Favorite Jewish foods can help lift spirits and alleviate stress

A delicious piece of streudel sits on a plate. Streudel is a treat often enjoyed by Jewish people during holidays and other joyous celebrations.


As iconic humorist Erma Bombeck once said, “Seize the moment! Enjoy your food and remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart!”

Food takes a prominent place in the lives of Jewish people. The simple notion that “food is fuel” is not one many Jews adopt. Instead, we are the ones who awaken from a deep slumber with immediate thoughts of what’s for breakfast. Then, during breakfast, we talk about what’s for lunch.

Hearing about “comfort food” is common these days, with blustery winter settling in and our blazing fireplaces suggesting it’s time to break away from the hectic, often discomforting pace of life. As howling wind and gray skies approach, the search begins for soothing foods that provide us with a bit of comfort.

Jewish teens around town have embarked on a quest for comfort food, too, but what exactly that is can differ widely from one teenager to the next. One St. Louis teen’s knish is another’s corned beef on rye with Russian dressing.

Regardless of personal preference, the objective is the same. Jewish teens are seeking that mouthwatering special something that provides them with an uplifting mental boost and emotionally envelops them in coziness.

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Carlye Goldenberg, a junior at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School, turns to comfort food as relief from academic stress.

“My go-to comfort food is definitely sugary foods, like cookies and chocolate,” Carlye said. “This is usually at night when I need a break from homework.”

Carlye also heavily relies on the soothing and healing powers of traditional Jewish foods. “Jewish penicillin” takes center stage in the Goldenberg family when illnesses occur.

“In my family, we always make homemade matzah ball soup when anyone is sick, or before big holidays,” Carlye said.

The magic of matzah ball soup and its ability to cure most ailments, especially bad days, is important to many Jewish teens as it is often associated with warm thoughts and memories of family.

For Emma Greenberg, a junior at Whitfield School, matzah ball soup holds a special place in her comfort-food repertoire.

“My grandma has made her delicious matzah ball soup for every Jewish holiday since I was little, and it always makes me think of spending the holidays with my family,” Emma said.

Emma also emphasized the important role of comfort food in her athletic and academic life. She stressed that eating healthy food promotes better outcomes both in school and on the field.

“My go-to food before every sports game or test is usually applesauce, just because it tastes good, is simple and is pretty healthy,” Emma said. “One other winter food I love are the oatmeal cookies that my mom always bakes because I associate them with her and they always come with leftover cookie dough.”

The power of food to connect us to family and enhance the meaning of the Jewish holidays was evident among local Jewish teens. Haley Horowitz, a junior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, expressed her fondness for, and the comfort of, a family food tradition.

“My favorite comfort food is a cinnamon pull-apart bread,” Haley said. “We have it once a year on Yom Kippur break-the-fast dinner. It’s also a bonding experience because my mom, brothers and I spend all day baking and cooking to prepare it for our whole family coming to our house that night.”

Is the connection between comfort food and feeling better just in our minds? A University of California-San Francisco study published in the     Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that our urge to splurge actually has some biological roots. Stress and anxiety cause our bodies to release hormones that make us feel agitated and angry. Many high-calorie foods were found to interrupt the hormone production and reduce stress. So, maybe Erma Bombeck was on to something.

Comfort food does not have to be elaborate. While there are many items on the warm and fuzzy food list of St. Louis Jewish teens, top dog is actually a simple, toasted bagel schmeared with cream cheese. Bath and Body Works should consider this scent for candles, and colleges should pump it through the air vents of dorms and classrooms during finals week.

So the next time sports tryouts are looming or anxiety rises because of college admissions or standardized tests, give in to that temptation to spoon some sweet blueberry sauce on those blintzes or whip up a batch of strudel. Rest assured the stress will melt away and you will be wrapped in culinary comfort, as cozy as a toasty bagel.