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May 5, 2016

Lessons Learned: What My Mom Taught Me About Food

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

I may be a registered dietitian, but my education about how to feed myself and my children started long before I received my nutrition degree. My mother is the one who schooled me about putting together great-tasting, balanced meals, and bringing the family together at the dinner table.

My mom started working full-time when I entered elementary school.  No matter how tired she was at the end of the day, she managed to plan a family meal every weeknight.  Looking back, I consider this an amazing feat, especially given the relative lack of convenience and take-out foods that would have made feeding us easier.  

You could say my mother was a bit militant about serving a balanced meal, but I’m grateful for her commitment.  Prioritizing family meals has stuck with me, even when I was juggling the extracurricular activities of three children that often interrupted the dinner “hour.”

Here are three lessons from my mother that I try to live by every day. 

Keep it balanced

My mother was way ahead of MyPlate, the government’s icon for healthy eating!  We always had two vegetables at every meal, along with protein, such as chicken or meat, a grain, and milk.  Variety ruled my mother’s choices, and I think it was second nature for her to serve foods with different colors and textures.  For example, if we were having mashed sweet potato, the other vegetable was a crunchy green, such as broccoli.  When serving a white fish, such as haddock, she would avoid white vegetables and grains in order to make the meal more visually pleasing. Truthfully, I didn’t go in much for the fruit she passed off as dessert, but that was her way of getting us to eat more produce, and fewer sweets. 

Dinner is about more than food

It’s been said that the family table is a place to teach children how to behave. Good manners were always on the menu in my house, and I expect the same of my children.  When I was a kid, the table was set properly, and family members were expected to talk with each other, no matter how surly of a teenager you were. My father made us wait to dig in to dinner until my mother sat down, and my mother wouldn’t let us get up from the table until my father, who was a slow eater, finished his dinner.

Work together

Kids should be involved in getting food on the table, starting early in life. As I got older, I would call my mom at the office to talk about what I should do to get started on the evening meal, and that’s how I learned to cook. I was lucky in that my father liked to spend time in the kitchen, too. My dad made an elaborate meal on Sundays, and when he arrived home before my mother on weekdays, he began cooking dinner. When one parent prepared the meal, the other did most of the clean up. 

I’m not sure if my mother thought much about it as she shopped for and planned our dinners, but rituals and routines matter to children, and, as much as sticking to them can be exhausting, they make for a more organized household in the long run.  Family meals may not be a regular part of your life, and sometimes, they get lost in the shuffle at our house, too.  As a child, I never thought twice about having a working mom who made sure dinner was on the table every night, too, but I sure do appreciate it now.


Thanks, mom! 

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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