Being Polite vs. Honoring Your Values

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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353 thoughts on “Being Polite vs. Honoring Your Values”

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  1. Lindsay Untherbergus

    I have celiac disease so saying ‘no’ when offered food is no problem for me. I say, go ahead and politely decline and explain why if the person is persistent. Hopefully that same person won’t offer you the junk food again. I am not obligated to eat anything I don’t want to or deem safe for myself. Even when people tell me something is gluten free, I still don’t always eat it because lots of people don’t know what gluten is or know about the importance of avoiding cross contamination. I don’t want to offend anybody, but my health is more important than that.

  2. So hard, I have been a vegetarian over 25 yrs without issues but this year, I tried to have no added sugar and somehow I started a war at Thanksgiving. Family was so put out when I said that I could fend for myself. There was sugar added to cranberries, stuffing, cauliflower stuffing, on salmon (honey baked), rolls, pies, cheesecake…. I offered to make dishes but was told this is what we always have and you can eat it, it won’t kill you. On Thanksgiving people eat stuff they might not otherwise eat”. They are still annoyed. Yet when one relative refused to eat an enchilada dish that I made the night before because she “doesn’t like Mexican food” that was ok?? Families!!

  3. This is very similar to “religious reason” or as you’ve said, “vegetarians” (and “vegans”). Here’s how we do it:

    1. They do not know (yet) or they may have forgotten
    2. “Thank you for the food, we deeply appreciate it. However, our faith/religion _and_ diet is different from most, so we’ll have to decline.”

    If they are interested to know more about it, then you can slowly introduce them to your reasons. For example, “This is just our belief but I’m glad you asked. We believe that _put_your_reasons_here_but_keep_it_brief_and_curious_.”

    Living healthy is a common thing today but very few actually do it. Since people are aware of it already, it is easier to decline than say 3-4 decades ago or more. Even more so if your reason is or are “faith/religious”, “vegetarian/vegan”, “doctor_said_so”.

    Lastly, if they really insist, make a stand. They can not shove their beliefs on you because you’re not shoving your beliefs to them. Then excuse yourself/family to avoid any unnecessary exchange that may go out-of-hand.

    Maybe it works here in the Philippines, but not in other countries. It will still largely depend on our type of culture and social “requirements” (which I find a joke, my family, my body, my rules, not society).

    :)

  4. I think the most important thing, whether vegetarian or choosing not to eat certain things, is that you don’t make it a preachy thing. When I was a vegetarian, I didn’t turn passing on meat into a diatribe on animal cruelty, and now, I think making other people feel bad when they are choosing to eat something is the same. A simple no thank you works well. If they press, “I’m a vegetarian” or “we’re watching our sugar intake” is much gentler, and still likely to provoke thought. There is a time and place for the more intense conversations, and if isn’t when someone is about to take a bite of a Twinkie. People get defensive.

  5. The problem is that one is offered unhealthy food all day long everywhere you go. So it isn’t ‘just this one time’, it’s all the time. And I don’t have children but I imagine it is even worse for them. I find that half the time people are offended when I decline no matter how gracious or polite I am. Recently I’ve been giving the excuse of severe acid reflux, that seems to work well and was also true. I’m just going to continue in that direction.

  6. I struggle with this when going to see a movie at the theatre. I “sneak in” our own healthier snacks like natural popcorn (Annie’s cheese popcorn for ex), and sparkling water. I’ve actually never seen a sign that says no outside food, but I feel like I’m breaking the rules some how. If anyone ever called me on this, I’d say I’d be happy to purchase similar options if they were offered! Otherwise, buzz off, I’m not eating your cr@p! …And I do sometimes let my child have a small portion of candy, not the jumbo mega box size they sell there!

