On Mother's Day, Preserve Tradition and Health

A ‘recipe rebel’ explains how smart tweaks can make your favorite dishes healthier

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What memories roam through your mind when you think about Mother's Day? My head is filled with recollections of cooking in the kitchen with my boys, intertwined with thoughts of the years I grew up baking with my own mother and grandmother.

My mom is 91 years old. She's as sharp as a brand-new chef's knife and as sweet as nectar. At this point, she's not able to do the activities she used to, but I'll never forget how she loved to cook and bake. Her way of "cooking" for me now is that she saves a banana for me each day, and I return the favor by making my banana muffins. She epitomized that expression, "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime," and I am a product of the example she set.

[See Cooking Tips Nutritionists Learned From Their Moms.] 

Although I wanted to share some of her treasured recipes with you, most were treasured without being measured. Ingredients were usually added one by one and preceded by the words, "put in a little of this" and "don't forget some of that." She seemed to know just the right amounts to include, and I can't remember any cakes that flopped or any particular kitchen mishaps. She, of course, developed her skills from her mom, my grandma Minnie, who lived in the apartment upstairs from ours. Since the age of five, I recall spending hours with my grandmother learning how to braid a challah and cut cookies into different shapes. 

But there was something else I remember about my grandmother that was not very pleasant: She had to take insulin injections to control her diabetes. I was too young and too nutritionally uninformed to realize that the pineapple juice, homemade noodles and, yes, the challah were not exactly recipes for success. They were filled with simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, which all took a toll on her health. 

[See Health Hinges on the Whole Diet, Not Just One Food.] 

That's why, as I raise my own family, I'm a recipe rebel – always modifying and experimenting with ingredients to create healthier versions of our favorite dishes, so that nutritious and delicious can coexist. Although dads are taking a more active role in shopping for and preparing food these days, in most families, moms are still the gatekeepers to guiding food choices. It's so easy to make simple swaps such as: 

• Substituting oil or applesauce for some of the butter in your baked goods.

• Treating meat as a side dish, and making the foundation of your dish veggies.

• Ditching some of the sugar, salt and oil. Depending on the recipe, you'll still come up with a dish that tastes great.

• Skipping the sour cream and adding some Greek yogurt.

• Cutting the white flour in recipes, and using whole-wheat pastry flour instead.

• Most of all, swapping eating alone on the run to eating together for fun. 

On this Mother's Day, I hope you enjoy spending time with those you love, whether you're making magic in the kitchen or reservations for a restaurant. May this day become one of your favorite memories. 

[See Video: Top Chefs Talk Healthy Eating.] 

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

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.