Characteristics for the mothers are presented in Table . All mothers were born in Mexico and reported annual household incomes less than $10,000. The average age of the participants was 38 years old. None of the mothers were formally employed outside the home, although some mothers described selling food items, such as tamales or dulces (candy), and half of the mothers' partners were employed. All mothers had at least two children living with them.
Participants' Characteristics (n = 10)
Mothers generated more than 200 photographs in the photography activity. On average, mothers took 15 food-related photographs of good quality (e.g., not blurry). Although the photography assignment intended to capture mothers' food experiences, all but two of the mothers took photographs of their children and selected photographs of their children to discuss with the promotoras. However, mothers explained their photographs showing food and meals, kitchen appliances, and food activities, such as cooking or washing dishes, were also important to them. The majority of photographs were taken at home. The average interview lasted 73 minutes (730 total minutes for 10 participants; range: 41-117 minutes).
With their photographs, mothers provided detailed descriptions of their day-to-day lives and food experiences. Three themes emerged from the data: 1) a mother's primary orientation was toward her children; 2) leveraging resources to provide the best for her children; and 3) a mother's food practices kept her children happy, healthy, and well-fed. These themes characterized the mothers' perspectives on their daily practices and how their perspectives influenced their food practices. The following sections explore each of these themes in more detail.
Theme 1: A mother's primary orientation was toward her children
From their perspectives, the mothers engaged in endless food-related activities and family care-giving because they were completely dedicated to their children. This primary orientation toward one's children emerged from the transcripts and influenced the mothers' daily practices and routine food decisions and activities. Data supported this observation, with mothers taking many photographs of their children and frequently discussing them in interviews. Their children were of upmost importance to them. In their words, children were everything, a mother's "treasures", and described by one mother as "the engine of my life." Mothers deliberately explained that their day-to-decisions and efforts were motivated by their children. Providing excellent care to their children, including food provisioning, was an essential source of satisfaction and happiness and connected to their identities as mothers. One participant who we named Perla shared: "It fills me up with happiness because...well I love my children a lot and as if [when I am caring] like mother of my children I am doing what it is...to be a mother."
Theme 2: Leveraging resources to provide the best for her children
The second theme described the resources that a mother relied on and integrated to provide the best for the children. This extends the first theme regarding the salience of a mother's primary orientation toward her children. A mother's daily practices were influenced by this primary orientation toward her children and required expert utilization of available resources (e.g., people and things) in creative ways (e.g., activities). Figure presents a conceptual framework based on the data that visually depicts the resources that were critical to understanding a mother's practices. Resources are presented as circular elements. Children are presented in the center to represent a mother's primary orientation toward her children; children were separated from other family members to reflect mothers' perspectives. Six peripheral elements (e.g., material things, capacity, non-income generating activities, income-generating activities, social network and relatives) were categorized broadly into people, things, and activities and arranged around the center circle to show that a mother's primary orientation was toward her children. Placement of peripheral elements around children reflects the participants' perspectives as they discussed leveraging resources in their practices. The peripheral elements are overlapping to acknowledge the complex relationships between a mother's activities and her resources (e.g., people, material things, and capacity), and these elements overlap with the center circle (e.g., children) to illustrate how a mother leveraged resources to provide the best for her children, in spite of a challenging environment.
Conceptual framework. This figure is the conceptual framework which provides context for understanding a mother's daily food practices.
Material things captured the importance of material possessions that mothers used to provide care to their children and included things inside and outside of their homes. Material things included: a vehicle, the home, a kitchen, stove/oven, pots, pans and dishes, dining table and chairs, outdoor grills, washing machine, other cleaning items (e.g., rags, broom), food, cactus plants, fruit and non-fruit trees, and herbal and medicinal plants. Although money is a material resource, it was not included as mothers did not emphasize it as an important part of providing for their children. Carolina's photograph of her stove is shown in Figure . Food items often were described in careful detail to explain the food's meaning and importance to the mother and its role in enabling her to provide for her children. For example, Berta elaborated on a photograph of her pantry and said:
Figure 3 "My cooking tool or my work tool". Carolina took and named this photograph of her stove and commented, "In this one, I see the most important thing. Without her, I do not do anything...Yes, it is one of my most important tools. Without it, even if I wanted (more ...)
Here, I see my food shelves and pantry at home... This picture is important because it shows the food for the whole family... Well, I took it because... it is my children's food... [I feel] great because I have food to feed them with.
