My Mom is a Nutritionist

Thoughts from my daughter after 25 years of “healthy” substitutes.

We were the kids that went to school with raw vegetables instead of fruit roll-ups or Lays Potato Chips. This came with the added nicknames of “Broccoli Girl” and “String Beana.” But, we were also the kids that sat around a table, every single night, with a home-cooked meal. I’m now 25 and am here to walk you through this hilarious, sometimes painful journey and to give a shoutout to every parent who is working hard to instill health habits into less than fully-on-board kids.  

Growing up with a Mom as a nutritionist was very interesting. We didn’t have your ordinary meatloaf and mashed potatoes or weekly treat from McDonald’s (Dad did sneak us there sometimes – sorry, Dad). We had lentils, the healthy “alternatives,” more vegetables in one sitting than I saw families have in one week. We never quite knew what exactly was in the oatmeal cookies, like hidden flax, or if tonight’s dinner was regular chicken soup, or “Mom’s Immune-Boosting Stew.”

I thought my mom was a wizard of some sort – being able to look into our refrigerator and cook something amazing from the completely random display of whatever was left from the week. As much as I wondered why our meals were so…diverse…no one at our table could possibly complain because the food was so good. We were absolutely not your cookie-cutter family for usual Tuesday night dinners. But, we absolutely gained the knowledge to eat and cook in ways that we loved, that also nourished our bodies.

I remember eating dinner at a friend’s house and coming home so upset that we never had mashed potatoes with dinner. My friend’s Mom loaded her potatoes with butter and buttermilk – and I wanted them all the time. When we had friends over for dinner, I waited for the odd looks and inquiries on what exactly we were having for dinner. 

On the school front, raw vegetables were not a hot item for trading. The key, I learned early on, was that if you were going to be the girl who brought broccoli to school for snack time, was that I needed to secure a friend who would bring extra “fun snacks.” Even better, I occasionally secured a Friday dinner invite, when every other home in Floral Park was chowing down on pizza. During Lent, my Mom often relented and joined in with the local Friday pizza trend.

In all seriousness, as a young kid, I never appreciated the family meals and healthy snacks. I didn’t understand why my Mom would substitute pumpkin and whole grain flour into our pancakes. I didn’t even understand in high school why we were always trying new substitutes for gluten, stuffing our meals with vegetables or why my Dad was always sent off to work with a “power shake.” Dad was known for asking, “is there something in this I need to know about.” And Mom responded, “honey, there’s always something.” But now, I understand.  

I would be remiss to leave out our traditional Sunday sauce, which was a perfect place for sneaking in pureed cannellini beans, baby spinach, and anything else that “blended” in.  Miraculously, she (almost) always worked it into a traditional Italian sauce that could compete with the best.

Beyond our laughs, what my mom instilled in us at a very young age, was a love and appreciation for food. She taught us to experiment and to eat in ways that were nutritious and fulfilling, without the sacrifice of good taste or enjoyment. We learned the value of thinking outside the box when it came to morning grabs, lunch prep, and dinner plans. One common frustration I see with people who are trying to live healthier lifestyles is this negative relationship with food. This idea of, I need to give this up entirely and replace it with something awful so that I can reach a goal. I have learned that this is not the case at all. It is completely possible, and even fun, to eat in ways that are nourishing and delicious.

Moving out and preparing my own meals has led to an appreciation of the knowledge my Mom had been instilling in me for years. Caring for my body, cooking with intention, and never feeling like we have to sacrifice taste for health.

She’s known for being the “Kitchen Pharmacist” and  I have built my very own Mom-inspired kitchen pharmacy – stacked with teas, spices, vitamins, elderberry gummies, essential oils, unfiltered olive oil, chemical-free products,  “buttery” coconut oil, and so much more. 

We love food – to talk about it, to send pictures of the meal on deck for the night or a picture of a beautiful piece of produce. You will also never find a family that talks about produce like a rare diamond – beautiful, gorgeous, just a fabulous eggplant.

Looking back on young me eating my veggies in 2nd grade, I wouldn’t change a thing, because everything my Mom did has led us to a lifestyle where we love and appreciate every meal. We are constantly on the search for that “great new product in Trader Joe’s,” the best brown rice “pasta,” or “an olive oil for special occasions.” Yeah – olive oil for special occasions. We are always sharing our new dinner inventions and healthy alternative finds with pictures to prove the success. 

At the end of the day, there is no one quite like my Mom, who makes an “Immunity Cocktail” for Thanksgiving dinner, sends care packages with zinc and elderberry syrup, and makes a grab bag for Christmas filled with bone broths, rice facial scrub, all-natural soap, chemical-free moisturizer and serum,  and her latest top spice blends and meticulously vetted earth-friendly products. 

When you’re starting your own Marie-inspired kitchen pharmacy – don’t think of it as sacrificing things you love, but as an opportunity to expand your palate, your weekly menu, and as a tool to make you feel your absolute best. Make it something fun to share with your family and friends – so that one day, they can feel the joy and excitement of a simple tasty dish that makes them feel great. As weird as it may sound – our love for food has brought us together in such a special way. 

Thank you, Mom – for filling our lives and minds with knowledge to support and fulfill our bodies’ needs. Thank you – for teaching us to love food in all of its shapes, sizes, colors, and forms. I will always make time for a home-cooked meal seated around our table with family and friends. 

I could not be not be more proud of my Mom’s recent publication of, “Optimize Your Immune System: Create Health and Resilience with a Kitchen Pharmacy.” It is incredible to see her life-long dream come to true and for her to share her wealth of knowledge with the world. I now boast about my own “kitchen pharmacy”, and know that my everyday essentials are both body boosting and make for great conversation.

P.S. We often have potatoes with dinner now – and it still feels like a treat.

Marie Ruggles, RD, CN, CDE

Marie Ruggles, MS, RD, CN, CDE, is a nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, and is certified in essential oil safety. She has a master's degree from Columbia University in Nutrition and Public Health where she started her career in research forty years ago. She then began working in public health, translating the wisdom of science into simple action steps for managing chronic disease and maximizing wellness. Over time, Marie became concerned about people's lack of reliable information regarding options for being proactive in their own self-care. She decided to write a book that could serve as a home reference guide for her students who were eager to learn about natural options for preventive health and everyday wellness challenges. Marie is the recipient of national awards for her nutrition education publications and lectures internationally on the safe use of essential oils for everyday wellness challenges. She is on a mission to inspire others to take responsibility for their personal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle, applying the findings of cutting-edge nutrition research to develop a home inventory of natural wellness options. When Marie isn't teaching, she enjoys spending time with her family, working in healing prayer ministry, and gardening. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Deborah S Taylor, RDN, LD, SNS

    Great article! Recently my grown son opened my pantry and said, “Mom, you have nothing to eat!” “But the pantry is full!” His reply? “I know! All you have is INGREDIENTS”!

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