My mom is a fantastic role model in so many ways. She’s a great mother, grandmother, wife, daughter and sister. She is thoughtful, generous and kind. These are all things I aspire to be. She also did a great job of modelling a healthy lifestyle. She had a natural interest in nutrition, both as a method of weight control, but also as a method of health control. Some of the things I grew up with:
Whole foods – I was the only kid I knew that brought sandwiches on brown bread. Our cereal options were cooked oatmeal and cream of wheat, Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Shreddies and Wheatabix. My mom went to a health food store to buy whole-wheat flour, as it was not widely available at the grocery store. We always had a variety of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, and they were a prominent feature of every meal. We had milk (non-fat after the age of 2) at the three main meals, juice only with breakfast and water the rest of the day. My mom followed Canada’s Food Guide for the whole family, making sure everyone got what they needed every day. It sounds simple, but speaking to my peers, that wasn’t the case in many households.
Cook & bake from scratch - My mom is not a gourmet chef, not by a long-shot. We always had basic, kid-friendly comfort foods like mac & cheese casserole, meatloaf, pasta, pizza, tacos, meat and potatoes, etc. The difference was that she made almost everything from scratch. She always wanted to know what was in the food she was serving and most packaged foods had enough unfamiliar ingredients that she preferred to steer clear. She also loved to bake (like me), so there were rarely packaged cookies or snacks around (although I really wanted her to buy Pop Tarts). A “convenience food” in our house was the extra lasagne my mom made and popped into the freezer a month before. McDonald’s was a treat when we were on a road trip.
Portion control – My parents still eat every meal off a lunch plate. When I asked my mom about it several years ago, she told me that if you use a big plate, you’ll fill up the big plate and end up eating more than you need. Made sense, I guess. We always had treats around – candy, cookies, muffins or breads - and, we always had dessert. Dessert usually consisted of ice cream, pudding or yogurt with fresh fruit as a topping and a plate of cookies/brownies/ other treat. My brother would ask every time “how many are we limited” [for the treats] and the answer was always “two”. We had special nights with pop and chips where we all got a glass of pop and a soup bowl of chips and they were awesome and something we all looked forward to. We were never clamouring for sweets and treats, because they were always there. We just knew that there were limits on what we were allowed to have.
Cookie on the left is the size the recipe suggests, cookie on the right
is what my kids get.
Label Reading – Before nutrition labels were required on packaged foods, my mom would read the ingredient list and understood the ingredients that were acceptable and those that were not. Before I went away to university, she made a point of taking me shopping to learn the tricks. She had heard of “The Frosh 15” and she didn’t want me falling into that trap.
Fresh Air & Exercise - I know times were different way back then, but we spent way more time outside than even my kids do. I walked, rode my bike or roller skated (yes, skated, not bladed) almost everywhere. TV was something you watched Saturday mornings or for an hour or so in the evening. Never would we watch during the day.
It all sounds idealistic and restrictive. The truth is, I didn’t really realize what a nutrition/health superstar my mom was until I lived with roommates who introduced me to things like deep-frying at home, hamburgers from a box and TV dinners. Sure, I had my share of nutella and fluff sandwiches on Wonderbread when I visited friends’ houses, and I certainly ate more fast food as a teenager when I could make my own choices, but even then, I knew I was making less than healthy choices.
I really appreciate the foundation my mom laid for us. I incorporate a lot of this into the way I manage (wrong word but can’t come up with the right word) my family. I introduced Homer to the concepts from the time we met. Despite some resistance, even now (he grew up with meals that were zapped, prepared from a package or ordered in), he gets it and he can label read with the best of them!
So, that’s what I’ll write about next time. How the (freaky) nature and the nurture combine to create a pretty healthy model for my own kids. I don't think I have it down to a science like my mom, but I do have a few of my own tricks.