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When Grandma Comes to Spoil the Kids, part 1 of 3

Robyn Openshaw - Jul 28, 2010 - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

This is edited for length, from “Momof3.” It was a response to one of my recent blog postings and I re-post it here.

I often get long emails like this 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.

Today, read her comments. Tomorrow, read my reply:

“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.”) Maceys giant ice cream cones FOR DINNER!

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.

What adult thinks that is a good dinner for a 2- and 3-year old? Again, she smiled and said, “Grandma is spoiling them, and I’m not that hungry either.” I was not amused. I confronted her about it and she just said, “Grandma spoiled them.”

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.)

I will get through this. I can do it. The kids WILL thank me someday. I KNOW I am fighting the good fight! I can do this even if my in laws (not to be rude, they are good good people and loving grandparents but they are morbidly obese) will try to sabotage me where I live. In my own home with my babies. I WILL be strong. I will not cave. I quietly will go about my ways and quietly do my thing with my babies and self and hubby and the world will stay right. I will do right by my family. I will do it as kindly as possible, but I will be kind but firm. Any suggestions?

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, Captain Crunch, potato chips, Cheetos, big pink Grandma cookies, 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 for the 8 days is just unacceptable to feed my kids.

But, the BIG no-no’s for me Grandma tries to feed to them on a large scale: processed lunch meat, artificial sweeteners, soda, milk and ooooodles of sugar constantly. I don’t want to feel like the bad guy for 8 days, but they really are over the top with their terrible eating habits while staying at my house and feeding my children. More pep talks please! I’m in serious anxiety mode. Family pressure is intense!”

Posted in: Relationships, Whole Food

17 thoughts on “When Grandma Comes to Spoil the Kids, part 1 of 3”

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  1. Debrief and educate granny with several of the food movies that show the state of our food supply today and how it relates to health. Show her that her kind of love is exposing her grands to poison. Afterward, I would make her sign a contract that she understands the consequences of her actions and that she will only expose her grandchildren to foods you have approved. If she can’t, then you as a parent should opt-out of any unsupervised visits with granny if your children are more important that granny’s feelings.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oy. I feel your pain. I am on REMOTE WORK LEAVE for five weeks and visiting my parents with my 5 and 6 year old. VERY similar experience.

    Since you “only” have 8 days with them – perhaps just SUCK IT UP and use it for motivation to increase your commitment when they leave.

    Over this month as I have seen each of my beautiful kids gain about 5 pounds each to their usual lean and perfect bodies – I continue to say to myself, “MIND LIKE WATER.” We will be back in Los Angeles soon and back to an incredibly more healthful life.

    I join in at happy hour with my mom each night – having a couple of glasses of wine – or beer – and I feel disgusting and horrible the next morning – and again – I say to myself – this is not FOREVER – just for now.

    And I make a gallon of greens and fruit in the vitamix and I continue.

    The hysterical thing is that my parents keep exclaiming how HEALTHY they eat. It is total cognitive dissonance.

    Perhaps leave amazing things around for them to read? Gerson therapy, raw diet lifestyle books??

    I’m 43 and perhaps the only thing that I have learned is that I can NOT change anyone. They have to “awake” and become cognizant to their own lifestyles.

    Unfortunately this DOES affect you and the kids. I know. And I also know it is only for a week.

    Hang in there, VENT like a crazy person – because – sista – we are all in this together and we are right there with you.

    Finally realize, you can run a bit of a detox for the household – hell – even burn the sage around the house – and begin the begin. A new day is coming tomorrow. Today we eat cookies and drink wine and embrace the love (AND DYSFUNCTION) that is family.

    I wrote to much, sorry.


  3. A note from the other side . . . A Grandma story.

    I’ve spent the last year and a half curing myself of cancer. On that journey I’ve developed an even more serious attitude about nutrition than I’ve had in the past.

    Some background first. I’ve been into natural, organic healthy eating practices nearly all my life. When I was in my early teens my father nearly died of a heart condition and the Doctors sent him home to die. My mother would have none of that and, with the help of a naturopath, proceeded to heal him and vector the lives of the rest of the family from then on. That was nearly fifty years ago and my dad just died a couple of years ago. Not bad for someone who was given months to live all those decades ago !

