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Sugar Mama

Does keeping your kids away from sweet stuff help them form healthy habits? This mom—and professional baker—thinks so.


When my first son was born a decade and a half ago, I breastfed exclusively until he turned 1, ground brown rice and millet in my Vitamix blender to make his baby food, and wouldn’t let him try sugar until his first birthday. Even after that, I offered it to him only sparingly. When my second son arrived just shy of two years later, I followed suit. (Although he had sugar just a tad earlier than my first son, as his beloved grandmother fed all seven months of him ice cream in a museum cafeteria when I was in the ladies room. Needless to say, I almost lost my mind). In fact, I considered pre-sweetened yogurt, and even any form of fruit juice, to be toxic. I wanted my boys to avoid sugar at all costs, no question. However, I had something slightly different in mind for myself.

I develop recipes for all manner of baked goods and treats professionally, and have always had an overactive sweet tooth. In other words, I was that mom pushing my littles in their double stroller, as they happily chomped on their salt-free, brown-rice rice cakes, while behind their backs (quite literally), I stealthily licked my Ben & Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream cone or crammed a caramel-filled cupcake in my mouth.

Once they were old enough to trick or treat—and appreciate my favorite food holiday—I loosened up a bit, allowing Lowly Worm (we were all way into Richard Scarry) and Rafiki (we loved Lion King, too) to have free reign over their loot (but only after I’d eaten every single Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Now that they’re older, and I am no longer permitted access to their candy, I buy my own stash of mini Reese’s cups to enjoy on Halloween night, whether I am trick or treating with them or not. Or, I make my own (recipe follows).

As they got older, not surprisingly, in light of my aforementioned sweet tooth and job, I wanted to share homemade confections with them kind of on the regular, not just on the 31st of October and on their birthdays. I mean, eating ice cream cones with a couple of little cuties is a lot more fun than eating one alone. But much to my dismay, neither of them is as sweets-obsessed as me. I mean sure, they’ll eat a cookie after school or maybe a small bowl of ice cream after dinner, and they dig Halloween candy as much as the next kid. But they’re not begging me to make layer cakes with billowy frosting or nibbling at the more demure snack cakes I’ve often got cooling on the counter.  I nibble alone, and I don’t like it.

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Case in point: Recently I made the malted milk chocolate pudding with malted whipped cream from my most recent book, The Vintage Baker, and it was like pulling teeth to get either of them to try it—and we’re talking pudding in individual ramekins! Who doesn’t love a personalized dessert?  When I finally managed to get my older son to try one, he was into it, sure, but he didn’t ask for seconds.

My analysis of these two and their healthy eating habits has led me to one conclusion: Their early, sugar-free years have made them less dessert-focused than they might otherwise be (or than I might otherwise like). I get it that it does not always work this way and that often the more you deprive your offspring of something, the more they want it (can you say “Fortnite?”). And yet my boys truly practice “everything in moderation,” and for that, I am pleased (whether I can take credit for it via my early parenting choices, or not). I mean, perhaps it’s just Murphy’s law: If your mom is a baker, then as luck would have it, you are going to be one of those people who thinks a piece of fruit is a lovely way to end a meal.

But you know what is an even lovelier way to end a meal? Biting into a homemade chocolate peanut butter cup. It’s true that I usually eat more of these than my boys, but they always eat two, so I must be doing something right.

Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, food writer, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of  The Vintage Baker and the co-author of  Icebox Cakes (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes/and or written for EpicuriousFood52, Fine Cooking, TASTE, and Main Street Magazine, among others. 

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

There are some types of candy that adults tend to outgrow. (You don’t see many grown-ups clutching cones of cotton candy at the county fair, for example.) Chocolate peanut butter cups, however, endure. The blend of milk chocolate and creamy peanut butter is a classic flavor combo that appeals to palates of all ages. Although there are plenty of store-bought versions, nothing tops  homemade.

peanut butter cups
  • Yield: 24 candies


  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably Skippy, not all-natural
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted if lumpy
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 33 ounces milk chocolate, chopped or chips
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening


  1. Step 1

    Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Set aside.

  2. Step 2

    Combine the peanut butter, unsalted butter, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power in 20 second bursts, stirring after each one, until melted and smooth. Alternatively, combine in a heat-proof bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted.

  3. Step 3

    Add the sugars and stir until melted and smooth. Using a 1½ tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoons, scoop the peanut butter mixture and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. The mixture will be soft, but it should hold its shape in a little blob.

  4. Step 4

    Place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer, flip over the peanut butter blobs and flatten each one slightly into a disc, about the size of the bottom of your paper liner. Place back in the freezer.

  5. Step 5

    Melt the chocolate and shortening as you did the peanut butter mixture (either in a microwave or a makeshift double boiler) until smooth.

  6. Step 6

    Place 1½ tablespoons of melted chocolate in the bottom of each cup, banging the pan gently after every three cups to flatten the chocolate. Place a peanut butter disc on top of the chocolate, and add a rounded 1½ tablespoons of chocolate on top—again, gently banging the pan after every three cups for a smooth chocolate top. If the chocolate firms up while you are working, simply re-melt it.

  7. Step 7

    Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if you so desire, and place back in the freezer to set up, about 30 minutes.