Being Polite vs. Honoring Your Values

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I am learning that being offered processed food when you’d rather avoid it is a hot topic. The other day on Facebook I asked, “What do you do when someone offers your children a treat that’s likely full of artificial dyes/flavors, preservatives, and other chemicals?” I was floored at the range of answers….here are a few examples many of which are at opposite ends of the spectrum:

“I think it is best to be gracious to people that don’t eat like you and accept their food.”

“I let my kids have them. I figure I have control over the majority of their food, so I’m not going to worry about the few times when I don’t.”

“Sorry this is crazy let kids be kids.”

“I agree with many others who have said it’s all about balance and moderation. We eat a whole food lifestyle on a daily basis…but, whenever there are special occasions, social events, etc., we just go with the flow and enjoy the company! :)”

“If it is from a stranger like at a bank, we say ‘No thank you, we’ll have a treat after lunch.’ or something else polite. If it is at a party, I feed my kids before we go so they can eat party food, but won’t be so hungry that they eat a lot. If it’s at a playdate, then we bring something healthy to share, usually a fresh fruit tray full of my kids favorites. They’ll eat the junk too, but not as much.”

“I am sort of surprised at some of the replies. This is a ‘real food’ page. Of course some are at different levels but to say things like ‘this is crazy. let kids be kids!’ — I do not understand! I don’t think what kids eat define how great their child hood is or isn’t?!?!”

“Since when did ‘letting kids be kids’ have to mean filling them with processed, refined foods full of chemicals and additives?”

“I go with the flow with a little when possible, but sometimes being polite means politely saying no thank you. I have to tell people no when artificial dyes and artificial sweeteners are involved. My mom raised me right and I know how to use my manners to say no thanks.”

“If it’s a meal, I’ll sit down and eat. But if it’s a snack, I have no problem saying no.”

Does the reason for saying “no” really matter?

I have so many thoughts based on the feedback around this topic. First of all, some readers have indicated that unless you have a true allergy or medical concern it’s not right to “break the rules” at a public place (i.e. by bringing your own food to avoid concession stands at an amusement park) or turn down junk food that others are offering you. For all those that feel this way…what’s your opinion about vegetarians? That’s not exactly a medical condition is it? It’s a choice. And a lot of times it’s a moral choice. So is it bad manners for a vegetarian to turn down meat when it is offered? I don’t see how that’s much different from my choice to not eat (or not give my kids) factory-made junk food.

Now, I don’t want to mislead anyone that I am picking sides here because most of the time I honestly don’t know what to do when my kids are being offered junk food. And I think that decision doesn’t come easy because there’s frankly no “right” or “wrong” answer. At what point does being polite need to override your personal morals and values (or vice versa)?

How do the French handle it?

There are a couple of quotes from the book French Kids Eat Everything that really stood out on this topic. I’ll do a more in-depth review of the book later, but for now how about this for food for thought:

“Nutrition and healthy eating habits, while important, don’t need to be the main focus. Rather, enjoying your food is the focus, and healthy eating habits are a happy by-product.”

“The French are not primarily concerned with policing their children’s food intake, or banning all ‘fake foods.’ Rather, their goal is to train their children to eat a balanced diet and to realize how much healthier they feel if they eat mostly ‘real food.’”

I’ve always said that I don’t want to teach my children to say “no” to highly processed junk food just because “mommy said so.” But teaching them to make good food choices all on their own is no easy task especially considering that (unlike the French) almost everywhere our kids turn they are faced with some sort of junk food whether it’s a birthday party, friend’s house, gas station, dessert menu, school event, T.V. commercial, billboard, mall food court, etc. In France it’s apparently “against the rules” for anyone to offer your kid food without your permission (especially in-between meals) so no wonder it’s so easy for them to not police anyone’s food intake. Regardless, I still think there’s a lot to be learned from their attitude.

Where do you draw the line?

I was listening to Michelle Obama talk about her “Let’s Move” program on NPR the other day and she made a valid point on this very topic. She believes that our kids shouldn’t have to worry or obsess about nutrition when they leave the house. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, but finding the right balance between the wholesome food you believe in and being “polite” to all the outside forces that seem to be working against you isn’t easy. Because let’s face it, as I’ve said before, it’s NOT just one cookie or one birthday party or one piece of candy. It’s never just one. Most kids are given junk food multiple times a week for all sorts of reasons including holidays, sports practice, dance class, church events, trips to the bank, celebrations at school, and birthday parties. Junk food is no longer reserved for truly rare and special occasions.

I may sound like I am all over the map here because the truth is I am. Where do you draw the line if you don’t want your children to be overly concerned about eating healthy while at the same time not compromising the values you desperately want to teach them? My husband thinks telling others “no” helps to spread the word that junk food isn’t always appropriate…how else are we going to influence a culture shift anyway? All I know is that I am constantly bouncing back and forth between telling my kids “no” and then giving in to the junk that’s being offered to them (and frankly that they want). But as stated above, I think one reader said it best, “Since when did ‘letting kids be kids’ have to mean filling them with processed, refined foods full of chemicals and additives?” So until the rest of America catches on to this idea how are you going to handle it?

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300 comments to Being Polite vs. Honoring Your Values

  • Amy

    Lisa, I think you’re hitting on a topic Jonathon Safran Foer discusses in his book “Eating Animals”. Food is a huge part of family, culture, and tradition. When we refuse to partake in their food, people often feel we are rejecting them.

    I find it helps to remember I’m coming from a conviction of who I am, not advocating for a cause. I have no problem refusing a cigarette or a drink if offered, and if I refuse food in the same polite way without feeling the need to explain or excuse myself, it usually goes well.

    I do believe there is no one right answer. Everything we do is a choice. As long as we make the choice that feels right, not the choice we feel pressured to make, then I believe we are still sending the right message to our kids: be true to yourself.

  • Cait

    I think the bigger issue here is the common misunderstanding of what “being polite” means. Having manners doesn’t equal always saying yes, and I think that it can be dangerous to teach that to our children. We can be polite and say no, and if another person chooses to be offended or hurt by that, that is truly their own issue to deal with, not ours. I don’t have a problem with saying “no, thank you” when someone offers something to my child that I’m not comfortable with – I also need to be polite and respectful of my kid, and it’s not fair to them to send mixed signals about what I try to teach them about nutrition, or to allow them to eat something that I know is harmful to their body, because I feel awkward about turning down another adult.

  • Beverly Bossi

    This was several years ago. I was running a game at my daughters school fun night. The prize for winning was a small lollipop. One girl politely said,” No thank you. I play for the fun of it.” I liked that she had a nice, polite response.
    Her response made me feel that my time was appreciated.

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