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Feeding Your Family

When Grandma Comes To Spoil The Kids

spoiled childI often get long emails from readers, asking what to do about the older generation’s visits to our children, filled with junk-food “spoiling.” Parents feel that their hard work to provide good nutrition is being un-done by Grandma.

Here is an excerpt from one such email:

“I needed a pep talk! The in-laws will be staying for 8 DAYS.

I wish I was making it up when I say my mom in law (when she came after the last baby birth) feeds my kids chocolate chip cookies FOR BREAKFAST. (I came down from nursing baby and sleepless night and the kids had milk and cookies sitting on the table at 7:00 am. Grandma just smiled and said, “I’m spoiling them.”) I asked if she would buy spinach at the store and lemons for a wonderful whole wheat pasta spinach dish. She came home with a chocolate ice cream kong cone at 4:30 pm and Cheetohs.

She also bribes them w/ Smarties to ‘be good’ at the store, I looked over at my son in church and he had a mouthful of Skittles and was munching on ‘fruit by the foot’. Grandma had a list of fast food places w/ takeout every night for dinner and brought it home, then tried to give my babies pop and “diet juice” with artificial sweeteners to wash it down because “diet juice” is “healthy.”

Plus, I guess, my freezer full homemade smoothie bars did not seem to be a good summer treat because grandma decided they needed a huge gigantic bag of popsicles instead. (I had made smoothie bars before going to the hospital and pointed out there were lots in the freezer along with all my other healthy snacks.)”

Another excerpt:

“What happens when I’m outnumbered 3 to 1? (Hubby and parents against me? especially when hubby’s mom is making all hubby’s ‘favorites?’) When it’s not just pop culture trying to sway our children but loved ones too? The kids see the Twizzlers, soda, potato chips, pimento olive bologna loaf, white bread, big greasy Costco muffins, hot dogs, M&M’s, milk, fake peanut butter, Cream of Chicken soup casseroles.

This is what my in-laws buy and make and eat at our house. Of course that is what my kids want instead too.

It doesn’t work to have meals and menus ready and food bought and planned. They SHOP for ALL their favorites when they don’t find them in my cupboards because they won’t eat what I make. (They say it ‘messes with their digestion’ to eat whole grains, legumes, greens, and so much fruit and veggies.)

Even when I plan it all out, “cookie salad” (nothing salad about it) gets whipped up or something like it and stuck on the table. Unfortunately, if it’s in the house (or in Grandma’s purse) it finds its way into my children. It’s such a sporadic encounter because they live out of state that it’s difficult to just go off about how EVERYTHING they buy and eat while they are here is just unacceptable to feed my kids.

I don’t want to feel like the bad guy, but they really are over the top with their terrible eating habits while staying at my house and feeding my children. I’m in serious anxiety mode. Family pressure is intense!”

Answer: I feel your pain. Been there.

What I hear in these excerpts and in countless other emails and at my classes is deep concern, anxiety even, for what your children are learning as well as what they’re eating in Grandma’s care.

I remember once being at my mother-in-law’s house many years ago, where the Standard American Diet rules and the Standard Health Consequences inevitably do, too. I walked around the kitchen corner to find her hurriedly shoveling chocolate cake in my toddler’s mouth. She startled, seeing me, since I was the one she was hiding the cake from.

I’m sure I stopped short and frowned. I remember she said something in her own defense, to the effect of it not being “normal” that my kids weren’t fed candy and cake and cinnamon rolls like other kids. Refined and processed foods are so ingrained in us, now, as a culture, that it seems some grandmas feel junk food belongs in the Bill of Rights.

My mother-in-law and I then went through a period of learning to work with each other. She eventually did respect my wishes even if she never had any interest in nutrition, herself. She was the one who taught me, through her reaction, when I was in my 20?s and first began studying nutrition, that people aren’t interested until they’re interested, and not a minute sooner, and sometimes never.

(I had mistakenly thought, in my own reading and discoveries, “Everyone should know about this! I think I’ll undertake a mission to teach everyone!” Mistake #1! Not to be repeated!)

If you are in this position, I have a few pieces of advice the next time Grandma is planning to come.  It’s time for a frank talk with your mother-in-law. Being short with her, or rolling your eyes, just builds tension. So, you’ve nothing to lose by just talking.

Tell your spouse that you intend to do it calmly and with love and every benefit of the doubt possible, but you do plan to do it.

I would do it on the phone BEFORE Grandma comes. Or, write her a letter. That way she can mull it over before arriving and clear the air on any “hurt feelings” in advance.

Here is a sample of the kind of letter you might write.  Please feel free to use any of it for your own purposes. I think the point is to be both CLEAR and COMPASSIONATE. Not CONFRONTATIONAL, which will just cause defensiveness.

Dear Mom,

I love you and I know that you love my children. There are only a few people in this world who love my kids as much as you do, and I will forever be thankful for that! I want to talk to you about something that’s really important to me.

I spend a lot of time, effort, and money studying, buying, and preparing whole foods for my family. If you’re interested, I can tell you more about what I’ve been learning and why I’ve been changing our nutrition.

I know it’s different than what everyone around us is eating, but I feel strongly as a mother, that for MY family, it’s important to take another path, back to the kind of nutrition we had before fast food and processed food. I feel strongly that for my children’s health and their future, that it’s critical we avoid sugar and other processed foods and dairy and meat products. Our diet isn’t “perfect,” but I believe that what we do 95% of the time will determine whether we are healthy and fit, or sick, overweight, and miserable. We have had many improvements in our health because of these changes, and I don’t want to go backwards.

I know that for you, candy and treats are a way to show love. Again, I so appreciate you and your love for my babies! For me, good nutrition is a way to show love. These two things have the potential to come into conflict while you are here.

I feel that candy is not an appropriate reward for children, and it creates a habit, into adulthood, that high-calorie foods are “earned” by good work or good behavior.

It’s very important to me that when you visit, you not use the desire to “spoil” my children as a reason to feed them foods I feel jeopardize their health. Could you “spoil” them in other ways, like reading to them, playing with them, or making a healthy treat?

I would love to provide you with a healthy cookie recipe and buy the ingredients. I will have healthy treats in the fridge and freezer so you don’t have to wonder what to give them.

I would like us to be friends, and not have any strain between us. I know that the way we view diet and nutrition is different, but I am asking for your support while you are here in something that’s very important to me.

We are all very excited to see you! Thank you for honoring this request.

I love you!