Several weeks ago a reader wrote to me to describe her frustration with her mother, who seems intent on feeding junk food to the reader’s children over her protests. Here are some excerpts from the reader’s email (reprinted with her permission):
[My mother] lives 4-5 hrs away and visits almost monthly . . . . When we go see her i expect the junk and it doesn’t bother me as much but when she brings it all here, on my turf as i guess you could say, i would hope she could respect my wishes of not doing so. I have to throw stuff out she sends…ill usually give one treat to the kids and toss the rest.
I have tried asking her not to, offering us to do ice cream or something one day while shes here etc..and requesting specific healthy foods for her to bring instead like fruits and veggies [but] she still brings the junk as well.
. . . . Whatever [my kids] like, she brings…and my concern besides their health is that shes now the treat grandma. Everything with her involves food. Later that day she got them cocoas . . . right before the birthday with cake and of course she brought ice cream….
She usually includes candy bars, chips, flavored milks, sugary juices, packaged snacks and treats like muffins and cookies. And theres always fast food or eating out thrown in as well…
I would really love if she could focus on other things with the kids like activities or bring them a new book or game or even movie we can all watch. I just dont get the food deal with her.
. . . . Now i am forced to play bad guy taking stuff from them when she hands it to them before a meal or when they really dont need it and letting a couple things by during the day.
One of the best discussions of “grandparent sabotage” I’ve come across is found in “Eat Your Vegetables” and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters, an invaluable resource reviewed here back in November, 2012. In that book, author Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, devotes an entire chapter to the problem and offers several approaches.
At the most basic level, Muth suggests sitting down with grandparents to discuss why you care about feeding your children well, sharing a few basic guidelines, serving as a role model and keeping the lines of communication open. However, it was clear from the full text of this reader’s email that she’s done all of the foregoing, to no avail. In harder cases like this, Muth suggests bringing in outside expert influences, such as having the grandparent come to his/her grandchild’s checkup, where the pediatrician (whom you’ve consulted ahead of time) can lend credibility to the parent’s concerns. In the hardest cases of grandparent sabotage, Muth notes that a parent may have to play hardball by limiting the grandparent’s time with grandchildren until he/or she agrees to get on board.
All of that said, Muth counsels parents to expect some degree of grandparent “spoiling” and offers strategies for going with the flow without losing your cool, including feeding children a healthy meal before Grandma arrives. She also provides some healthy recipes specifically designed for grandparents and kids to make together.
There’s much more guidance to be found in Muth’s book and I encourage this reader to check it out. But I’m sure TLT readers have their own advice to share as well.
So: what do you do when grandparents (or other well-meaning relatives or family friends) habitually sabotage your efforts to avoid feeding your kids lots of junk food? Share your thoughts in a comment below or on TLT’s Facebook page.
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