  7. I have the hardest time with this. Our 4yo has juvenile arthritis & we tray her with diet. She cannot have dairy, eggs, or processed sugar, & all sugars have to be closely monitored/regulated to maintain balance. Now that she’s in remission, even family members who know what she went through, who saw her hurting, still try,”can’t she just have this cupcake, etc”…… It’s constant. Even at school, my kid is singled out on almost a weekly basis BC is done other kids birthday & mom brought cupcakes. i’m constantly either risking her health, or making her feel alien. But, the problem isn’t me. It’s others. I shouldn’t have to break down the fact that my daughter has a serious medical condition for you to be OK with how we choose to nourish her. Her great grandma is the worst. The woman is a shopaholic when it comes to food, I’ve given her lists of OK treats, & foods, yes every time we visit she offers nothing but processed, sugary, crap. IMO, THAT is rude. That puts me & my daughter who is only beginning to understand in a bad position. The point here is, even if there’s an actual medical condition, A) unless it’s visible, no one cares. & B) people don’t owe an explanation of such. Respect the choices of others. In the end, it rally doesn’t matter why. ~a mama that does have to police everything her kid eats

  8. Lisa I’m so happy you are starting this conversation! I have often felt like the underdog when I suggest a healthy treat over a sugary treat when it comes to my kids being at a friends house, a special event, even church and school. A LOT of parents do not understand that if we ALL collectively presented kids with more healthy choices, instead of just sugary junk, kids would love the fresh healthy treat! I’m afraid even though I constantly try to teach my kids to just say “no thank you” they still wish they had taken the junky treat! Lol It’s a constant battle but one I believe in so I will keep fighting the good fight!

  9. Be kind.
    I once saw a mom pry a lollipop out of her son’s desperate hands and berate him that he couldn’t have it in front of all the guest at a birthday party. Meanwhile, I decretely asked my son if I could save his for later and threw it in my purse. He forgot about it and I didn’t offend the nice lady who bought the lollipops for the kids. Honestly, the woman wrestling her kid was rude! You can teach your children to say “no thank you.”

  10. We do struggle with this. We have one or two parent friends who, no fail, every time, brings a treat for my child. We are still working off of candy given for Valentine’s Day! The thing is, the treats and occasions add up. We work really hard not to have “food treat” be equated with special occasion/reward/consolation and also work to teach moderation. Added to the challenge is worrying that if we don’t give our child the offered treat, the other parent will have some hurt feelings. It’s a struggle!

  11. “No, thank you – we have a family no-treat policy.” is my go-to response when lollipops are offered to my 4-year old and 5-year old as a reward at the end of their weekly swim lessons (at a private fitness club no less!) They understand. Parents need to start standing firm more often if we ever want to see our culture shifting toward a healthier mind-set.

  12. The director at the preschool my child used to attend liked to hand out M&M’s to children as they were leaving “if they had a good day” She asked me before offering it to my child if was ok to give it to her, and I politely said “no thank you”. To which she responded, “Oh, you’re one of those parents.”

    Why, yes. Yes I am.

    When this particular incident happened, my child was a very young toddler. I don’t mind if my child as a treat now and then, but there’s no reason she needs candy on a daily basis. I don’t feel it’s appropriate to link behavior to food as an external reward, and certainly not daily. If you must reward behavior externally, there are much healthier options.

    Is it rude to decline food when it is offered? No. Absolutely not. “No, thank you.” is a perfectly polite and acceptable response. No further explanation or justification is needed. How is it impolite to decline food you don’t like, don’t feel well after eating, or don’t want? I don’t get how any of this is impolite. What I eat or my children eat is no one’s business. As for venues that have little to no healthy food options, we either choose to eat there and balance our choices with healthy options later, or yeah, we bring our own food. When venues can offer truly healthy options (vs. faux healthy options), I will eat those. I have never had anyone complain that I brought my own food for me or my children.

    I’m pretty sure my kid can still “be a kid” while she’s eating a piece of fruit. And I’m also pretty sure that not eating that sugar and chemical laden piece of candy will not rob her of her childhood, and she will still somehow manage to be a kid. Funny how that works.

