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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274 comments to Being Polite vs. Honoring Your Values

  • Judy

    I’m truly sorry for those whose food choices have caused rifts in their relationships. It’s really sad that people will criticize you for feeding your children well and avoiding the junk. Thankfully my mom has really gotten on board and my dad is taking baby steps. As for the rest of the family who roll their eyes about eating organically (not to mention the mostly vegetarian diet, which is fairly new), they don’t feed us anyway so I’m not concerned about them. :)

    I’ve found a few things that have worked for us in making it easier to avoid treats from other people: 1) We donate Halloween candy to the troops or to a soup kitchen and replace it with organic chocolate or suckers or special homemade treats. Not that I think it’s okay for others to eat what we won’t, but they will anyway. 2) I cringed when I saw the snacks at the first Girl Scout meeting (fairy “fruit” snacks and pretzels with HFCS), so I offered to be the snack mom and make snacks that may be a little out of the norm for most of the girls (butternut squash muffins, biscuits made with farmer cheese, etc.) and push them a little bit to try new things. 3) I always offer to bring something when we’re invited for dinner so that I know at least one dish will be okay with me. 4) Always explain to my 6 year old why we don’t eat certain things and am thrilled when she says “no thank you” all on her own. It’s an affirmation that I’m doing something right.

    • Lisa

      I just became the team mom, organizing drinks & snacks for my son’s tee ball team. Last year i had a hard time getting others on board for soccer snacks. I brought organic squeeze applesauce for the kids & water. Over half of the team looked disappointed (3 & 4 year olds) and didn’t take an applesauce, wanting cookies or chips like the other parents bring (along with juice boxes). I would love to hear more suggestions for team snacks or things you took for scouts snacks. Thanks!

      • Judy

        I don’t have a big problem with taking cookies or sweet treats for snacks as long as I make them or I know what’s in them and where they came from. My main concern is that they’re not loaded with chemicals, preservatives, dyes, GMOs, etc., so if it’s going to have sugar, it’s going to be organic sugar (with wheat flour and flax seed)! That said, I’ve only been able to take snacks a few times because the leaders asked to alternate weeks so they can use up the snacks they purchased earlier. (On those days, I make sure she gets a snack at home before the meeting.) :) Here’s the link to the butternut squash muffins I made. I made mini muffins and added a couple organic chocolate chips to each muffin. I’ve also made vegan chocolate cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday and I’m planning on making homemade pretzels, homemade tortillas with cheese, farmer cheese biscuits. Maybe someday I’ll make kale chips for them! As for drinks, I’ve taken water, lemonade or organic milk (in a half gallon bottle or carton with Ikea plastic cups) and whatever’s left comes home with me. By pouring each individually, at least they’re getting less juice than they would in a juice box. For a sports team, maybe some juice and water, so that when the juice runs out, they’ll switch to water, but not feel like they’re being deprived? Hope this helps! Kudos to you for taking something healthy and not the usual junky snacks!

      • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Hi Lisa. In addition to Judy’s generous comments this list might help: Our soccer season is just beginning, so I am right there with you. Good luck! ~Amy

    • Kelly

      How do you handle the Girl Scout Cookie sales? This is our first year in Girl Scouts, and I am very troubled with the whole situation. Please answer quickly!

      • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Hi Kelly. That is a personal choice. I know for me this year, we did not sell the Cub Scout popcorn because I was not comfortable peddling or taking money for something that I felt was unhealthy. ~Amy

      • Sandi

        I just made the decision this year not to buy any Girl Scout cookies. My resolve was tested this afternoon when a cute little girl came to my door. I stuck to my guns and said no, although I did donate $4 (the price of 1 box) to the girl’s troop. I will do the same when my niece asks me about buying cookies (I plan on donating more to her troop). I think Girl Scouts is a worthwhile organization so I want to support them, but I don’t need any cookies. I do love me some Samoas, though, so it will be a sacrifice! :)

        • Ryan Hornbaker

          FYI about Girl Scout cookie sales….a lot of troops will donate cookies to soldiers overseas. I know some might not feel comfortable sending them to someone when you won’t eat them yourself but it is a worthwhile cause. You can also donate money just to the troop in lieu of the cookies. We have cut out all food dyes and were quite concerned when our daughter’s behavior became erratic again. We discovered that a medication she was having to take to help her with bad GI problems she has struggled with contains red dye. Needless to say we stopped using the medication immediately. How long can it take before the red dye is out of her system? Thank you….