    When I was diagnosed with cancer my first action was to do research on what cancer is and then to study how to fix it. That was a year and a half ago. I’m well now and almost back to my “normal” life. Although I applied some allopathic treatments to the condition I also give credit for my cure, in large part, to adjusting my diet and becoming even more deliberate about what I put into my body than I had ever been before.

    One of the things that I incorporated was green smoothies. What healing elixers they are !

    OK, enough background. My “grandmother story” is this. When I go to visit with my grandkids I have exactly the opposite experience of the women complaining about the “junk food grandparents” visiting.
    I really can’t say anything about the quality of nutrition at their house – all I can do is try to teach by example. Their diets are very heavy on carbs, dairy, sugar and animal protein. While I’m there I eat a little of what’s served (focusing on what vegetables are available) in an effort to be social at the dinner table but I also incorporate as much of my dietary routine as possible while I’m traveling.

    I’ve been referred to as the “tree hugger, hippy, kook” when it comes to my dietary preferences and I don’t let that deter me. I offer my grandchildren tastes of the things I make ( they frequently wrinkle up their noses at the flavors just because they are different and I tell them so) but I make sure they are exposed to as many alternative choices as possible while I’m around them. For the most part the kids are good sports and always (thankfully) curious about why I eat the things I do.

    They see me taking vitamins and (again thankfully) they take them now too. The vitamins they are given could be a better qualiy but hey, I’ll take any gain I can get !

    My philosophy is this. If they see something other than their usual fare and have the opportunity to be exposed to other ideas regarding nutrition and health then I’ve done the best I can do. I just hope that the information sticks and perhaps if they are ever faced with a health challenge they will remember grandma’s approach to healing themselves.

    As far as dealing with the “junk food grandparents” goes my suggestion is this. Get up early enough in the morning to serve the children a nutritious breakfast so they won’t be hungry enough to eat the cookies grandma wants to serve them. Offer them healthy snacks often during the day – keep them filled up on the good stuff. If the grandparents sneak the kids out for an ice cream or other junk food it isn’t the end of the world. It could be a valuable object lesson for the kids. They will get how bad they feel after eating a load of sugar, if not when they are very young, surely by the time they are old enough to notice something like that.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the grandparents and focus on activities that don’t involve food. Keep the kids full of good nutrition, keep the grandparents busy doing non food activities. As far as junk being brought into the house, I have no qualms about sneaking it into the trash – outside so it can’t be retrieved ! “Hey, where are the toodle doodles?” “Gee, I don’t know, the dog must have eaten them. Maybe that’s why he’s been passed out on the floor all afternoon” He Hee . . .

    It’s all good !

    From the redheaded grandma

  4. The sad thing is that we all pay for other people’s ignorance. When the nuclear family suffers the blowback from compromised values, the only true recourse is to let people learn the hard way. Nobody can force anyone to believe a certain way. We can only be living examples of the Truth that we subscribe to. And, when it comes to food, religion, and politics, it happens to be quite personal.

    Personally, I would find your situation quite challenging. It would be best if the whole family could lovingly band together and write a consensual agreement. This agreement should reflect the disciplines and higher standards that serve the welfare of the greater whole, and possibly punitive measures if the rules are broken. Once the ultimatum has been made, everyone needs to be clear and wear that badge of honor with pride. They need to be firm in their resolution and rewarded as they stay the course.

  5. I’m a grandmother of 15. I firmly believe that decisions on what the children eat belong to their parents. I always ask permission from the parents of my grandchildren regarding treats and other things they eat. I certainly want these children to be healthy, so my efforts are in that direction. However, sadly the parents are less inclined to go the healthy direction, though they are improving as they hear other parents talking about healthy eating. I have observed that my adult grandchildren are far more health conscious than their parents. I bite my tongue and keep from saying too much, knowing full well that I’m not the only one out there teaching good, healthy eating. They’re catching on from others, which helps them notice and copy what I do. The older grandchildren seem much more eager to learn good health habits from me than my own children are/were. I find that I’m also learning good things from them.

    1. Robyn Openshaw says:

      Joy, I know your and your husband’s names. You are an author and celebrity and I’m honored you are on my blog. If you would email me,, I bet there are ways we could work together, maybe have you present at the GSG retreat next spring? thanks,


  6. Anonymous says:

    I don’t believe in trying to control my kids’ food all of the time. They need to learn how to make good choices for themselves. However, I do point out that their behavior is better when they don’t eat sweets and they are now getting more in tune w/ their own bodies and when they eat junk, they feel sick. I point that out too. There are some immediate consequences to eating badly and the more sensitive your body becomes, the more severe the consequences become.

