating habits, not about "good" and "bad" foods, and not about weight and looks. I'm so glad your daughter eats well. Whether or not that lasts, though, you will have to talk about eating habits at some point because, as you point out, you can't control what she eats forever. If you focus on proportion, variety and moderation, I think you'll be fine.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment (and sorry it took so long for me to respond).

Good luck.


January 23, 2015 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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