Capacity was referred to throughout the transcripts and varied from being implicit to explicit in their discussions. One's ability to manage household responsibilities (e.g., caring for children and household chores) was described implicitly, as was the balancing and timing of food shopping, planning, preparation, and serving associated with eating occasions. One mother indicated that a photograph of her cooking made her feel proud as a mother and signified many things including her culinary expertise -- she shared she had been cooking and making homemade tortillas since she was six years old. Mothers did refer to explicit capacity such as food knowledge, culinary expertise, health/healing knowledge and skills, tradition, cleaning skills, and hygiene knowledge. For example, Karina indicated her capacity to bring together different ingredients into a favorite dish (golden brown chicken breasts served with sopa de arroz (rice)), which was also fast to prepare and nutritious. She commented, "It is special because it is one of the favorite dishes of the family... It makes me feel happy...That I can prepare it fast and that I know they are going to like it." Mothers demonstrated self-confidence when describing the way such internal resources enabled them to keep their children well-fed, which is discussed later.
Non-income generating activities were unpaid activities the mothers engaged in regularly that allowed them to provide excellent care to their children; these included food-related and other activities. The impetus for these activities was their love for their children, and the activities were a source of happiness and satisfaction for the mothers. Common activities included: being affectionate with (or loving) children, bathing them, washing their school uniforms, getting children dressed for school, keeping a clean house, having food ready on clean dishes before and after school, assisting with homework and encouraging children's academic performance. As an example, Berta discussed a photograph of herself preparing eggs, a pot of beans, and heating up made-from-scratch tortillas on a comal (griddle) and shared, "It makes me feel good...happy...because I do everything for my family." Mothers were able to accomplish these activities by integrating other elements such as capacity and material things with their social network. Activities including protecting and promoting health by integrating their capacity with material things as they treated their children with home remedies made from herbal/medicinal plants and tree fruit and provided children with vitamins from their own fruit trees. Others were oriented around preserving their children's emotional and physical well-being, such as mothers who escorted their children to and from the school bus stop each day to thwart potential kidnapping, offering children a way to refresh themselves from the heat with improvised swimming opportunities and frozen treats, making hand sanitizer available for children, talking to children about the importance of education, and teaching children about relationships and how to love each other. Food-related activities (e.g., meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, serving, eating, washing dishes, etc.) were motivated by their children as Perla explained here: "I cook because well they are my children. Of course it is my obligation right...Well because they are my children, and I love my family." Data confirmed these activities to be a substantial part of their non-income generating activities. Mothers' food-related activities are discussed later in the third theme.
Income generating activities were intense activities that required a mother to integrate all of her tangible and intangible resources to generate income for her family. For example, to make income from selling tamales, a mother needed ingredients and equipment; capacity to make chilé and meat, wash the leaves, assemble, wrap the tamales, market and sell tamales; and other individuals (e.g., relatives and social network) to help her sell and buy the tamales. Mothers varied in the extent they engaged in such activities. For Anabel, her tamale income was the sole source of household income, while Karina discussed selling tamales on request, though she made them regularly for her family to consume. It is worth noting that income generating activities imposed additional constraints on a family, such as deciding whether to use income to buy food for the family or for tamale ingredients likely to provide income for food and other needs. Another example was Carolina who shared that she sells dulces (candy) from her home in what is described as a tiendita (little store) and detailed the challenge associated with selling candy while not eating the candy -- She wanted to model healthy habits to her children and likely not diminish her store's profits while maintaining her tiendita as a source of income.
Social network and relatives were related concepts that captured the important individuals who facilitated a mothers' care-giving in both non-income and income generating activities. They are presented separately in the figure to distinguish between family and non-family individuals and to demonstrate the overlap between relatives and one's social network. However, both relatives (e.g., sisters, brothers- and sisters-in-law, and husbands) and other individuals in the social network (e.g., friends and neighbors) provided emotional and physical support that enabled mothers to provide the best care for their children. Mothers relied on other individuals, relatives and non-family members, for many things including transportation to the doctor or to the grocery store, food and health information (used to promote health or to treat children's ailments), an oven to cook their children's meals when their oven was broken, and to watch their children. Relatives and neighbors were often captured in mothers' photographs. To illustrate the relationship between non-income generating activities and the social network, Alma explained how she wakes up at 5:00AM and does not go back to sleep, but attends appointments, cleans her house, and then sometimes goes to clean her sister-in-law's house. This arrangement was better understood knowing that Alma's sister-in-law provides transportation so that Alma can take her son to the doctor; her son has seizures on a monthly basis and requires regular medical care. For many participants (who lived in the area between 4-12 years), they did not have family members other than by marriage in their colonia, and relationships with neighbors and friends were critical. Mercedes discussed a photograph where she was making rice for a friend's daughter's quinciañera (15th birthday and coming-of-age ceremony for a young woman) and shared that the friends united to make the quinciañera possible. She added that, "I have helped many others... It makes me happy because hopefully one day when I need help, they will be there to help me." Although not always the case, two mothers (Karina and Perla) spoke about their husbands who assisted them with the children and in food-related tasks, and Perla described her exceptional husband as a "Padre Hogareño" (Home-loving Father). They also discussed the importance of bringing together important individuals with other elements (e.g., material things, capacity, and non-income generating activities) in their income-generating activities, but this relationship was slightly less pronounced. For example, Anabel, who supported her children with tamales, relied on her sister to help her sell tamales in her sister's colonia.