  13. Unless your child is going to a birthday party every day, I really don’t think this is that big of a problem. I mean it’s certainly not rude for a child to decline a snack that’s being offered at soccer practice or dance class, by offering a simple “No, thank you, I brought my own” or similar response, since that’s not really that unusual,especially if it’s something that they don’t care to eat, but it seems it’s starting to cross the line and be a little rude to bring in ALL your own birthday party food, to avoid the pizza from Dominoes, the bakery cake from Harris Teeter and the Ice cream from Turkey Hill, unless there is a real immediate consequence to eating the food, such as being diabetic, have celiac disease or some other severe allergy. Even in those cases guests will usually be able to eat some of the hosts offerings or at least, (hopefully ahead of time to give them a chance to be a gracious host and have a suitable offering) explain to the parent why without casting perceived judgement(intended or not) on to them of their choices as being reckless or unacceptable. Sports and other activities come with the generally acceptable idea that the kids’ parents provide for their own, other then some cut up oranges or a juice box, which many kids will refuse on their own anyways, where as a party is an event where you are a guest. Think about the activity, and then ask yourself if as an adult being invited in the same type of situation would you be carting along your own food. A vegetarian may refuse the meat portion of a dish, but will usually still consume some of the hosts food. Use manners, and common sense, and if you are that concerned then at minimum show up with a dish to share that you feel is acceptable and it really shouldn’t be that hard.

  14. One point I’d like to make is this: “let kids be kids” does not mean FILLING them with junk food. It means chill out and don’t police everything they eat. Depending where you’re at, being a vegetarian and refusing to eat what you are offered (including meat) is considered extremely rude. My vegetarian friend and I visited another country, if we were offered meat as a part of a meal she ate it. If we didn’t like something, we still ate it. The people offered us what they could or what they thought was best, so it would be insulting to refuse. It can be a cultural thing, but even still, if you are not allowing your kids to eat anything they are offered, even politely refusing can still be construed as you know better than the host and what they have isn’t good enough. Sometimes it is more polite to accept in moderation, than to out rightly deny it.

  15. Victoria Baker

    I think you can model a gracious balance between holding the line and going with the flow. It doesn’t have to be one answer all the time. I think it is healthy to model the acceptability of not prioritizing social approval over family values, health or dietary needs or to keep the balance in your day or week, when there have already been treats or there is a special occasion on the horizon, “Thank you for so much, but we are going to be having birthday cake tonight” or “That is so nice, but we are taking a break from ______ right now to see if it helps with ___________________________. You are politely declining the unhealthy, snack not ignoring the gesture or rejecting the person who is offering.

  16. When I was working at a summer camp I remember a girl crying her eyes out at lunch. Two girls at her table ridiculed her lunch and said her mommy must not love her very much if she lets her eat poison she has to eat food shelter food thats why poor people are fat. I would hopemy child would take the bag of chips and say thank you Ill save them for later rather than be superior and cruel to a child…. Then it hit me those kids learnedthat behaviour from somewhere and if you are making your eating habbits another notch of social status then you need help.

    1. Healthywifehappylife

      This is so so sad and my heart breaks for all the children involved, especially the little girl being ostracized. Without knowing the parents of the children acting meanly, I can see how it would be a natural assumption that those parents have taught their children the exact things they repeated or modeled the exact behavior that the children exhibited. (In this case, it seems there was an acute attitude of cruelty that is horrifying.) However, it’s also of value to note that children are children and are often very extreme in their interpretations. As a mom, I’ve explained things with moderation and compassion only to see my child mirror back a very black-and-white, seemingly judgmental perspective (not cruel but certainly insensitive.) They are kids and still figuring out how to categorize everything in their world. That’s what makes this issue so very tricky for parents.

  17. I totally agree with your husband! I used to let my kids have treats when we were out of the house as we eat very healthy at home and really, we weren’t out that much. But when I realized it was becoming a few times a week, I just put my foot down. It’s actually easier if my kids know the answer is just “no” and not “I wonder if we can talk mom into it.” They know not to ask, not to whine and we talk about this at home. It fits how we eat all the time and as they grow (now 7 and 9) they are getting it. We don’t have any food allergies here but the junk makes them feel crummy. I allow a treat at a birthday party but again, we’ve discussed it in advance. And seriously if there is a birthday party on the same day as another special event, my kids pick. They know they can’t have a treat at both. More conversation. This was really interesting for me because I don’t have a hard time saying no to people (it took a few decades). The hangup for me was my kids. I wanted to bless them and let them have the occasional treat. I didn’t want to be THAT mom. I found if I just let them have a cookie at church, at clubs and meetings, at friends’ houses, etc, it added up to “all the time!” So, now I am THAT mom. That’s ok.

