Nutritional gatekeeper has been used to refer to the person in a household who typically makes the purchasing and preparation decisions related to food. Nutritional gatekeepers can be a parent, grandparent, sibling, or caregiver. Traditionally a role played by women, today the role of nutritional gatekeeper is not part of any gender role.
The concept of the nutritional gatekeeper was first suggested by Kurt Lewin in 1943. Before that time, most past efforts to study nutrition education had focused on the individuals eating the food.
Based on Lewin’s research, food reaches the household through “channels” such as grocery store, the garden, and the refrigerator. The selection of the channels and the food that passes through them is under control of the gatekeeper.
For sixty-five years since Lewin’s work, many dietetics and nutrition textbooks have referred, in the discussions of children’s and adolescents’ dietary habits, to the gatekeeper role played by women.
Home nutritional gatekeeper
A home’s nutritional gatekeeper usually has the biggest food influence in the nutrition life of most people. They are the biggest food influence in the lives of their children as well as in the life of their spouse or partner. Regardless of the gatekeeper’s sex or age and regardless of whether they are a great cook or whether they are "culinarily challenged", the gatekeeper has a huge day-to-day influence on his or her family’s nutrition.
An average of 72% of what and how much children eat is estimated to be either directly or indirectly determined by these nutritional gatekeepers. In addition, the gatekeeper has a direct and an indirect impact on what the children eat outside the home. This happens every time they make their children’s lunches and every time they give them enough money to afford whatever lunch or snack they want. They also influence the restaurant orders of their family by what they recommend or order themselves.
It has been demonstrated that children without regular family dinners ate sweets and fast foods more often, and had more behavioral problems than those having regular family dinners.
Cooks as nutritional gatekeepers
Gatekeeper research starting in the 1940s suggests that the cooks are also responsible for nutrition. Cooking family dinners can expand the nutritional gatekeeper's influence. Eating family dinner has been associated with healthful dietary patterns, better fruit and vegetable intake, lower intake of fried food and soda. Cooks are not only gatekeepers, but opinion leaders as well.
Growing role of caregivers outside the home as nutritional gatekeeper
Greater numbers of children are relying on caregivers to provide a significant portion of their nutritional needs or act as nutritional gatekeepers. Currently, child care in the United States is varied – child care homes (both regulated and unregulated) – and other placement such as care in the child’s home by a relative or other caregiver.
Providing healthful meals and snacks to children during the day (and sometimes the early evening as well) in a pleasant eating environment is a major responsibility for the child care facility. In other words, the child care facility have joined the family as the nutritional gatekeepers’. As stated in Briley,Mcbride, & Roberts-Gray, 1997, Caregivers are being asked to take the role of the nutritional gatekeeper for children.
The USDA has taken note on the powerful influence of nutritional gatekeepers. They have launched an initiative called, “Project M.O.M.” (Mothers & Others & MyPyramid) to help improve eating habits by focusing on the nutritional gatekeepers. The idea behind the project is as follows: If we can collectively connect with a family’s nutritional gatekeeper, in ways that help the family eat more nutritiously and be more physically active, we could make an immediate change, with lasting impact.
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- Wansink, Brian (2006), “Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106:9 (September), 1324-6. – 
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- Who's Your Food Gatekeeper? - Exercise
- “Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution,” by Brian Wansink in Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106:9 (September), 2006 1324-6.
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- “Profiling Nutritional Gatekeepers: Three Methods for Differentiating Influential Cooks,” by Brian Wansink in Food Quality and Preference, 14:4 (June), 2003, 289-297.
- Managing Child Nutrition Programs: Leadership for Excellence by Josephine Martin, Martha T. Conklin