Conjure up the image in your mind: a mother lovingly stirs a pot of warm milk on the stove, sweetened with sugar, flavored with vanilla or cocoa, thickened with farm fresh eggs or perhaps a bit of cornstarch. Mama makes the pudding for her children because it is good for them, they smile when they eat it, and it is sweet yet nutritious. Pudding... a nourishing food. Right?
I have always had that image of pudding in my head, even though the pudding of my childhood came from a Jello box and was usually scorched on the bottom from heat raised too high by an impatient mother. After all, who wants to stir constantly for 20 minutes? But the warm, creamy pudding was always a treat, and I thought it was good for me. It was made of milk, and milk was healthy. I adored the first bowl of warm chocolatey pudding just as much as I loved the last bowl a day or two later, chilled and covered with a thick 'skin' of chocolate. When I had children of my own, I continued the tradition by learning to make my own, homemade pudding from scratch. No Jello boxes here! I used freshly milked cows' or goats' milk to make all kinds of puddings: vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, rice. My kids gobbled it up and I felt good about giving it to them.
The mindset I have taken in the last few years is different. It's just not at all consistent with the old thoughts on not just pudding, but many foods. Things I used to consider nourishing and healthy are now labelled unhealthy and even harmful. And this dichotomy of thinking has been the underlying difficulty in my sticking to self-imposed 'rules' about eating. I have TOLD MYSELF that pudding is unhealthy. Yet I am not sure I believe it.
It extends to every ingredient, practically. Milk was *always* a healthy, smart choice when I was growing up and as I raised my children. Milk, it does a body good. It's fitness you can drink. Remember those slogans? A glass of milk gave you calcium and protein to build your body. Yet now, in our modern world, many many people are spewing milk-hate and anti-dairy messages because "cows' milk is for baby COWS" and "humans are the only animal that drinks the milk of another animal" or that "milk is not suited for adult consumption." I dunno, I am not really buying it. I still think milk is good for me. Maybe it's not good for everyone, certainly not for the lactose intolerant. But I still have that ingrained childhood voice in my head telling me that drinking a glass of milk is a GOOD thing for me and my kids.
Sugar? Evil! Right? At least it's the dietary scapegoat lately like fat used to be many years ago. Now they are saying that sugar is the *real* cause of heart disease... not fat. Sugar causes inflammation. Hey, it makes my joints hurt if I eat it. Or maybe if I eat it in certain combinations. Everyone was touting agave nectar a few years ago and now they are saying that is really bad for you. Artificial sweeteners were supposed to be safe and healthier than sugar but I don't buy that either. If you don't get pain from sugar like I do, is it *really* bad for you to have it in moderation? I give it to my kids... not nearly as much as most parents do, but yes, I'd sweeten a pudding with sugar and not even blink about feeding it to my children.
Cornstarch to thicken? Oh my. Have you seen King Corn? Corn is bad for you. Add some rice to your pudding? Big mistake! White rice, which I also was raised on and thought was a healthy choice, is now said to be a poor nutritional choice. But brown rice just doesn't work in pudding... not for me. Yet I revert back to my ingrained childhood feelings about something as simple as white rice: maybe it isn't so good for ME, but surely kids can burn up those simple carbs and need them for fuel. So I make my rice pudding and feel happy when the kids eat it.
So which is it? Is pudding a delicious, nourishing thing to feed yourself and your children? Or is it unhealthy?
Does it become unhealthy if, instead of being made by mama on the stovetop, it is bought pre-made in a plastic container with ingredients like hydrogenated vegetable oil, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium alginate, artificial flavor, and artificial color? (thanks Jello)
Certainly I believe homemade *anything* is usually better than processed, since you control the ingredient list. But what would YOU feel your children? Are you one of millions of people who give your kids a pre-made pudding cup because it is primarily made of milk, and is therefore a better choice than many snacks? Do you eat them yourself, in regular or sugar free? Are you willing to overlook the 1% of ingredients that are not exactly nourishing in order to give yourself or your kids a 'healthier' snack? And even the homemade is suspect, as I explained above. Would you feel good giving your family homemade pudding, or is it yet another traditional comfort food that has become 'bad' for us?
And that is the problem for me. Is oatmeal healthy or not? Is whole wheat healthy or not? Is honey healthy or not? How about potatoes? Toast? Ham? You name it, there are people bashing it, studies saying it isn't good, books telling us never to eat it again. Everything but vegetables has become suspect in our society, to the point that your average person on the street has no idea what is good for their body and why. No one can agree, not even the nutritionists. And that's where my own internal conflict has come from: my own mixed feelings about these beliefs about food, what is healthy, what is not.
I do know I should not feel like I am poisoning myself if I have a bowl of Raisin Bran for breakfast, or a baked potato with my chicken dinner. It is time for a major overhaul of food beliefs for me... losing the insanity that comes with being afraid to eat what used to be the nourishing staples of ones' life. I am not talking candy bars and cupcakes and potato chips, here, which most people would agree are not particularly nourishing to the body (although perhaps, at times, to the soul); I am talking noodles. Beef. Vegetable lasagna. Eggs with bacon. And homemade pudding.
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