  18. Just like in all things we do as parents, our job is to teach, not to control. I try to approach this issue from that standpoint. I teach them about healthy eating, I try to lead by example, and then I step back and let them make their choices. If you consistently offer your children healthy home cooked foods they do develop a taste for it. My kids are teens now and would much rather have something cooked at home than a fast food meal. I’m not gonna lie, they would probably still choose homemade french fries over a kale salad but they do have a real appreciation for good home cooked meals, and home baked treats made from real ingredients, To me that was the most important thing I could give them. Ultimately like it or not they will all be making their own food choices one day. Making some foods “forbidden” only makes them more attractive. Teach them that real food IS the good stuff, that it’s a pleasure, not a punishment.

  19. Yeah, I wouldn’t want my kids to worry about what they eat outside the house. The only exception I would make is if we were eating out more than once or twice a week. There are some situations (like during a move or if parents are especially busy with a special event) when you just don’t have time to cook, and that’s when you need to make good choices with your outside food. I know this, and I’d want my kids to know it, too.

  20. My boyfriend’s family eats a lot of processed food. I was raised with a big garden and homemade whole food but as an adult struggle with obesity and craving all the junk. Visiting his parents is hard because I am seen as a snob for not wanting to eat what they do or for bringing my own healthy snacks, but no one would consider an alcoholic a snob for turning down a drink, for not going into a bar (i.e. the parents junk and temptation filled house). In fact, it would be considered rude to even offer. No one seems to take it seriously when food is turned down, people rarely take no for an answer the first time. It makes me sad and is discouraging when trying to make healthy food choices is considered stuck up. To me, it feels like I’m being offered poison and I’m expected to not only drink up but also be thankful for it.

  21. There’s definitely value in teaching your kids to politely decline. And honestly there are times when you may decline for other reasons as a child or an adult and it’s good practice – maybe they’re not hungry, just don’t like the food, or are watching their health. No one should be bullied into eating a certain way. What you feed your body is your own choice and you don’t need to defend it to anyone. Personally I let my kids eat junk food when we’re out, I figure it’s 80/20 but I’m realizing there are more and more opportunities to eat junk and I think it’s good to say no sometimes. The exception would be if we are dinner guests, then i think it’s polite to at least taste the food they provide.

  22. It is so tough because kids are constantly offered or given crappy foods. My son plays hockey, and we have monthy weekend tournaments. During those tournaments he plays 4 games, after each game someone (usually a parent) brings gatorade and a treat (donuts, cookie cake, cookies, cupcakes, ect) and hands them out. Occasionally there is popcorn handed out and even then its usually flavored or colored with a flavoring type thing. I guess I am really lucky because my son always takes whatever is given and asks me if he can have it (eat it, drink it..). Even at home, even if its a string cheese or baby carrots..he is 10, I don’t know why he feels he has to ask about every little thing but he does. I would love to see healthy snacks handed out, and think I will do this at our next tournament. Sometimes having and offering a healthy alternative instead of just saying no will also help move the trend.

  23. I liked the analogy to the vegetarian diet. I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life, so I’ve been through many awkward meals and social situations involving food. I’d say the best thing is to be consistent. If you eat junk food occasionally at social events, then people aren’t going to take you seriously. I’ve been a vegetarian so long that my friends and family will always accommodate without question. At other social events where I don’t want to have to explain myself, then I will bring something if that’s an option or eat before I get there. I would say the most uncomfortable is a sit down dinner at someone’s house when I don’t want to go through the interrogation of why I’m a vegetarian. I’ve noticed that most of the time people don’t really pay attention to what others eat, I’ve also resorted to lying and saying I don’t feel well. I’m not saying this is a good approach, but as someone that hates confrontation, it has worked. As I side note, I find it really annoying that no one ever asks others why they eat meat. I don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t really know what to do in that situation. I do think being a vegetarian is a personal choice, so as a person with no experience with kids, I would like to think that I would leave it up to my kids to make their own choices about what to eat and what not to eat and not force my eating beliefs on them.

