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The nostalgia diet is good for mental health. Now bring back the recipe card!

For most of us, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without certain foods and family recipes.

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For most of us, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without certain foods and family recipes. There’s nothing I look forward to more than the traditional holiday goodies I’ve been eating since I was a kid—the shrimp rings, the rum balls, the marshmallow salads, and the shortbread cookies adorned with maraschino cherries that speak to a less ‘artisanal’ (read: marketing-driven) era of food preparation. 

These items aren’t ‘guilty pleasures’—they’re stand-ins for family members and friends some of whom are no longer living. And while it’s tempting to let dietary concerns (read: neurosis) take over at this time of year, it may be more important to let yourself enjoy these items because nostalgia is good for your mental health.   

A recent article on CNN.com outlined the benefits of nostalgia as it relates to the holidays and eating. The greatest benefit—it makes us feel more connected to one another. The article cites another study that found nostalgia improves self-esteem. Because the things we yearn for are often tied to happy memories—my Dad’s chocolate chip cookies on Christmas Eve! —reminding ourselves of these moments or sensations makes us feel like our lives have lasting significance. 

Speaking of nostalgia and food. Writer Katie Arnold-Ratliff (via Slate.com) has written a touchingly nostalgic paean to the nearly extinct recipe card, those chocolate smeared 3×5 index cards that are the culinary equivalent of photo albums. The writer, who discusses her grandmother’s recipe cards and their meaning in her family (I want to find the recipe for sour cream and raisin pie!), makes a strong case for why we should reinstate the practice of setting recipes down in our own handwriting for future generations.  

Next time you make a new dish that draws raves rather than email it or allow it to vanish into the ether, write it down and file it away for someone you care about. In a sense, you’re planting the seeds of nostalgia and giving them the gift of future happiness.

How many of you use recipe cards?