We're this close to the start of the winter holidays, which means a lot of fun is coming our way—but also for many of us, the stress of not being in control of the food our kids eat. If you get stressed out when other people are feeding your kids food you wouldn't give them at home, but are unsure of how to handle it since you don't want to hurt feelings (or seem like a crazy kale-pushing parent!), my friend Ashley from Veggies and Virtue is here to help!
If you're heading to a relative's house for the day (or they're coming to you and bringing food) and you're worried that the food won't be remotely nutritious, what do you recommend that we do?
As a parent with young kids, I think it is more than socially appropriate to politely ask a host family, "Do you mind me asking what is on the menu for the day? What may our family bring to contribute?" This should not come across as offensive to the host, but rather invites you two to dialogue a bit about what offerings there will be. If you know what the host will be offering, you can easily offer to bring a veggie tray, fruit salad, or another more healthful dish you know your child and family enjoys.
If you are hosting and the roles are reversed, you may consider requesting your guests to bring specific additions to the meal. You can ask that your guest brings a side vegetable or a salad, instead of an appetizer or dessert, to lessen the odds that your child's intake for the day will be derailed. By simply stating, "We have a family favorite I plan to make for dessert", you are respectfully assuming your role as host, rather than making a potentially offensive comment or creating any pressure on the expectations about what item they bring.
Does that advice change at all if the visit is multiple days?
If you and your family are guests, yes, I do think that there does need to be some flexibility.
That being said, hosts often silently stress over what to offer kids staying with them, so similarly to the above advice, try to engage in a conversation before you get to their home to see what foods you may be able to contribute. If packing a lot of snacks or perishables is unrealistic with your travel, consider volunteering to make a grocery run once you arrive so you can pick up the staples you know your kids eat. This allows you to maintain some control over what foods are offered, and it will likely be a relief to the host. Then, even though they may eat more treats while you're away, you can find a bit more peace with their overall intake.
If grocery shopping in person isn't feasible, see if there's an online ordering option that the host could pick up at their normal grocery store while they're there getting other essentials. This too can lighten the load on your host and build in a little nutrition around special holiday foods.
How can we talk to relatives/friends about the food we prefer to feed our kids without making anyone feed badly?
So many people express their love through food, so it is important to remember that most people are coming at this from a place of love. A straight-forward conversation that sets clear expectations from the start can help everyone to feel more at ease, respected, and mutually understood going into the holidays. And it can go along way towards preventing more heated conversations in the moment.
While many, many family members may not oblige with our requests, we can at least keep referring back to these pre-discussed boundaries if needed. It is key to breakdown your approach to feeding to family and friends (especially if spending several days with one another), so that they understand how you handle food with your family. Consider discussing:
- When your child usually eats meals and snacks and whether these times fit in with the holiday plans.
- What time bedtime is and whether that fits in with the holiday plans—or if something will need to be adjusted.
- The special food traditions you hope to enjoy over the holidays—so you can adjust if/when other treats are offered throughout the visit.
- Will kids eat before adults or with them?
- Your approach to dessert—do your kids need to eat a certain amount of dinner before they have dessert? Can they have dessert with dinner? Would you prefer that dessert is kept out of sight during the day so the kids don't get fixated on it?
- Who will be preparing and serving each meal? How can everyone pitch in so one person isn't carrying the mealtime load?
- What are some simple and easy foods to have on hand for snacks or simple meals if the days schedule gets thrown off—or if your kids are up early!
All of this is so helpful to think through and I love Ashley's emphasis on having a conversation before the visit. I think it can be helpful to also remember that holidays are special days where it can be okay to loosen the rules a little bit.
Ashley will be back next week to share some great tips on creating routine during the holidays even when you're not in your usual one!
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