Can Cheating Help Reinforce Healthy Eating?


Can Cheating Help Reinforce Healthy Eating?

I know I’m not the only one whose children’s grandparents thwart the real food system with offers of candy, ice cream, chips, hot dogs, fast food restaurants, and chocolate milk.

It seems that one of the most common conversations about food that I enter into starts with, “So how do you handle family members who don’t buy into what you’re eating?…”

To many grandparents, love equals sweets.

The question as a real food, healthy eating family is how to balance teaching children to love and honor their grandparents, not be afraid of food, and yet also how to eat and enjoy healthy foods while understanding that junk food can hurt their bodies.

A tip: Saying, “Grandma’s food will kill you,” is NOT the way to go.

I jest, but sometimes I feel like shouting that from the rafters.

We know our kids’ grandparents have the best of intentions and nothing but love for their grandkids, so we do try to emphasize healthy eating and give tiny tidbits of information when we’re together. We’ve also realized we can’t completely micromanage food when they’re caring for our kids. (If we had a gluten sensitivity or actual food allergy, by the way, this would be a different story, but so far, our healthy eating is just a lifestyle and health choice.)

Our family lived through a rather unique situation last fall. We were between houses and actually lived with the junk-food-loving grandparents for five months.

Food was a major factor and stressor on my mind as we navigated how the new extended family living situation would work.

We knew we didn’t want our kids eating Grandma and Grandpa’s food on a daily basis, but we also felt guilty taking away the pleasure the grandparents took in “spoiling” the kids occasionally when they would take them for a sleepover.

Since life was one big sleepover every day, we needed a compromise, and a new family tradition was born.

We decided that Sunday would be dubbed “Grandma/Grandpa Spoil Day” for as long we lived there.

The definition of “Spoil Day” –

  • The kids get to eat Grandma and Grandpa’s food (this usually meant lots of sugary cereal in the morning – don’t let Uncle Sam read this!)
  • They got to eat two desserts instead of one (often became an after-church doughnut)
  • Grandma and Grandpa also could take the kids out to eat
  • Mom had to do her best to keep her mouth shut and pretend she didn’t see what was going on

I don’t want to boast, but it really was a brilliant idea. We opened up many conversations about healthy eating throughout the week, in conversations with topics like, “Why is Grandma’s _______ junk food?”

It gave the kids (and the grandparents) something to look forward to. They would talk about Spoil Day in anticipation all week.

It gave us an “out” and ended arguments and begging:

Child, desperately, as if their life is ending: “Whyyyyyy can’t I have a [nitrate-laden conventionally farmed lunchmeat] sandwich with Grandpaaaaaaa??!!??”

Mom, brightly: “Wait until Spoil Day! Then you can!”

Plus, I got a break from feeding the whole family, and if they went out, we had a much quieter house for an hour or so.

I hate to say it, but creating a tradition of UNhealthy eating on one day a week and making it special for the grandparents was the best way to preserve our healthy eating habits the rest of the week. (We also survived the experience with our relationships intact, which was pretty important to us.)

Now that we live in our own home, the kids still look forward to “Spoil Day,” which is now anytime they get to go to the grandparents’ on their own. I send our “good milk” to go with the junky cereal, and sometimes I harbor secret hopes that they will feel terrible after 24 hours of eating junk food and restaurant fare and decide for themselves that they don’t want to bother with it.

Unfortunately for me, that part isn’t happening yet. (Yes, I just wished ill health on my children. I’m vying for the “bad mommy” award whenever possible.)

However, my kids do understand our goal of healthy eating and that it’s different than most of the world, and allowing them to let their hair down is a little insurance policy against total rebellion as they get older…I hope.

I also still get to stave off tantrums in the store by saying, “You can eat your junk food at Grandma’s house!” and my kids are able to make healthy snacking decisions, like my 4-year-old preschooler who told me yesterday, “They had junky crackers and those yogurt tubes…there were no healthy choices, but I had to eat something! I chose yogurt.” (She knows the tubes have a lot more sugar and colors than our regularly scheduled homemade yogurt.)

Now my only question is what to say when they go to friends’ houses and say, “Do you have anything other than junky crackers? I only eat junk food at my Grandma’s house…”

Can we start a family tradition of hiding under a rock?

What do you do to balance family relationships and food disagreements? 

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