    I agree that you need to take a stand – especially in your own house and if they don’t respect you, then kindly ask them to leave. You don’t have to put up with that. Are they really helping you by staying there or is it making things worse? You don’t need that kind of stress when you are already tired and needing to take care of yourself and your new baby.

    Drink lots of Red Raspberry tea and smoothies and anything you can to help strengthen yourself w/ nutrition and get sleep. Then you can deal w/ your own children and not have to worry about the in-laws. I personally think 8 days is way too long! I can only handle mine and even my own parents about 3 days max.

    Good luck!

  7. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t matter if one is a mother or a grand mother; either they get it or they don’t. When my daughters were little I made Betty Crocker cakes with yucky artificial frosting for them. I really didn’t know. Today I am so proud of my daughters for not following my unhealthy, artificial and poisonous tradition. And because I get it, it is easy to join them in their struggle to offer nutritious food to their children. I hope your parents aren’t there for too long because they probably take your need to feed your children with healthy food as a personal affront that they did something wrong. Maybe if you repeat how great they were and how much you love them and congratulate them on having raised a daughter who thinks for herself. Maybe you can ask them just to humor you and give them the opportunity to let them give their grandchild one special treat a day. And maybe they just don’t care and want to maintain the power. I am so sorry.

  8. Anonymous says:


    Grandma sounds a bit outta line. It’s too bad you don’t have other family members supporting you. If your pediatrician is supportive of you…could he/she write a letter outling the importance of your children’s nutritious diet? Perhaps your in laws, and hubby, too, would be more inclined to comply if it is “doctor’s orders”. Our situation is tweaked…I’m a vegan grandma and none of my children are vegan. When grandma comes to visit my grandchildren look for the apples I bring.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The problem is not your MIL. The problem is your husband. He needs to grow a backbone and stand with you.

    We faced this 16 years ago when I was expecting my first right at Christmas. Normally I host Christmas dinner, but since I was expecting at any moment, my in-laws hosted. 5 of them smoked, and they didn’t go outside.

    I was very concerned about the secondhand smoke. My DH and I talked about it and agreed that either a) my MIL would tell the smokers that they had to go outside for that one day or b) we would not be joining them for dinner.

    My DH talked to his mom. She was a wreck over it – not b/c she disagreed so much, but b/c she was afraid of a big family fight at Christmas. Shockingly, when she told them that this was the rule, not one person refused to come (although one or two made snarky comments on their way out into the cold to smoke).

    Now, years later, she respects us both for sticking to our guns. No one smokes in her house anymore; in fact, none of those 5 people still smoke. I can’t take any credit, but I like to think I helped plant a little seed. I don’t act like a princess making demands daily, but when something is this important I stand up and she knows I’m serious. It’s not just in-laws – I had to do this with my parents too over spanking.

    Your and your DH need to get on the same page, present a united front, and HE needs to talk to his mother. The rule should be that she feeds the kids the way you want in your house, or she can feel free to get a hotel room and have supervised visits with the kids. You may lose her help, but really, what kind of help is that?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Ladies, I wish I had your issues. Instead, my adult children and their spouses are the “villains”. I have to live with the fact that all seven of my grandchildren live with parents who make horrible food choices 24/7, not just one week out of the year. One grandchild was in a coma for three days after brain surgery, and they fed him donuts and chicken nuggets for his first meal. And stopped at a fast food restaurant on the way home after being released from the hospital, and gave him and his siblings cokes and cheeseburgers, etc. I understand your pain; it is terribly difficult to witness these abuses–but at least you do your best, and more importantly really understand what is good for your children. I pray that there are more parents like you. But please, stop making it sound like MIL’s and grandmothers are the bad guys; some of us are on your side. At the risk of already making this too long, no, I don’t have any solutions, except possibly silent prayer. Hopefully your children will get through these visits with their health intact, will grow up making good food choices, and still love their grandmother who wouldn’t feed them sugar, etc, etc. My children weren’t fed irresponsibly when they were young; I don’t know what happened when they left home. Or how they cannot see the damage they are doing to their precious children. I’ve been vocal in the past, it hasn’t made any difference. I’m now taking a page out of Joan’s book, and trying not to stir the pot, and hoping for the best.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am a mom, grandmother and great grandmother, but I am the one who cares about food as does my daughter. My darling daughter in law and granddaughter are sugar junkies. I call the pantry the pantry from hell as there is nothing in it that I would eat. I get really upset about the great grands and the lack of meals and real food stuff. I have sent books, emailed info until I have just given up. One day when we were there one of the great grands crashed – turned out all she had to eat that day was a chocolate bar – this at 4 in the afternoon. I live in a different state. When I am there, I shop at the farmer’s market and feed everyone, but I am not there very often. Breaks my heart…..

