This is a guest blog post by Alice Callahan, PhD
I have a PhD in Nutrition.
Yet, spending all those years in the classroom and the lab, investigating minute mechanisms of nutrient metabolism, didn’t do any favors for my own diet. In fact, my grad school friends and I joked that our own nutrition was at an all-time low during our doctoral studies. I hate to think of the many nights that I bought dinner out of a vending machine at the library so as not to interrupt a marathon study session with something as time consuming as cooking. Hey, at least they sold trail mix!
Things didn’t improve much during my postdoctoral training either. My husband and I were both working long hours, and there were many nights when dinner was frozen pizza in front of the TV. Oh, and then there was that 24-hour burrito joint just around the corner. Carnitas, yum!
But of course, I knew how to eat well. I was raised in a family that gardened and canned and cooked from scratch. I loved healthy meals made from fresh, local produce, and my formal training in nutrition assured me that science backed up the value of eating well. I knew full well the pitfalls of processed food and eating out, but I was tired, and cooking wasn’t a priority.
Becoming pregnant changed the way I ate. Preparing food for my child, now 11-months-old, has changed it even more. Here’s how:
1. I started paying attention to my pesticide exposure.
It wasn’t just about me anymore. Numerous studies have linked pesticide exposure during pregnancy to lasting health effects on the developing fetus. We don’t know for sure that everyday exposure is a problem, but I tried to minimize it during my pregnancy and continue to be careful since I am now breastfeeding and my daughter is eating veggies, too. I don’t buy everything organic, but I pay attention to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of foods with the highest pesticide residues. We also try to purchase most of our produce through a local CSA or farmer’s market. I don’t mind if these farms aren’t certified organic, but I like to be able to look a farmer in the eye while bouncing my precious offspring on my hip and ask, “what are the spraying practices on your farm?”
2. I care more about where my food comes from.
We took our baby to several u-pick farms over the summer for fresh blueberries, strawberries, apples, and peaches (check out my post Exploring and Enjoying Food with Baby). I want my daughter to know the deliciousness of fresh-picked produce, and even more important, that it comes from dirt and hard work. We also planted a small garden last summer, and we’re still enjoying one of my daughter’s favorite foods from it – broccoli!
3. I’m cooking more healthy, balanced meals.
Our entire family benefits by eating better, and my daughter is learning that this is how food should be: colorful, flavorful, fresh, and healthy. Sure, we still have frozen pizza on occasion, but we also sometimes make it from scratch! That way we can pile it high with fresh veggie toppings, and my daughter gets to play with the dough and learn that pizza sauce comes from tomatoes! Plus, the yeasty smell of bread rising in a warm kitchen is one of my favorite memories from my childhood.
4. We sit down to meals as a family whenever we can.
No TV, no phone – just us and good food and conversation. I don’t know if it makes a difference to an 11-month-old, but my hope is that my daughter will remember that dinner together was a priority in our house.
I’m doing my best to model healthy eating habits for my child. The funny thing is, I don’t think I can credit all my nutrition training for this. Instead, I think this is something that I learned from my own mother. Our eating habits are formed from those earliest experiences with food. Having a baby reminded me of this, and I’m working to give her a solid foundation for a lifetime of good eating.
Alice Callahan, PhD, is a research scientist turned stay-at-home mom. She writes about kids’ health and nutrition, as well as her adventures in mothering, at scienceofmom.com.