My poor mom. She’d be the first to tell you (if she were still here) that having a dietitian for a daughter was not always easy … especially in my first years of studying this fascinating science in college.
One weekend visit home, I stood in her kitchen and surveyed her food preparation techniques.
“You know,” I said sagely, “there’s no nutrition left when you overcook the vegetables like that.”
She smiled at me patiently and said, “Oh my! It’s a miracle that after all these years, you kids even survived at all!”
Survive we did. Mom’s meals were simple but well balanced. My sisters and I grew up with a variety of food on our family table. When it came to vegetables, we ate most everything — from green chile (good New Mexico stock) to turnip greens. Canned tuna casserole was another memory maker.
On school mornings, Mom switched on our bedroom light to silently tell us it was time to get up. Then she’d head for the kitchen to make an uncomplicated yet nourishing breakfast we’d eat before heading out the door. Oatmeal with honey and milk was one of my favorites, probably because that was what I always had with my grandfather when we visited his house.
On my birthday, I got two special privileges: I didn’t have to make my bed, and I got to choose whatever I wanted for dinner that night. (Spaghetti, of course.)
In the summer, mom always had fresh tomatoes and plenty of zucchini (we lived in New Mexico, remember) in her garden and on the dinner table. And I learned to love green beans from visits to our cousins in Colorado. My aunt would sit me on the back porch and have me snap the ends off fresh beans. Years later I would learn that kids are more apt to accept foods when they are involved with it in some way.
My mom did have a few funny food habits, though. I never took to her sardines sandwiched between two saltine crackers.
One thing surprised me at the time but became very clear when I became a mom. My mother LOVED when I took the initiative to prepare a meal. She went back to work when I was in high school, so I was often the first one home. One day, after I’d finished homework and took care of dogs and horses, I decided to try a recipe from one of Mom’s cookbooks.
It wasn’t a perfect meal. But when she got home and saw the table set and dinner ready, she was sooo happy. That was an ahh-ha moment for me.
Now I understand that food is only one way we receive nourishment. My mom did a good job with all of that. She taught me humility, thankfulness and unconditional love.
I wish I could cook a meal for her this year. I’d even try not to overcook the vegetables.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.