Routt County CSU Extension: The most important nutrition lessons, I learned from my mom

Karen Massey writes about how everything she knows about nutrition lessons has come with help from her mom, Lois Petre.
Courtesy Photo

I love food. It is with food that we can express our love, our culture and our creativity. We comfort one another with food, celebrate special occasions with food and share memories with food. Food nourishes us in so many more ways than its nutritional content — it nourishes our bodies and our relationships.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I am often asked how I became interested in the study of food and nutrition. My interest in food started in my youth, long before receiving my nutrition degree or graduate school.

It started when I was growing up in Glenwood Springs in the mid-70s. Certainly, my teachers at Colorado State University taught me the science of nutrition, but my most important nutrition lessons and my love of food I learned from my mother, Lois Petre.

Lesson No. 1: Mom always said: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.”

In the past, if bread was brown it was probably whole grain and loaded with fiber. Mom always found a way to infuse more fiber into our diets, but it is a much bigger challenge these days with all of the refined carbohydrates in the marketplace.

Now, manufacturers use raisin juice concentrate to turn bread brown, then they sprinkle grains on top of the loaf to make it look whole grain.

Our fiber challenge is to read the labels and look for whole grain products that are good sources of fiber. It is recommended that adults consume at least 25 grams of fiber each day, but the average consumption is only 15 grams.

Mom was right about the importance of whole grains and fiber in our diets.

Lesson No. 2: Mealtime is important family time.

Mom made sure that every evening, my family of six would gather around the dinner table to eat and talk. That was the time when we all could catch up with one another, laugh, tease and share. It was sacred time, so everyone was expected to be there and stay until everyone was finished.

With my own hectic family, shared meals have been a challenge, but worth the effort. Research also has shown that teenagers who share meals with their families on a regular basis tend to eat healthier foods than those who don’t.

Regular shared mealtimes can increase children’s sense of belonging and stability and strengthen the entire family’s feeling of connection.

Even toddlers display remarkable language development as a result of adult modeling during frequent family meals.

Lesson No. 3: Eating a variety of foods was a priority for Mom.

We would eat a rainbow of produce from the garden as well as experimenting with ethnic cuisines and novel foods. Throughout the years, Mom constantly exposed us to all sorts of new foods, but wherever she found those frog legs in rural Colorado, I will never know.

Even when I didn’t want to taste it, I had to at least have a “no thank you helping.”

We know that eating a variety of foods provides nutritional insurance for growing children. Encourage your children to try new foods.

It might take eight to 12 exposures to a new food before a child is willing to try it, but it’s important to encourage kids to be good food tasters.

You might get frustrated with the changing nutrition trends that continually appear in the media. Take comfort in the knowledge that sound nutritional advice hasn’t really changed throughout the years. If you don’t believe me, ask your mother.

Thanks Mom!

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. If you have questions, call 970-879-0825 or email

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