Theme 3: A mother's food practices keep her children happy, healthy and well-fed
From a mother's perspective, her routine food choices were embedded in her daily practices and influenced by a primary orientation toward her children. Mercedes mentioned the importance of her children always being happy and further explained her priorities in food choices:
For me I am always glad that my kids tell me they are hungry because I want to make sure they eat...because my youngest daughter...will tell me, 'I don't like that' or 'it was nasty' and she didn't eat and will ask me for food. She will tell me she didn't eat anything at school the whole day, and so that is why she gets home and eats... I took this picture so they can see that she is eating...Well I cook deliciously and what they like...Yes, for them to eat well so they don't complain that they are hungry shortly after eating. I want them to eat well.
Their food practices supported mothers' priorities to have happy, healthy, and well-fed children. The term "practices" is used here in place of "strategies" to distinguish between discrete activities used to mitigate acute food-related hardship and routine activities that were embedded in their daily lives. These practices involved a mother bringing together many resources (e.g., foods particularly meat proteins, kitchen appliances and tools, culinary expertise, and important individuals) in creative ways to overcome challenges associated with not having large amounts or varieties of food. A quotation from Carolina captures a mother's perspective on important elements in her food practices and her priorities:
Just as the family and the stove, everything is important to me...All of them. There is not one [that] is specific. I could tell you that it is my family but the stove is also, because without this tool, without the dishes, my kids would not be happy and I would not be able to feed them what they need.
Referring to the conceptual framework, food practices bring together elements on the right-hand side: material things, capacity and non-income generating activities. A cultural belief guided their practices, as one mother explained: "Lo que come uno comen los demas. Comemos todos
" or "What one eats everyone else eats. We all eat." Her quotation was a derivative of an expression in Spanish "donde come uno comen dos
," or "where one eats two eat" representing a cultural belief that even in times of food-related hardship there is always something to make to eat [57
]. However, mothers described how their efforts went beyond providing enough food for everyone to be satisfied, including the mother.
Mothers detailed the following reasons why they engaged in an endless cycle of cooking, feeding, and cleaning: 1) to make their children happy by continually providing foods their children liked to eat and accommodating children's special requests, 2) to offer their children the best foods which were nutritious, tasty, and better quality than food prepared by other individuals or purchased elsewhere (e.g., "in the streets" (mobile food vendors) and in pulgas
(flea markets) [48
], and 3) to ensure their children were healthy and nourished (e.g., not hungry) so they could do well in school and have a better future. All three of these motivations were connected to a mother's love for her children and her satisfaction in providing the best care and foods to her children. It is important to note that though participants described the importance of their children eating to stay nourished, they strongly emphasized the importance of their children's happiness and satisfaction. In other words, mothers wanted their children to enjoy the foods they prepared for their children. Figure shows Sofia's photograph of the ingredients in her children's favorite soup and emphasized various values, including her own satisfaction. Mothers' most salient values were bidirectional satisfaction (outcome when children liked the foods their mother prepared and a mother's happiness in providing such foods to her children), children's nourishment (providing foods to meet basic need for food or limit hunger), and nutrition (specific health benefits associated with food including "good", low-fat foods). Other values including taste (the flavors of the food), quality (the superior nature of a mother's homemade food compared to foods made by others), health (the physiological benefits associated with eating certain foods), variety (of dishes and accompaniments offered at eating occasions and variety of meals) and tradition (cultural and family practices that were incorporated and sustained through mother's food activities) were less emphasized among all mothers, but nonetheless significant to individual mothers. These values were discussed in context of a mother's exceptional care-giving to her family.
Figure 4 "Their favorite soup". Sofia took and named this photograph of foods purchased at the store-frozen broccoli, fresh baby carrots, celery, cantaloupe, individual yogurts and fresh chicken. She commented: "Well this is what I am going to prepare for them (more ...)
