Role reversal
Now it's the son teaching mom how to eat healthy
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, December 9, 2010

I don't need the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, or the president's wife, to teach me about fitness, sports and nutrition. I just ask my son.

Yes, there comes a time in every mother's life when she has to say to her kids: You are right.

After a last stand last spring in Nevada sharing chocolate and ice cream with the grandchildren, I am now ready to tell them: Dad and mom know best.

Nothing against Michelle Obama. I didn't need Laura Bush, whom I admire, to teach me to read to my son either. In fact, this is where the story of Lance and nutrition begins, as at age 2 he stands on a chair in front of the stove stirring hot dogs, potato slices and beans.

We'd read a book about a boy who stowed away on a ship; the crew had made him work for his keep by cooking hot dogs, potatoes and beans for them. Lance and I regularly re-enacted that story. Also, having read Dr. Seuss, we did not eat green eggs and ham.

I myself am not a great cook. I've always been happy to eat most anything anyone puts in front of me; and find something easy to cook if I have to make it myself. Since Lance's father was often being fed overseas by the Navy, our son's early years featured Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, peanut-butter sandwiches and Shake-A Pudd'n. (There's a funny photo in which the lid came off the pudding container while he was shaking it, so he ended up wearing his dessert.)

More complicated tastes developed over the years. After I'd gone to work in Boston I was rarely home by dinnertime, so Lance and our live-in friend, John, would fix meals together. John's specialty was macaroni and cheese, but already Lance was baking popovers as good as those at Anthony's Hawthorne.

Lance didn't like cafeteria food or cold packed lunches. He'd come home from middle school to make soup and salad; said the trick was to walk boldly out the front door as if on an approved errand.

As a teenager he worked as a busboy/waiter at the King's Rook and Michael's in Marblehead, and probably picked up a few culinary tips there.

When he was in college, he and his UMass housemates invited John and me to Thanksgiving dinner in Amherst. Assisted by their girlfriends, they served food made "from scratch" that ranged from the pre-dinner veggie dips and homemade bread sticks through the stuffed turkey, side dishes, fresh cranberry sauce and pies. It was the best meal I'd ever had until years later, when Lance and his wife Mary took John and me to a cooking school in California for a several-course gourmet meal.

Was all this meant to make me feel inadequate, you ask? Hard to tell. But I'm sure Mary appreciates her husband's self-taught skills, since he shares in the preparation of the evening meal.

When I visit I enjoy watching the two of them circling their kitchen's center island after their shared workday, chopping, mixing, stirring their nutritious and delicious vegetarian meals.

OK, I didn't immediately get the vegetarian thing. But they aren't religious about it; Mary simply determined that meat and poultry aren't helpful for maintaining healthy bodies. They eat wild salmon and sushi; mix grains, beans and cheese to get their proteins; and bake whole-grain bread in a bread machine that runs overnight. There's always yogurt in the refrigerator, fresh fruit on the counter.

My sylphlike granddaughter is a delicate eater, preferring pasta to either meat or vegetables. My sturdy grandson, however, decided that he likes meat, especially hot dogs; and to their credit his parents let him choose, realizing perhaps that with his very active lifestyle, he may need more protein than his more artistic sister.

It was hard for a grandmother, though, who wanted to treat them to cookies and ice cream. I resisted the anti-sugar crusade and the "ice cream is poison" mantra, insisting that eating ice cream is a perfectly good way to get dairy products while living the American dream.

But as I grow older, and pay more attention to what makes me feel good and what doesn't, I am admitting that sugar and ice cream really don't. I'm eating less meat and more vegetables, and putting blueberries on my oatmeal. Lance introduced me to the books of Andrew Weil, M.D, whom I try to follow.

I doubt I'll be leaving my computer and hammock to follow the President's Council on Fitness recommendations. I take my daily walk and am just glad that my grandchildren have always been discouraged from substituting television for running around the backyard playground, jumping on the trampoline, dancing and gymnastics (Maya) and skiing, boarding and biking (Aidan).

There seems to be a healthy outdoor mentality in northern Nevada. I didn't see much sign of an "obesity epidemic" at a grade-school spring walk-a-thon, where the kids competed to see who could circle the playground the most times in an hour for a prize.

I hope the President's Commission recommends the healthy lifestyle my son found, beyond Pop-Tarts, and without government assistance, for his own children and his mother.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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