Hispanic mothers, especially those in urban and low-income areas and who have recently migrated to the U.S., have difficulty adapting to the food culture of the United States. That sudden influence of fast food, easy microwavable meals and high-fat ingredients makes healthy cooking difficult for Latinas who struggle to keep a sense of food culture at home for their easily acculturated children.
Data, compiled from a study published in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, indicates the acquired eating habits of Hispanic children plays a role in the difficulty Hispanic mothers face, as little ones are quickly exposed to American dieting habits at school and in the homes of friends, as well as influenced through the media.
In fact, studies now show us that acculturated Hispanics face many more health difficulties and higher obesity rates than new Hispanic immigrants, and adoption of the so called American diet has a lot to do with it. For many, the easy access to drive-thrus, and low prices of fast food, become a quick and affordable way to provide for the family, especially if there is little awareness on the health risks of these new dieting habits.
So what is a Hispanic mother to do in order to help her children stay healthy despite new cultural influences?
“Food in general is a social event we as humans share with one another,” Jenny Patrizia, psychologist, nutritionist and personal trainer, told VOXXI. “That’s why we see foods in all types of celebrations in a person’s life—baptism, birth, weddings and yes, even funerals. Food is something more than filling up our tummies but a way to form a bond between one human being to another.
“So when you introduce to an immigrant mother mac and cheese or hamburgers and fries not only do they have to adapt to the new flavors the food brings but also to the new lifestyle of eating. We as Latinos share our food with our family. It brings our families together at the dinner table while U.S. families tend to be more independent when it comes to food,” she added.
Among factors influencing Hispanic mothers’ eating habits, friends and family are extremely important. Patrizia notes the choice to cook healthy for a Hispanic family – instead of resourcing to the fast food restaurant around the corner – needs to be supported by every member of the household—and not just verbally.
The decision is similar to someone trying to lose weight; not only does that person need to make a lifestyle change, but the people around him or her also need to make a supporting adjustment.
Isolation from the new culture is not the healthiest alternative either. Hispanic mothers must understand their children will be exposed to new foods and tastes. However, reinforcing a healthy eating routine at home will compensate for what they eat somewhere else, and at the same time will help children develop healthier habits in general.
“The complete household has to undergo drastic changes. The whole manner in which that family eat and the foods they chose to eat has to be changed. No longer can you have cookies lying around… or fatty dinners… No! The temptations will be too great. The family as a whole has to change their eating habits. More fruits and vegetables.”
American diet is not the only problem though. Even for those Hispanic mothers cooking traditional foods at home, the selection of ingredients can prove a challenge.
However, for those struggling to retain culture yet provide healthy meals, the solution can be as easy as substitution.
On Patrizia’s television show she instructs cooks on how to keep criollo foods healthy. Little changes, such as substituting butter with olive oil; using pico de gallo instead of sour cream; and swapping wheat tortillas for corn ones can go a long way toward encouraging a healthy lifestyle.
Learning how to read food labels and recognize healthiest alternatives among the many offered, is essential when preparing home made meals.
Acculturation is a process that Hispanic mothers must face not only for themselves but also for their family. In many cases, the key to preserving their homeland’s culture through food, as well as helping keep their family healthy, is awareness on the health risks of diet changes and discipline in reinforcing healthier alternatives at home.