This sample of mothers provided many examples of their extensive made-from-scratch cooking, which often started early in the morning (e.g., 5 or 6AM) and continued through a late evening meal or snack. These activities were scheduled around children's school bus pick-up times in the morning and drop-off times in the afternoon, as mothers desired to provide each child with nourishing breakfasts in the morning and to promptly address each child's hunger after school. In addition, conversations contained detailed descriptions of food practices including recipes, where the mothers shared their expertise and experiences with the promotoras. While elaborating on foods shown in their photographs, a mother's abilities, especially her food knowledge and culinary expertise, were quite apparent. Many conversations focused on how they created delicious, hand-crafted tortillas, gorditas, and tamales for their families. Although some of the mothers utilized just-add-water tortilla and masa mixes and one mother used a gordita press, foods typically were made-from-scratch with very little prepared foods. Most meals included several made-from-scratch components including beans, sopas (soups) or caldos (broths), and salsas. One mother Karina proudly shared a photograph where she made all of her children's favorite dishes during the same occasion because she wanted to make all of her children happy, which also made her happy as a mother.
Specific and salient food practices included rotating meals, refashioning leftovers, preparing coupled dishes, and creating a meal from several, smaller dishes, which helped ensure that multiple children would be nourished and satisfied simultaneously and also allowed mothers to be satisfied in their efforts to provide the best foods for their children. Several mothers shared how they either rotated meals on a regular basis or maintained a schedule of meals to maximize variety and keep their children well-fed. Another reason for rotating meals was to balance more traditional, less healthy meals such as enchiladas with healthier meals such as baked chicken that were prepared more frequently. A few participants explained how they refashioned a leftover food item to stretch their food budget and provide children with foods they liked to eat. One participant said, "...You can try, so they can continue eating...[For example] the beans-they hardly ate it, but I combined it with sopa de arroz (rice), and they ate it that way." Another example was using a slow-cooked, seasoned meat originally made for tamales for making a new dish, such as meat-filled gorditas. In most descriptions of mothers' cooking, foods were rarely made in isolation. Figure shows Karina's photograph of all her children's favorite foods. The following quotation demonstrates her simultaneous approach to preparing several dishes. She said "I was finishing up one of the dishes, and I was thinking on what else I could make, from the ones that I had made in that bit of time..." Mothers described preparing coupled dishes to maintain efficiency in food preparation and preserve valuable sources of meat protein; coupled dishes were those that shared a meat protein or another base ingredient and were prepared together. For example, one mother outlined how she: 1) boiled bone-in chicken to use some of the meat in a dish called molé (chicken served with homemade molé sauce); 2) used the protein-rich broth (from the chicken) to make sopa de arroz (rice); and 3) planned to use the balance of leftover chicken for another dish such as flautas. In addition, mothers spoke about combining several smaller dishes into one meal, which was perfectly captured in Norma's quotation:
Figure 5 "My kids' favorite foods". This photograph was taken and named by Karina, who prepared each of her children's "favorite" dishes. She said: "I had to do something different and then the hamburger...[the] beans...I took that picture that day because I asked (more ...)
And each dish should not be in large quantities, no. If you make a little and a little of each, or rather everything, you make it [happen] and many people will be happy...And with [a few] small portions, but from one, you can get several [portions]...and everyone eats...There is always something to make...Because let's say that you have, potatoes, eggs and beans, from there you make a dish...
The reasoning for combining several small dishes together into one meal was the same as for the other practices -- mothers could always make something for all of their children to eat and enjoy. This was supported by another mother who said "this is not a lot" to explain how her dishes were not large (amounts of food) on their own, but in combination with others, she was able to provide enough food to feed her family.
In addition, mothers were confident in their daily food practices and ability to keep their children well-fed, even in an environment with persistent child-level food insecurity [48
]. Several participants indicated they took photographs because they were pleased with the foods they made and their photographs (e.g., "Well, this picture, I liked the way it came out!") and wanted to share their photographs with the promotoras
(e.g., "I like it, and I wanted to show them to you for being part of this program to show what I do"). Mothers used photographs to demonstrate self-confidence in two ways: 1) providing their children with enough foods, nutritious foods, and most importantly, foods their children liked to eat, and 2) making more challenging, traditional Mexican dishes, such as gorditas
. Mothers demonstrated self-confidence with statements such as this one from Berta: "...Because I am the one that makes it...because I am the [one] in charge in the kitchen...[I'm] very happy...because I make the foods and I can feed my family." They were pleased with their cooking abilities and proud because they knew their children preferred their foods and would "devour it" or eagerly consume the food. A few mothers also expressed pride in making certain challenging, traditional dishes such as gorditas
. Their self-confidence bolstered the capacity present in their daily food practices. Norma explained her photograph of tamales
made her: "Very happy...There are a lot of people that want to make them, but... Sometimes, I want to make something new, but it doesn't come out. But, I know that I do know how to make tamales...
" Lastly, a few mothers also used their food practices to creatively express themselves (e.g., "playing" with different vegetables and mixing sweet and salty tastes).