Your family is visiting a friend’s family for the holiday weekend. The friend generously offers to have you stay at their house. Things are going great until it’s lunchtime and out comes the florescent orange mac & cheese and fake lemonade. What do you do? Well, you have a few options: (1) tell yourself that it’s only a few meals and it won’t seriously impact the kids’ health (2) tell your host that you’d never feed your child that crap (3) come prepared in anticipation of this possible scenario.
Health is incredibly important and I’m generally in favor of doing whatever you have to do to eat healthy. However, friendship is also precious and waving your nose in the air at her meal suggestion is not advisable either. No one likes to be made to feel bad about the way they feed their family. Instead, come prepared. Here are a few suggestions to survive a junk food weekend.
Prior to arrival, find out if there are any plans for meals. Offer to cook a side dish or if you are up for it, dinner. This way there will be at least a few healthy options available. It’s also a great way to say thank you for hosting and introduce your friends to something you and your family enjoy. Saralyn Crossen, mother of two boys, offers this advice,”I always bake a few snacks and healthy treats before I go on a trip. Kids are often on different schedules and this way I have something with me that doesn’t require cooking or imposing on my host.” This tip also works great if you can offer your kid your homemade treat instead of the marshmallow, Oreo and cheese whiz extravaganza.
When you arrive, tell your hosts you need to run to the store to grab a few things and ask if they need anything. Load up on nutritious, fresh things that can be added to planned meals and make sure to stock up on your child’s healthy go-to favorites. Know your kid will eat blueberries and spinach? Try to find ways of incorporating those items into meals.
Add veggies whenever possible. Throw in some frozen or fresh broccoli in the mac & cheese, make a side of sauteed baby carrots, add cucumber, avocado & tomato slices the bagel and cream cheese, make a salad to accompany each meal.
It feels cruel to constantly be saying no to your child when the other kids in the room are drinking juice and soda. Try to offer an alternative or make something special like lemonade (all it takes is water, a lemon and a little honey for homemade lemonade), iced herb tea, or fresh OJ. Depending on the age of your child, things like using a special water cup, adding a colorful straw or real strawberry, or a squeeze of lemon might be all they need to be happy. If they really want the soda, pour it into a glass with tons of ice to minimize the portion size. Juice? Dilute, dilute, dilute. Try to steer clear of artificial colorings if possible.
When out and about, many parents tend to buy food when their kids get hungry. Chances are, whatever you’re going to buy is not going to be as healthy as something you bring. When going anywhere for more than 45 minutes, pack snacks (apple slices w/almond butter, carrots, nuts, tangerines, raisins, seaweed/nori sheets, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) and lots of water. I’ve personally found that friend’s kids will flock to the snacks and even the picky ones will end up eating what you’ve brought. Bring enough to share!
There will be times when you are forced to pick the best option of several unhealthy foods. Choose the one with the least amount of ingredients and artificial additives. If everyone is having doughnuts, PopTarts, and cereal for breakfast, see if there is “healthier” option (maybe Cheerios instead of Lucky Charms?). Offer to whip up scrambled eggs or oatmeal. Making sandwiches? Bulk up on the veggies and use less of the processed cheese and meats.
The bottom line is if you stay with someone else, be a gracious guest. It may be extremely tempting to try to “enlighten” your hosts, but unless they ask, don’t bring it up. You are more likely to make them feel attacked and they’ll wind up defensive instead of receptive. Food is an extremely sensitive and charged subject and if you really want to connect with your friend, try some of these ideas from Robyn O’Brien. Can’t stomach the idea of your children eating junk food for a whole weekend? Don’t stay with friends. Instead, rent a hotel room and meet up for non-meal outings or go out to a restaurant that you are comfortable with.
Do you have other suggestions or personal experiences with surviving a junk food experience?
Image: Christian Cable via Flickr