"Nutritional Gatekeepers": How Your Healthy Diet Decisions Influence Others

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro
  • Do you believe you have a limited influence over the nutritional choices your family makes? Many people do feel this way, thinking they cannot compete against big money food advertising, easily accessible junk foods, and general taste preferences.


    However, it's estimated that the "nutritional gatekeeper" will influence 72% of all food their family eats. That's a huge impact!


    What are nutritional gatekeepers? They are the meal planner, food shopper, and cook, all in one package!


    If you're the gatekeeper in your home, you may be interested in a study published in 2003 by Brian Wansink and SeaBum Park titled, Profiling Nutritional Gatekeepers.

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    The authors found 3 distinct behavior categories of those who cook in the home:


    #1 New recipe cooks try a wide variety of recipes, but almost exclusively use cookbooks. They cook for enjoyment, often preparing food to satisfy only their own tastes rather than various tastes of a large group.


    #2 Inventive cooks view cooking as a hobby and frequently experiment with new recipes. However, they too use their instincts to create their own combinations of foods and methods, and they enjoy unpredictable outcomes. They cook to satisfy the tastes of themselves and one or two others; they are not concerned about satisfying the diverse tastes of groups.


    #3 Social occasion cooks prepare large meals that aim to please a wide variety of tastes found in a social gathering. In order to avoid the risk of making large dishes that do not satisfy guests, social cooks rely on standard recipes. Rather than treating cooking as a hobby, they use cooking as a social mediator-a facilitator of acceptance, belonging, and affection.


    What do you think? Do you fall into one of the above categories?


    If you can identify which category you fall into, perhaps it will help you to influence your family towards healthier food options.


    For example, if you're a "New recipe cook," do you constantly try out recipes that are packed with cream, butter, sugar, or salt? If you do, how about switching to a healthier recipe book instead, or try learning more about recipe substitution to make your favorite meals more heart healthy.


    Of the above three categories, 88% then fell into alternative segments:


    When asked were they willing to try a new "healthy food" they responded:


    • Healthy - willing to try, as an end in itself
    • Innovative - willing to try, but it's a means to an end
    • Competitive - willing to try, but only if it's cool
    • Giving - not willing to try
    • Methodical - not willing to try


    Are you willing to try new healthy foods? Are you having a positive or negative impact on the other members of your family because of your food beliefs and behaviours?


    6 tips to help the gatekeeper have a positive influence on their family's food choices?


    #1 Start with small steps and build on them week by week.


    #2 Wansink's motto is "Make it healthy, but don't call it healthy!" I think this is great advice!


    #3 Remember, you are the opinion leader, so show that you want to eat healthy foods, and be positive and enthusiastic about it.


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    #4 Make family dinners a focus - studies indicate that those who regularly eat family meals consume more fruits and vegetables, more fibre, have a higher intake of key nutrients, and eat less junk food.


    #5 Control accessibility of unhealthy foods - store out of sight, or only buy a limited amount which you don't replace until the following week.


    #6 Control accessibility of healthy foods - display fruits and vegetables in a prominent location in your home, have a constant supply of washed, and diced fruit and vegetables for snacking, etc.


    Melanie Thomassian is a dietitian and author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource for credible healthy eating tips for busy people.



Published On: March 27, 2008