I don’t have any cute photos of my daughter’s chubby face smeared with frosting from her first birthday party. Already pregnant with my son, I’d become a child nutrition zealot in response to my double dose of motherhood.

Instead of wrecking a big sugary cake, my bald beauty reduced a naked square of homemade carrot cake to a hill of crumbs. In accordance with her obnoxiously wholesome diet, the kid probably nibbled on some organic barley and kale first. The guests looked perplexed.

Eventually, I compromised.

My daughter still downs garbanzos by the bowl. But she also helps me bake the snickerdoodles she shares with her classmates as a birthday treat. I’ve mastered topping my crowd-pleasing cupcakes with chocolate ganache. And after I sneak flaxseed, ground nuts, and spelt flour into our pancake batter, my son adds his favorite ingredient: chocolate chips.


Photo by Tommy Greco

The kids now expect a daily treat, preferably a chocolate one.

But chocolate is “not a food group,” as even Hershey’s CEO John P. Bilbrey puts it. I asked my daughter, a third-grader, what she thinks.

She agreed with Bilbrey, yet observed that chocolate contains milk. And dairy products are a real food group. Perhaps that gives chocolate an edge over emptier calories, she suggested — casually adding that chocolate pudding is mostly milk.

Good points. Great hint.

It turns out that a cup of chocolate chips or chocolate pudding provides the same 30 percent of the calcium a small child needs as a cup of low-fat milk.

Of course, consuming normal portions of those treats gives you a pretty small calcium boost for a lot of extra calories. The pudding yields three and a half times the 100 calories of the milk, while the chips deliver nine times as many.

I’m enough of an amateur nutritionist to know Americans eat too much sugar. So why did I relent?

Partly, it was all that talk about how sitting down together for dinner — or whatever meal they can swing — improves every aspect of a family’s well-being.

We try. But my husband works several nights a week, the kids’ activities rip holes in our schedule, and when we do get a chance to eat dinner together, it’s rarely relaxing.

The tired phrases that prevail make it more about nagging than conducting a conversation. “Yes, you must eat your vegetables.” “Please use a fork.” “Why are you putting your feet there?”

Dessert is different, especially when chocolate is on the table. No matter how grumpy my kids are before their first sweet bite, it renders them instantly cheerful. A magical family dynamic strikes.

Suddenly, my son’s reflecting on what he learned at school about the Jamestown settlers. Or my daughter’s talking about something that happened at recess. They stop fighting and start relishing each other’s company. They turn back into the best friends I’d hoped they be when they were born less than 16 months apart.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’m bracing for our sweet equilibrium to derail for a few days. When my children eat too many treats, the sugar rush backfires.

Yet as long as a serving of chocolate a day helps keep my kids on speaking terms with each other and their parents, I’ll consider it an honorary food group.

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Emily Schwartz Greco

Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.

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