Imagine growing up with a nutrition expert as your mother. The majority of your meals are nutritious, with a running commentary about how different foods affect your body. You learn how to read food labels at a young age. So-called junk food and dinners from a drive-through window are uncommon treats.
In honor of National Nutrition Month, I polled the children of five Chicago area registered dietitians, age 10-30, to find out about growing up in such a nutrition-conscious atmosphere.
As a whole, the sons and daughters were rather nonchalant about their mothers. "In the back of my mind, I always knew that my mother was a dietitian, but I never thought twice about it. I didn't realize we ate healthier than most people until I ate at my friends' houses," recalls one 23-year-old son. Another dietitian's daughter, also 23, recalled learning moderation. "There was always candy around the house in bowls and we had junk food in the pantry, but we were never allowed to pig out on junk food."
On the whole, selecting balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables is listed as a plus. "I learned how to eat healthy without thinking about it. Picking nutritious food, whether I'm at the grocery store with my roommates or going out to eat with a friend, is now second nature," said another 23-year-old woman. "Seeing people struggle trying to determine what is healthy or not has made me grateful that my mother instilled healthy habits in me at a very early age."
One 10-year-old son has already learned a lot about eating, although he's not completely happy about it. "My house doesn't have as much junk food compared to my friends. I don't always get to eat what I want." Yet he says, "I feel more healthy. I have learned how to be smarter about what I eat."
One girl lamented that she "didn't have any 'good' food to trade at the lunch table in grade school." And one young man recalls, "Try being a 10-year-old boy telling your friends that your mother wants to hand out raisins for Halloween. See how quickly your friends give you the look of death."
One young adult says he definitely ate differently than his friends and it showed when he talked about eating with them.
"My stories involved more references to vegetables, fruits and non-fried meats than any other guy I knew. More than once, I remember being asked something like: 'Wait, you had to eat an apple and broccoli?'"
Moms influence food
Several of them recommend following mom's advice.
"My suggestion is to just go along with what they have to say about food and nutrition because they are always right," one eighth-grade girl said.
Moms do influence how their kids eat. Research suggests mothers who buy nourishing foods and who don't keep many treats at home rear children who are more likely to express healthy eating-related attitudes.
A new college graduate has the following advice for all children:
"I would try to learn as much as possible about cooking healthy things. Take advantage of the time that you have at home for your mom to cook good, healthy things for you, because it isn't always easy to do on your own."
Children of the following registered dietitians were quoted: Karen Ferrantella, dietetic practice group manager, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Kerry Hollar, Naperville; Julie Moreschi, dietetic internship director, Benedictine University; Lois Moss-Barnwell, president, Diet Rx Ltd; Toby Smithson, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.