Summer is over. I need a cookie.

cookies and milkLabor Day. The official end of summer. This is always a gloomy time of year for me because my kids are going back to school. Some parents can’t wait for that first bell to ring, but I actually enjoy spending time with my children and the relatively stress-free nature of the vacation season. I love the whole package: T-shirt weather, sunshine, a slightly more leisurely pace, the fresh veggies from our garden and lots of family time. And now it’s coming to an end for the year. I need a cookie.

Cookies are my comfort food. The term “comfort food” can actually be found in several dictionaries defined as food prepared in a style to evoke a psychologically content or pleasurable state. I like a warm cookie and a glass of ice cold milk–or sometimes a homemade chicken pot pie, thick and creamy with a puff pastry crust. 

gin dui

Gin Dui

Comfort foods are helpful in many situations. We bring casseroles to new neighbors to make them feel welcomed. We eat ice cream after break-ups or other losses. We make stews when we are homesick. Chicken soup is the ultimate comfort food (and merchandise franchise) meant to heal both body and soul. Almost every culture and region has its own version of chicken soup. My husband’s Texas family makes Frito Pie, multiple layers of Frito corn chips, chili, and cheese, which our Yankee-born son calls “redneck lasagna.” Some of my German friends like goulash and spaetzle. At a recent reunion in Hawaii, we put together a book of fond memories of our family matriarch, and almost all of the comments were about one particular dessert my great-grandmother made that brought us joy throughout the years:  gin dui, a tasty soft-ball sized sphere of rice flour dough filled with coconut or sweet black beans, and rolled in sesame seeds.

Comfort Foods are from Mars…and Venus

Cornell University conducted a study of comfort foods among more than 1,000 participants and determined that cravings differ by gender and age.  Men tend to prefer heartier, meal-related foods like steak and casseroles, while women find solace in snack-related goodies like chocolate and ice cream. The younger set prefer salty or sweet, flavor-saturated snack foods compared to their senior counterparts. Specific food preferences among all people were influenced by childhood experiences and other social contexts.

Why do comfort foods work?

The study suggests that certain food cravings can be triggered by the body trying to correct certain nutrient imbalances. An athlete friend of mine once told me that the reason why women crave chocolate during their monthly cycles is because the body’s magnesium supply becomes depleted…and chocolate tastes like magnesium. I like that explanation. Is it accurate? Who knows? But it sounds logical. Hand me that king-sized Kit Kat bar, please.

The other side of the comfort food coin is the psychological effect. We associate certain foods with happy experiences, and we seek to recapture those positive feelings when we consume such foods. A Nation’s Restaurant News article in October 2001 recounted how the sale of comfort food items, such as macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, pudding and soup, increased in restaurants nationwide immediately following the September 11th attacks.

Other study results found that people who ate meal-related comfort foods said they felt healthier than those who ate snack-related comfort foods. Some women in the study even reported feeling guilty about partaking in comfort foods of any kind. However, age also affected these sentiments.  Older participants were less likely to have feelings of unhealthiness or guilt even if they ate snack-type foods. Perhaps they have just reached the point where they realize that life is short, and they don’t give a darn. I think I’m there.

So as I get ready to say good-bye to summer and hello to the school year, I reach for the warm chocolate chip cookie that my daughter has so considerately just baked for me, and wish everyone a Happy Labor Day.

Please post a comment with your favorite comfort food.


  1. Barbara says:

    Soft boiled eggs and chocolate milk 🙂 Happy Labor Day, Donna. I hope the fresh, crisp air and blue skies that come with Fall will refresh you — and that you will enjoy every cookie!

  2. SueBucher says:

    I’ve never tasted Magnesium. If it tastes like chocolate, then I’ll buy that. If it tastes like Milk of Magnesia, I think somebody’s blowing smoke!

  3. Brenda says:

    Can’t believe I’m going to admit this but my favorite comfort foods are chicken pot pie and tuna casserole — the kind with the “blue box” macaroni and cheese and crushed potato chips on top. And if I’m heartbroken, chocolate always works.

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