Immigrant Moms Face Challenge of Adapting to U.S.-Type Meals

Published December 19, 2012


Latino immigrant mothers, especially those who live in rural areas and subsist on low incomes, face "serious challenges" to preparing nutritious meals, according to a new study.

The study, published this week in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, says that Hispanic mothers have problems when they want to serve healthy, nourishing food to their youngsters as they confront "new food environments."

The research was carried out by Kimberly Greder, PhD, of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University, together with Flor Romero de Slowing and Kimberly Doudna, also of ISU.

Greder and her collaborators interviewed 83 low-income Latino mothers in rural areas of the Midwest to "explore their satisfaction with the food their children were eating."

The researchers detected three important elements.

First, moms are the ones in charge of making sure their kids eat nutritious food. Second, barriers to achieving that goal exist in the form of "ecological factors." Third, the youngsters change their eating habits.

"Mothers retained their cultural identity as primary caregivers and wanted their children to consume nourishing food," Greder and her colleagues found.

But as immigrants, not all moms manage to adapt to the new food environment, so that many Latino women face a conflict between preserving their traditional dishes and promoting healthy mealtime habits.

Greder and her collaborators maintain that the solution to this problem should be provided by family and consumer science professionals - they should be the ones to create opportunities to introduce immigrant families to certain existing programs such as vegetable gardening techniques.

Those same professionals, the researchers say, should work with schools and other organizations to make sure children have access to adequate meals and should take the lead in "identifying strategies to maintain healthy cultural food traditions."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, almost one in every three of the 16.6 million children subject to food insecurity in this country are of Hispanic origin.

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