  24. I have not had children at home since I started eliminating processed foods from my diet. For myself, my rule is there is little or no processed food in my house. But when I am in public, I enjoy whatever is offered if I want. This evening I had a meeting at a pizza place and I enjoyed several pieces of pizza, including a slice of dessert pizza. (Have to admit I didn’t enjoy that dessert slice very much and should have passed!) Since I eat 90% of my meals at home, I find that relaxing the rules when away from home is no big deal. I think if I had children at home, I would approach it in a similar fashion. I realize that today, there are just so many places where too much of the wrong foods are served. But if you consider that you can manage breakfast, packed lunches, and evening meals, that is the majority of food the child eats, so it seems like that would result in the majority of that a child eats is good.

  25. Wow…this topic gets my blood pumping. As a mom of 6, I am shocked by how much junk my kids are offered everywhere we go. I actually live in France (we’re just here for a year) and did not realize what a problem this is until we moved back this year (my husband and I are both Americans and spent most of our lives in the US). One of my children tends to gain weight while the others are pretty thin. This child now has an obesity problem because she has accepted all the junk she has been offered while I am not around (at church, in clubs, parties, etc.). While I welcome the opportunity to help her learn self-control even when no one is watching, I am shocked that so many adults think this is just ‘part of childhood.’ I used to just ‘go with the flow’ before we moved, but now I can clearly see that our culture as a whole has a very unhealthy relationship with food. I am starting to become ‘that mom’ who actually puts her foot down over all the junk that my kids are offered. I do it politely, but I stand firm. Our children’s future health is at stake. They are potentially going to be the first generation to actually have a life expectancy shorter than their parents. Healthy food is good and good for us, not a punishment. If more of us voice our opinions about it, maybe it will start to become a normal thing in our society.

  26. I have a 7 year old with an egg allergy, an 8 year old with a red 40 sensitivity and twin 8 year old nephews with nut allergies . We are all perfectly comfortable saying no politely to a variety of food items.

  27. disclaimer: I am not a parent. And I concede that the struggle is real for parents who desire their children to eat more nutritious stuff.
    I see [the majority of] my friends, family and acquaintances feed their children diets that make me shiver: FULL of sugar, processed to the point of plastic, and wishing they’d see they are only leading their children down the path of sharing weight and health issues they are themselves experiencing. When I invite these same people over to my house for dinner, many of them are none too shy about asking whether I’m serving “regular” food, or that “healthy” stuff, so they can either feed their children in advance or bring their children the food they are used to. I have been assured by many [adult] people that I’m an excellent cook (and probably should have considered a career in the culinary arts). I do emphasize vegetables, fruits, low sugar, and, in moderation, animal protein. Dessert almost always involves fresh fruit, baked, compoted, poached, with a decadent sauce or with a whole grain component. When I go to their homes, I load up on salad and veggies, and they know in advance (because they know me), I won’t eat a slab of meat, and they shouldn’t take offense. That’s polite. I don’t bring my own baggie. If I don’t have enough to eat, I’ll go home and make a snack. Back to the children . . . if they are under 3, I think it’s OK to bring a packed meal. Above that age, children need to be taught to choose from what’s being served, and Mom and Dad will cover the gap later. As far as parties, well they are parties. A small piece of this or that at the party won’t kill any one. Actually, based on my observations of two families who are “food conscious” and have let their children know at a young age that they choose to eat this way, their children will almost naturally limit their sweet intakes. They don’t feel deprived. It’s a matter of developing their taste buds. Sure, when they go to G&Gs, they will have some some sweet rolls out of a tube and some ice cream (i.e., frozen dairy product), but they don’t come home demanding the same. It’s the 80/20 or 90/10 rule. Go with that.

  28. Since having my daughter I’ve really learned how much food is associated with expressing love for many people. my in-laws, who are wonderful people and loving grandparents, are obsessed with pleasing my daughter with food. I have repeatedly (politely) asked them to reign it in on things like pepperoni and sugar cereals, and on allowing her to eat multipe helpings at meals (as in more food than her dad eats in one sitting). they pretty much ignored me until I was more firm about it, and my father-in-law’s response was, “If my granddaughter likes (insert junk food), I’m going to give it to her.” I blurted out “Not if you expect to spend time with her.” They were better for a while but it’s becoming an issue again. In general, we actually try to go with the flow for the most part, but since my daughter has food allergies, we can usually get off the hook. it’s one thing if it’s every once in a blue moon, but when it’s family or friends we see often, I am less lenient.

