With Mother’s Day approaching, we want to celebrate all moms and recognize their hard but incredibly rewarding work in raising children. For this month’s Nutritious Nudge, let’s focus on moms and the role they often play as “nutritional gatekeeper.” This term refers to the person that purchases and prepares most of the food in a household. Thus, they control most of what their family eats. Right now, these gatekeepers are also navigating challenging and sometimes high-risk food-shopping situations, facing shortages of foods they may be used to leaning on, and in many cases, having to make creative adjustments while both working from home and caring for children without access to daycare or schools or even grandparents.
Moms set a pivotal example to their children in the way they talk about food, the foods they bring home, prepare at home, and how they manage school meals and the other meals that are eaten outside of the home. Of course, feeding is only one responsibility of a mom, but it’s an impactful one for a family’s health. Right now, while that role of nourishing a family is harder than ever, having a strategy for managing the family conversation around what food is available is useful.
We encourage all parents, especially nutritional gatekeepers, to familiarize themselves with the work of Ellyn Satter, a Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist. Her groundbreaking approach to feeding is called the “division of responsibility.” The parent is responsible for what, when, and where food is provided. The child determines how much and whether to eat what the parent provides. The division of responsibility in feeding applies at every stage of childhood, from infancy through adolescence.
Here are a nutritional gatekeeper’s jobs with feeding:
- Choose and prepare the food.
- Provide regular meals and snacks.
- Make eating times pleasant.
- Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.
- Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.
- Not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
- Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to:
- Eat the amount he needs.
- Learn to eat the food you eat.
- Grow predictably in the way that is right for him.
- Learn to behave well at mealtime.
We recognize that nutritional gatekeepers cannot eat every meal and snack with their children. But when you can, enjoy meals together as a family and try to fulfill your respective “jobs.” By doing so, you can nourish a lifetime of healthy eating. And when you’re doing the important work of choosing the food at the grocery store, especially when your go-to foods might be out of stock, remember that Guiding Stars helps narrow down the choices to the most nutritious options. 1 Guiding Star indicates that a food offers good nutrition, 2 Guiding Stars indicates that a food offers better nutrition, and 3 Guiding Stars indicates that a food offers the best nutritional benefit.
Wishing you a happy Mother’s Day.