  • I have no problem saying no thank you, and teach my children to say no thank you. I wouldn’t make them eat chocolate cake if they don’t like chocolate (which, believe it or not, is true of some children, ha ha ha). So why should they feel bad about saying no thank you to a processed cupcake if they don’t like processed cupcakes – maybe it’s not the flavor, but it is definitely the after-effects. I don’t believe in “bending the rules” when we go to someone else’s house. That’s like bending our values based on the “approval” of others. I am teaching our children our values, be it about finances, religion, ethics, or health. Those values make us who we are, and we are not afraid or ashamed to stay true to them. Of course, we are polite, and don’t tell them we’re not going to eat it because it’s trash! But I really don’t see how a “no thank you” is rude, or ungrateful. And I really don’t see how making up lies to the bank teller (“no thanks, we’re going to have a treat after lunch”) is teaching your children your values. Why are we ashamed to make healthy food choices? Why do people feel they have to worry about other people’s feelings if they don’t want to eat something, for whatever reason? Why is there a lack of support as a whole in our society for those who make healthy food choices? Why is there so much pressure for people to eat junk food? Those are the real questions, in my opinion. I don’t teach my children that they only have to be charitable, kind and forgiving on Sundays, and only with other Christians, so I certainly don’t intend to teach them that healthy eating is only important within the confines of our own home, and should not be adhered to if it is in contrast with someone else’s views.

    • Yvonne

      Thank you, Zara, for this thoughtful and inspiring reply! I have often struggled with others (usually family members) offering junk to my 7 year old. I have given in too many times to avoid conflict, but your post has given me courage to stAnd up for our food values. I realize now that by giving in to bad food choices simply to avoid offending others, I have watered down my position and made it seem more like a hobby than a lifestyle. I also realize I’m going to have some possibly difficult heart to heart conversations with both sets of grandparents (who frequently babysit) since snacks are offered without me being there. I also think this behavior has confused my child. While I’m striving for her to make her own healthy food choices away from home, I’m actually, silentl,giving her permission to eat junk elsewhere.thank you!!!

  • nellie

    I can so relate to this. But we have a son who is sensitive to the artificial junk(dyes and preservatives) so it is easier for us we have a good reason. We rarely ever eat out and we literally take our own snacks and food when we are planning an outing. It is at times a lot of extra work but well worth it! We see the effects in our son if we are not careful. We found the feingold diet about 2.5 years ago and will forever be grateful how it has helped our son, our family!! Do not be ashamed or embarrassed be proud to be healthy!
    I love the comment and anology Zara? Wrote about Christian values! Good point great example!

  • riodv

    While I believe it is important to teach your children about nutrition early, I also believe it is important to maintain a balance in our modern world. I am personally gluten intolerant and have had to adopt a whole new food-lifestyle around that knowledge, one I am greateful for and feel 1,000x better about than I ever have in my lifetime. I had no idea certain things I was dealing with since childhood were as a result of a gluten allergy. My fiance’ is now trying this with me since his brother is seriously intolerant, and based on some episodes of his own, he is wondering if he may be intolerant as well. In that, I have the opportunity to educate him about food as well.

    I am hoping that this experience will gove us BOTH the training we need to feed and educate our own little ones about better food choices when THEY come along. That said, I had a friend whose wife was so over-the-top vegan/hippie/naturalist, etc. that she taught her children from birth that processed and unnatural foods were “poison” to the degree that her sons literally threw up involuntarily after eating some M&M’s once realizing that they were coated in artificial food dyes. Whereas I have a tremendous respect for that lifestyle, I still believe there’s a difference btwn teaching your children to respect and adhere to wise and clean food choices and mentally scarring them. Admittedly, this is the most extreme example I can think of, but I think it makes the point.