  29. I always struggle with this too. I make almost all of our food homemade, but in the neighborhood I live in, none of the parents seem to care about nutrition. My son has one friend who is literally allowed to wake up and have a pop for breakfast, and another friend who basically lives off of the convenience store down the street. He will be playing outside and another parent will just give him a sunny D or pack of oreos. It is literally a constant battle. I try to be fair. I let him eat school lunch on fridays (pizza) and tell him I will look away on that day only, but I will not go out of my way to buy junk food. I’ve even talked to the other parents about it. I usually just let him have a treat when offered. It’s always situational. My son is 10 and will strongly voice his want for the snack. My daughter however, is only 2. She has only ever had real food and I can easily say something like, “no, she may choke on that.” But sometimes the junk wins. I don’t want to spend my life stressing over food, but I also know too much to just let it slide. Maybe I should move to FRANCE! Geez! lol

  30. As I hosted guests in my home this week, I found out how it feels to plan healthy meals and offer them, then find out that one of the (adult) guests is not happy with some part of the meal. But he was polite about it. I still felt bad. Now I realize that his not eating certain things was his choice, and not something I should feel guilty about. People may not understand when I say “No, thank you,” when they offer food to my children, and they may even feel bad, but if we can all realize that rejecting a food does not equal rejecting a person, maybe we would all be more tolerant of others’ food choices.

  31. There is a big difference between politely declining an unwanted snack or treat and showing up at a party with your own, healthier versions of what is being served. Would an adult who is a vegetarian show up at a wedding reception with his own lunch box full of food? I don’t think so, even though he might leave the meat on his plate. It’s fine and polite to say, “No, thank you,” when offered something you prefer not to eat or feed your children, but bringing your own food, for your child only, to a party is guaranteed to make the hosting family feel that the food they paid for and prepared is not good enough, and making your host feel badly is the epitome of bad manners.

  32. Hi – any advice on how to get my children’s school on board with the Food-Less Birthday celebrations? I am meeting with the Headmaster later this month to give my alternative suggestions but I know it’s going to be a HUGE up hill battle. Lots of moms look at me like I’m a deer in the headlights; why am I the minority here?
    Thanks!

  33. There are certain situations.. My cousin offered my son a Capri Sun which her son just sucked down half a box of. I politely declined and handed my son his fancy water bottle we brought with us. He was happy with that.
    I don’t want to be rude but I would NEVER give that to my child. Of course I didn’t say that bc I dont wat to hurt there feelings.. How do you tell people your opinion without making the, feel like your judging them?
    We still have a ways to go in advoiding the ALL additives and processed items but for the most part all organic and unprocessed.

  34. I like the French way. When did become ok to offer other people’s children ANY kind of food without checking with the parents???!!!

  35. i was already trying to fend off “gifts” of artificial foods when my two daughters and I were diagnosed with food sensitivities to wheat and dairy. Boy! What a blessing in disguise! It made it so much easier to just say, “thank you, but we cannot eat that” when someone offered my girls a cookie or cupcake. We have an easier go of things because we homeschool and can control our diet pretty easily, but getting together with family can still be tricky. My Dad feels like I am depriving my kids of sugar and insists that the (albeit gluten-free) cookies he bought them should be on the okay list despite containing terrible ingredients!

    The bottom line for me, though, is this: is it worth it to stand up for what you believe in? If yes, then be polite and speak up! Your children are watching how you handle these situations and one day they will have to do the same. My daughters are already educating their friends on artificial dyes and GMOs, and they are only 7 and 9! This makes me proud!

  36. My first reaction was to say a small amount of cheating wont hurt anyone. Then, I thought of my raising as a southern girl and how the definition of politeness has crossed over into so many decisions in my life. Maybe it is ok to teach our children, and ourselves, that saying no thank you in a polite way is ok.

