Moms as Nutritional Gatekeepers

I was eating a packed lunch with my daughter in the cafe of the Children’s Museum when a mom with two kids – a girl who was probably around 3 yrs old and her younger brother caught my attention.  From my perspective, the girl seemed content with what she was currently doing.  I didn’t hear her ask for food or tell her mom she was hungry. Her mom just placed an order at the cafe and while the mom waited for the food, she decided to open a bag of chips for her daughter.

Who knew that a bag of chips can cause so much trouble? The girl immediately turned her focus towards the chips and happily munched.  Several minutes later the food arrived.  At first the mom was busy feeding the younger brother but then she noticed her daughter barely touched her food.  Mom takes action by shoveling food in the girl’s mouth in between the chips the girl was eating.  This method doesn’t last long as the girl insisted on eating the chips instead which made the mom furious.  I heard the mom yell at her daughter to sit down and eat her food.  The girl was obedient and did exactly what her mom told her.  But in her mind she was probably confused, “Why did mom give me the chips”? Exactly the question I had.

As a mom, I can somewhat see the logic in why the chips were offered.  She may have felt that her daughter needed something to keep her busy while they waited.  The girl didn’t show any signs of impatience but maybe a prior incident triggered the mom to get a bag of chips to maintain peace.  Who knows right?  But this particular situation struck a chord with me and reminded me of a chapter I read in Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink about Nutritional Gatekeepers.

What are Nutritional Gatekeepers?

Dr. Wansink described Nutritional Gatekeepers as “the person who acquires and prepares food for the family. A child’s nutritional gatekeeper, often his or her mother, can have the largest impact on the child’s long-term nutrition consumption.”  Through research, it was determined that approximately 72% of the food consumed by kids inside and outside of the home is controlled by the nutritional gatekeeper.

Moms have a huge influence in their kids’ eating behaviors and overall health.  However, at times we feel that it’s the children who dictates the food selection and has taken control over what we put in our grocery carts.  Yes the struggles are real to satisfy picky eaters but as the studies show the gatekeepers are still responsible for approximately 70% of what a child eats.  Our children depends on us to guide them in developing healthy eating habits.

Elevate your Role as the Gatekeeper

  • Take note of the type of food in your kitchen – on the countertops, in the pantry and refrigerator.  Are there plenty of nutrient-dense foods?  How about packaged food with high sugar content?  Think of how it impacts your family’s health then decide which ones you will continue to have in your home.


  • A little planning goes a long way!  Before I go to the store, I have a few ideas in mind of what I want to cook for the week.  I always try to keep it as simple as possible because who has time to prepare complicated recipes?  Once in awhile I do get inspired and spend an entire afternoon prepping a big dish that will last a few days (which gives me a break from cooking).


  • I won’t deny it but convenience foods are a mainstay of a typical American diet.  I will admit my kids snack on ‘convenient foods’.  However, we have more options now to choose something that provides better nutritional value. By reading the ingredients list, I have an idea of what I’m feeding my kids.  The shorter the list, the better.  If I can pronounce the name of the ingredients without having to consult Google to see exactly what it is, then I’d consider it.  I like this article Redefining Convenience Foods from Todays Dietitian identifying healthful convenience food choices.


  • Make room for occasional treats.  What kid doesn’t love a treat?  Deprivation leads to overindulgence so they can have icecream after dinner, but not all the time.  I like to explain to my girls why it’s not good to indulge in treats everyday.  In basic terms why too much sugar is bad for their body.  I’m grateful they seem to understand my point and when they want something sweet, I offer fruit as an alternative.


  • Offer a variety of foods, some familiar and a few new ones.  At each meal, specifically lunch and dinner, I always prepare a plate with 4 different sections – 1) meat/fish/tofu, 2) vegetables, 3) fruit, 4) grains or legumes.  While there’s a variety of food on their plate, getting them to eat a variety of vegetables is another story.  Right now, I have five to seven vegetables to choose from depending on which kid (my youngest is not as picky as my first child) and I want them to try more!  If there’s a vegetable I want my picky child to try, I’d cut up a slice or two and ask her to try it.  She would usually make a face after she eats one then let me know that she tried it but didn’t like it.  I accept it, move on and have her try the same vegetable again at a later time.


A gatekeeper who struggles with unhealthy habits and eating choices will typically pass those problems on to family members. By the same token, gatekeepers who improve their habits can improve the health of the whole family.

~excerpt from New York Times article The Cook is a Home’s Nutrition Gatekeeper

Are you the gatekeeper in your family?  Any struggles with satisfying everyone in your family?

I am linking this post with the DC Trifecta Ladies, Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Mar at Mar on the Run and Cynthia at You Signed up for What.  Also linking with Ilka and Angela for the Sunday Fitness and Food link-up.