Latina Immigrant Mothers: Negotiating New Food Environments to Preserve Cultural Food Practices and Healthy Child Eating


  • Authors' Note: Kimberly Greder, PhD, Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University. Flor Romero de Slowing, MS, Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies at Iowa State University. Kimberly Doudna, MS, is an Doctoral Student in the department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University.

  • Funding for the study was received from the College of Human Sciences Collaborative Seed Grant, Iowa State University and the Ruth O'Brien Project Grant, sponsored by American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Please address correspondence to Kimberly Greder, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, 1086 LeBaron Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011-3191; e-mail:


Latina immigrant mothers face complex challenges as they try to ensure their children get adequate nourishment to grow up healthy in their new U.S. communities. Eighty-three Latina immigrant mothers living in a rural area of a Midwestern state who had young children and low household incomes were interviewed to explore their satisfaction with the food their children were eating, as well as ecological factors that affected children's eating patterns. Three overarching themes emerged from the data: (i) Mothers as gatekeepers of healthy child eating; (ii) Barriers to healthy child eating; and (iii) Changing child eating patterns. Mothers retained their cultural identity as primary caregivers and wanted their children to consume nourishing food. Mothers varied in their ability to negotiate their new food environments to maintain cultural food practices and promote healthy child eating patterns. Family and consumer science professionals could facilitate opportunities to (i) link immigrant families to Extension Master Gardeners to learn techniques to successfully grow food in a new climate; (ii) bring immigrant families, school food service staff, growers and grocers together to strategize how to increase children's access to locally grown food at school; (iii) assist immigrant families in identifying strategies to maintain healthy cultural food traditions while consuming less fat, salt, and sugar; and (iv) increase representation of immigrant families on school and community program advisory committees to ensure policies and programs are informed by families. Such opportunities can strengthen social capital among immigrant families and their community and support healthy child eating patterns.