    • Agreed…we are sensitive to the cultural aspect and do let our children have a treat a week so they can relate to what their friends are eating and not feel deprived. Sometimes it’s homemade ice cream or cookies, but often it ends up being the result of a birthday party or some other event at school.

  • Carley

    I struggle with getting responses from family members about how their children ate certain foods, drank kool-aids and juices, weren’t breastfed, etc etc etc…..and they “turned out fine” or “it never hurt them.”

    How do you respond to people like this? People who love your children, but just don’t see what the big deal is? I try to explain research and statistics, but they continue to fill my toddler up with junk and pressure me to start feeding my too-young baby.

  • Carley

    I don’t have a problem when I am in a situation with my children, but I can’t help but feel silly and almost disrespectful sending my daughter off with my MIL for the day and trying to tell her not to give her Koolaid and Mac and cheese. Our culture is just uneducated in this department, and I guess I will just have to let them watch what I do and eventually begin to respect our choices. But in the meantime, how do you explain the horrors of the junky chemicals, when all the other kids who eat it “are perfectly okay???!”

  • Heather

    Carley, I feel your pain. My father is extremely close with my two boys and has a horrible diet. The kids think it is fun to go to grandpa’s house and eat Doritos and M & M’s and donuts. My oldest son loves it when grandpa takes him to McDonald’s. I have not yet decided how I am going to handle these things. I don’t think you need to necessarily explain the horrors of the chemicals, etc or try to reason or convince your MIL of your food choices. I am assuming you have expressed your view point and she chooses not to respect what you ask? Have you talked with your husband to see if him taking a stand would help? In regard to the responses you get from people such as my kids “drank kool-aids and juices, weren’t breastfed, etc etc etc…..and they “turned out fine” or “it never hurt them” I would simply say “good for them, those were your kids and these are mine” I think that by trying to keep it simple and showing that we are not going to be persuaded to change our minds people may realize we mean business and back-off. One can always hope it is that simple right? :)

  • Dianne

    I just want to mention briefly that unfortunately for us here in the US our junk food is more junky than that available in Europe. They have much stricter laws on additives and colorants that we do, so even their occasional junk food treat is better than ours. A lot of our large food manufacturers, like Kraft, offer the same products there as here only without HFCS and artificial colors and preservatives.

  • This may have been mentioned, but I find it difficult to imagine that every occasion needs to have food. Wouldn’t a healthy beverage be better? Our society revolves around food. We are a dehydrated society in America, and if we focused on giving ourselves more liquids we wouldn’t need so many “snacks”.

    Not every occasion should include food. Just my opinion.

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  • Melinda P.

    I once watched the daughter of an acquaintance sit in misery as she watched my children hit the ice cream bar while she sat quietly waiting for her controlling mother give her approval to what she was allowed to eat. She never got to select her own meal and usually had to share a meal with her mother, who prided herself on eating healthy, low-fat meals. Was her kid healthier than mine? Probably! Was her kid happier than mine? No way!! Which is better? Well, I would prefer my children to be happy AND healthy. As I read many of these responses it often sounds like many people miss out on the fact that food is also supposed to be pleasurable and not something that should be endured. I think Michael Pollan and the French would both agree with that. Feed them healthy but don’t fret over that meal at McDonald’s with Grandpa that they love. In the end they will remember the time spent with Grandpa and not how unhealthy the meal was.

  • Kiley

    I think its important not topick foods for your kids but rather teach them to make healthy choices. Some moms get ridiculous with their children that the children becomes unhappy and probably eventually wont want to venture outside. I think its healthy and makes for happy kids if you yeach them to be independent and make their own choices with food especially.

  • S.

    I really needed to read this! It’s good to know that others struggle to balance their food values with the rest of society. I don’t have children of my own, but I have a stepson, and when he is at our home at the same time as my in-laws, my mother-in-law goes to the store to buy him “the food he likes” and cooks separate meals for him the whole time they are there. To me, that is MUCH more rude than saying no to a stranger. It makes me worry about how to handle these sorts of situations when we do have kids of our own. I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t have the answers!

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