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have experienced similar siuations with inlaws coming to visit, but I had an intense conversation with my DH first, so we were on the same page. HE spoke to his parents, and after that, they mostly asked me if they could buy a certain thing. I have also asked that they get things other than food. When they came to visit and HAD to have their caffeine sodas, DH asked them to keep them in the garage, instead of the kitchen, since we don’t consider them “food” at our house. Grandpa came home with some deserts, like a pie, a few times, and we mostly hid them until the kids were in bed and then tossed out the rest (after inlaw and DH had some). One thing I found important was to impress on them that junk food is not really a “treat” for my kids, because most of it was stuff they didn’t even know existed if inlaws didn’t bring it. I asked them to give them stuff the kids know and care about, like books, toys, or a movie.

    Recently, my MIL and two SIL’s came to visit and by now, they know junk food is an issue. I tried hard to have yummy healthy snacks on hand, but they lasted MAYBE 2 days before they had to make a run for junk food. They were respectful enough to keep it all in their bedroom, and this time they asked what they could get for the kids. They got them toys, which was kind.

    Back in the beginning, they were more skeptical with my way of living. Now, as the kids are older and they can see the difference between them and many of their cousins, they are more respectful. My DH was the last of 8 kids to marry, so I could see how things went with the other grandkids and prepared for a fight. Interestingly, it was the other uncles that were more of a problem. But they quickly knew it was going to get ugly if they messed with feeding MY kids stuff without my permission. I don’t mind having that reputation if it benefits my kids — and it HAS!

    If it were me, I would feel that having the inlaws over would be more of a stress than a “help” with a new baby, and would not go that route. I’d be so upset at having my home and family disrespected, that I’d be MORE wiped out than “helped”.

    Fortunately, my parents have been very respectful and while I know my kids will eat some things that I would not normally give them at home, I know they try to give them “clean” versions as much as possible. They might eat hot dogs, but they’ll be the uncured ones from the health food store on whole wheat buns. I can live with that, once in a while. But my mom has also helped them make healthy blender pancakes for breakfast. And last Thanksgiving, she made Robyn’s chocolate cake with the beets in it, She didn’t tell them what was in it until they’d eaten it and DS begged to make it at home and I told him he could — only if he made it EXACTLY the same way Grammy did. He immediately knew he’d been “had”! LOL

    It’s a tough thing, but whether it’s about food or other family decisions, if you don’t put down your foot about your right to have your lifestyle respected, you’ll be stressed out over it the rest of your life and there will be MORE contention than if you actually had it out and settled it.

    1. Robyn Openshaw says:

      Quote from Moyne: “I don’t mind having that reputation if it benefits my kids.”

      I agree entirely!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Kayt I too let my grandchildren try the things they will. I have a recipe for a wonderful pesto…it is very green …my grandchildren Love it! They ask…do you have any of that green stuff Grand-mommie?

    Also I teach a health class at our church…would love to know more abaout what you di on you cancer cure….we discuss cancer and cancer prevention in one of our lessons ….and I love to share testimonies. Thanks for any more info in advance.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I am a grandmother also and I think that it is your house and they should respect your wishes as to what the kids eat. A treat once in a great while(after consulting you) is not too bad but not all day long. You need to talk to your husband and he should talk to his parents. They can take the kids on short trips to the bookstore, park, etc.

  15. Wow! Yes, I totally concur with what others are saying in response to this email about fighting this battle and making it understood what your priorities are. If my in laws tried even bringing junk into my house, I would really be enraged and they would know it. Especially since they already know that eating well is my passion. At one point I sent an email specifically saying how I felt as a result of things said/done.

    Fortunately my in laws are very respectful and allow me to raise my family the way I choose. They also tend to choose pretty healthfully most of the time themselves. So I feel blessed now to have most of my opinions about food respected when so many others are saying that they are fighting a battle! Wow! I say establish clear agreements before you agree to let your in laws come over!

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