Cooking Tips Nutritionists Learned From Their Moms

For Mother's Day, nutrition experts share what values and tips they picked up from Mom.

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With Mother's Day approaching, I got to thinking about the many things I learned from my mom. As a nutritionist, I wondered specifically about the effect my mom had on me in the kitchen and whether or not I actually adhere to anything she taught me. Confession time: I was a rebellious teen. From ages 13 to 18, I rarely listened to my mom. But I must have been absorbing some of her ways subconsciously, because I find myself doing many of the same things she did.

My mom had a full-time job, yet we ate together as a family promptly at 6 just about every night. Long before I knew what a balanced meal looked like, I was eating one. We always started our meal with a salad, followed by some type of carbohydrate, protein and veggie. Carbs were never the main event. For example, we'd eat veal cutlets with a side of spaghetti and a veggie.

And those veal cutlets? They were breaded with wheat germ and oatmeal. Plus, my mom only bought natural peanut butter and squeezed my orange juice fresh every morning. Needless to say, she was ahead of her time. Junk food (or at least what was considered junk food in the 70s) was nowhere to be found, and instead of soda, we drank milk and water. I suppose I was destined to become a nutritionist.

I was curious what my colleagues learned from their moms. Here's what they said:

Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of "1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes"

"I learned so much more than cooking techniques from my mom, who was a caterer. She cooked using her senses rather than recipes and viewed food as love. Most notably, I gained an appreciation and passion for food quality and taste. My mom is the reason why I'm a cookbook author today."

Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips" and fellow Eat + Run blogger

"My mom taught me that taking the time to prepare healthful meals for your family is a great way to show your love. She also taught me the value of making time to eat as a family. As a mom, I try to cook family breakfasts and dinners as often as possible to model healthful eating habits and to stay connected with my 14- and 11-year-old sons."

Melinda Johnson, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and fellow Eat + Run blogger

"My mom was always working when I was growing up, so time for meal prep was short. She often relied on prepared foods, which she usually doctored up with veggies. We grew up with corn added to our Kraft macaroni and cheese and with peas added to our Hamburger Helper. To this day, I still crave canned green beans sometimes!"

David W. Grotto, RDN, LDN and author of "The Best Foods You Can Eat"

"Mom was a good cook. However, whenever we complimented her on a dish, we never saw it again – or rather, she never served the dish again in the original version. To my mother, our enjoyment of one of her dishes was a green light to innovate. I learned at a very early age that if I wanted to see that dish again, I'd better ask how she made it while it was fresh in her mind. That was my incentive to cook!"

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN and author of the forthcoming (in 2014) "Greek Yogurt Cookbook"

"Growing up in a house with five kids, my mom was always busy cooking in the kitchen. When I was a little girl, I was mesmerized by how quickly she could slice a cucumber. That is something I have mastered after some trial and error – not to mention a few cuts along the way. She also taught me a little secret when making tuna salad: Toss in a hard-boiled egg or two. I'm not sure where she learned this trick, but my tuna salad comes out killer every time!"

Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN and author of "Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition for Dummies"

"While my mom was starting dinner, she'd ask me to run down to the basement and pick out a vegetable from the chest freezer. We had a big garden growing up, so I learned a few things from this activity. For one, you can grow and freeze your own veggies. And two: Always, always always include a vegetable at dinner!"

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, author of "Read It Before You Eat It" and fellow Eat + Run blogger

"My mom always taught by example, and our kitchen was the heart of our home. Our favorite dishes were never weighed and measured during preparation, but they always resulted in meals we enjoyed and shared together. She inspired me to follow in her footsteps, and to this day, our kitchen is my favorite place to share more than a meal."

Claudia Zapata, MS, RDN, RD and health blogger at claudiazapata.com

"My amazing mother had a career outside the home as she raised four kids. Still, she made time to cook a healthy dinner six nights a week. My mom's secret, which she passed on to us, was meal planning. She typed weekly menus and posted them in the kitchen. The strategy helped keep her organized, and she never had to hear, "Mom, what's for dinner?"

Robin Plotkin, RD and culinary nutritionist

"Mom taught me the importance of family dinners. Every night at 6 sharp, the six of us took our seats at the table and shared the day with each other. Once dinner was over (and we had finished our chores), we could resume whatever activity we chose. What did I learn? Not only is the food and the conversation important, but so is the expectation and the consistency."

Thank you, moms!

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.