I am very thankful to my mother, the late Nenita G. Risos, who raised us, her brood of six, with go, glow and grow foods. (Our mother died at the age of 76 in 2002.)
As a registered nurse, she was very conscious of serving the family balanced meals. She always made sure we had a vegetable dish to go with fish, pork or meat. Her vegetables were half-cooked to keep them crisp and green.
I remember she would tell us that the vitamins and minerals in the vegetables are lost if they are overcooked. She also made it a point to serve us fresh fruits in season, like bananas, mangoes, pineapples, watermelons, melon, chico and many more.
Our daily fare taught me to appreciate all types of food, from the simple sapsap to kare-kare. We all felt her love for us through the food that she prepared and cooked for the family, and how she enjoyed serving them in her rectangular Pyrex serving dishes.
Coming from a low middle-income family, my mother was a very smart, diligent and responsible housekeeper. Even though she was a working mother (she had to commute five days a week from our house in Parañãque to Cavite City, where she worked as school nurse at the Cavite National High School), she was never remiss in her motherly duties.
From school, she would pass by the market for fresh fish, vegetables and fruits. If she had more time and budget to spare, she would go to the commissary at Sangley Point, the former US base, to buy stateside canned goods like Del Monte Fruit Cocktail, peaches, Welch’s Grape Juice, Sunmaid Raisins, Hawaiian Punch, PikNik Potato Shoestrings and awesome chocolate bars.
Until now I don’t know how our mother, whom we fondly called Da, managed to stretch her budget and serve us delicious and nutritious meals and stateside items for dessert and snacks. She was just awesome.
Her day started at 4 a.m. because she did not only have to prepare breakfast, but also the baon of her five children. Some of the other breakfast items we had were either a bowl of oatmeal, champorado, fried rice with egg sunny side up or as an omelette, or bread with Vienna sausage or hamburger that she would prepare herself using ground pork, chopped onions and diced bread as extender.
Back in the late ’50s through the ’70s, processed foods were not yet a staple on the breakfast tables of ordinary Filipino homes. Once in a while, she would surprise us with slices of ham and bacon.
In school, our lunch boxes were packed not with your usual lunch fare. We, my brothers and sister and I, had neither longganisa, tocino nor fried egg for lunch. Instead, our mother lovingly packed sautéed vegetables and a cooked meat or fish dish. My favorite then was sautéed green beans with bits of ground pork.
If the dish she prepared had a sauce, she would pack it in a bottle with a screw cap.
I would sometimes wish that I had longganisa or tocino, because they always looked delicious to me. But mom was wary of the salitre that was used as preservative back then.
Being a nurse, she was particular about the sanitation and cleanliness of the food preparation and utensils, and of the freshness of the ingredients used in cooking food in the turo-turo.
And when she came home from school, she would still be the one to prepare our dinner, with the help of my older siblings.
On special occasions, like Christmas, Easter and other family celebrations, she would whip up meat loaf that has become a family favorite and our comfort food. She also enjoyed baking simple cakes.
She also taught us, her children and my father, as well, to save food for any member of the family who came home late for dinner. Just to make sure that everyone got a fair share of the viand, she would divide up the main dish equally for eight persons.
For instance, if she was serving fried fish, she would tell us beforehand that each of us would get one piece, or a piece and a half. If she was serving beef cocido, we got two pieces of beef each.
This policy did not only teach us to share food, but also prevented us from overeating.
My mother’s determination kept us from developing a taste for junk food, street food, oily stuff and even sweets. Though I have a sweet tooth, I do not overindulge because my childhood training taught me to not to take things in excess.
These days, staying fit and healthy is a big challenge, given the lifestyle and eating habits of the present generation. With the strong marketing strategies of fast-food chains, children and youngsters are lured to consume processed food.
I cringe when I see mothers feeding their toddlers French fries and hamburgers and washing them down with a soda. Or youngsters savoring fish balls, quek-quek or chicken feet sold on dusty streets littered with trash.
As parents, it is our responsibility to guide our children on proper eating habits and the right kind of food. We have to educate our children while they are still young. We have to limit their exposure to junk food, transfat, soft drinks and juices laced with artificial ingredients.
It is healthier to introduce them to merienda items such as boiled sweet potatoes, saba, gabi and other natural food. Serve your kids more fruits and vegetables, but wash them thoroughly before serving. Avoid instant seasonings, instant noodles and other instant commercial products with high sodium content and other artificial food enhancers.
For instance, I love sinigang, and for many years, I used the instant mixes. Since I developed hyperacidity, however, I now use fresh kamias, tamarind or calamansi for the sour taste.
Managing a home and raising children are never easy, especially for working moms. But moms, with the support of loving husbands and fathers, have to go that extra mile. It is all worth your time and effort. And our mother knew that very well.