Nutritional Gatekeepers: Begin a Journey to Healthy Eating


A “nutritional gatekeeper” is the person who acquires and prepares food for the family. A child’s nutritional gatekeeper, often his or her mother, can have the largest impact on the child’s long-term nutrition consumption (Wansink).

The nutritional gatekeeper was first discovered in World War Two, when the United States was facing a food crisis. In an effort to limit the costs of developing education for all consumers, researchers wanted to determine who the most influential person was in consumption behaviors at mealtime. The study indicated that wives and mothers, while unaware of their role as nutritional gatekeepers had a great influence on what their families consumed. Families reported eating almost anything prepared for them by their wives and mothers respectively.

More recently, researchers questioned approximately 1,784 individuals through three different mediums:  in-person, by phone and over the Internet.  The interviews indicated that the nutritional gatekeeper of a household directly or indirectly controls 72% of the food eaten by his or her children both inside and outside the home.

Despite differences in mealtime culture, both studies show that the eating habits of members of a household are most influenced by the individual who buys and prepares the meals. Regardless of the gatekeeper’s sex, age, or cooking ability, they have a huge day-to-day influence on their family’s nutrition.

To get the most out of your role as a nutritional gatekeeper:

  • Plan your grocery list before you shop to ensure that you grab foods that are healthy and that your family will enjoy.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes– the more food you provide, the more likely it is to be eaten.
  • Avoid preparing separate dishes for different family members. Create a meal that incorporates a variety of foods and encourage everyone to try each dish. As nutritional gatekeeper, your healthy choices will rub off on your whole family!   



Sarina Kumar and Katherine Baildon Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs 


Wansink, Brian. (2006). ‘Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution.Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 106(9): 1324-1327.