  37. I’m on board with you, completely! Some of the comments amaze me, too. I think the biggest issue is what people actually identify as “food”. Processed, GMO laden, sugar filled, dye & chemical filled products are not food. They are
    products. Food comes from the earth & from animals. When the nutritional benefit of a product is null and void because of all the chemicals, dyes, additives, etc… it is no longer food. I have ulcerative colitis & celiac…probably due to the food I ate growing up…fast food & box meals. Now, whether I like it or not, I can’t accept “food” from friends & family. Nor do I want to. My son is 2…I can’t possibly give him products that aren’t healthy! why in the world would I do that to the most precious thing in my life?! He is at my mercy, for the most part. It is up to me to protect him & give him the best I can so he can live a healthy, long, happy life. As a biochemist, knowing what I know about many of the chemicals added to processed foods, they just are no longer palatable. So, it feels GREAT I can purchase the best, healthiest foods for the people I love more than anything in the world! I feel fabulous saying no thank you, as politely as my southern roots allow me. ;-)

  38. This is a challenging dilemma on many scales. Even in my household, I prefer to promote healthy values when it comes to nutrition as a foundation for my kids (3 year old twins) and my husband is a snacker who gets joy from giving our kids snack foods because it makes them smile. So each day he comes home from work and gives them a piece or a few pieces of whatever he is snacking on even if it’s between the kids’ snack and dinner. I am trying to change the household approach and have healthier snacks for everyone but it’s hard for my husband to completely change his eating habits.

    Having said that, most of the time I am providing the food so the kids eat reasonably well. We also try to teach them about foods that make them feel good or that are “good for their tummy” so they know those are the foods to eat most often and the other items are occasional. I try not to use the term “treat” for junk foods because that makes them more special and gives them even more attention. A treat is going out to a special place or getting to visit relatives when we travel rather than unhealthy food choices.

    It’s challenging going to places that consider “kid food” to be something that is an unhealthy choice so we bring our own snacks everywhere we go. We also keep kosher so we must bring our own snacks and if a place prefers that you don’t bring in outside food we determine if they have something we can eat (whole fruits/veggies or a packaged kosher food that is not horrible for you) or explain our dietary needs and it’s usually not an issue to bring something in. I imagine that given the world’s awareness of dietary issues it has become a bit easier to do that and not necessarily “breaking the rules”.

    My husband feels that if we deprive our kids of “junk food” it will only make them want it more and that they should be allowed to have some. I am okay with that but my definition of moderation is different than his. It should be much more occasional. Ultimately, I need to work with what I have and try to keep my kids eating healthy, good foods the majority of time and teach them about good choices and help them to be active.

  39. What a hot topic for me! We made the decision to limit the processed food my children eat here at home (little to none) but it is so hard when we socialize. I am floored by the comment from someone that her children are never offered food outside the house. Where do you live and can I move there???? It is a constant struggle to not have the kids feel left out everywhere we go. Literally my son had to endure going to his religious education class every week where the teacher (another parent) brought candy, cupcakes, doughnuts, etc every single week. He’s on a grain-free diet right now (GAPS) to address his severe food allergies and digestive issues. It was torture for him. He is 12 and not into bringing his own snacks at this point because it draws too much attention to himself (or so he feels). I found out that the secretary at my daughter’s daycare was giving her Skittles (the worst thing on the planet between the HFCS, food coloring, chemicals, etc.) My daughter cries when she can’t have the snacks at a party or get-together and wants nothing to do w/homemade snacks I bring. I usually let her have something and try to limit how much of the bad stuff she eats.

  40. In the past, I was so torn on this subject. I didn’t want to be mean and always say no to treats. But recently my daughter has a yeast problem that is not going away as quick as I’d expected. So, as a family, we are all saying no to extra treats. We’ve also cut down on added sugars and carbs. Thinking about the candy she gets as rewards at school and church, makes me cringe, thinking that it’s a setback to the yeast being healed. From now on, we will be saying no to offered treats/candy, and limiting birthday cake/cookies, etc. to one small piece. I’m their mom and it’s my job to make the best decisions for my family and I take that seriously.

  41. Who is offering your children junk food? I have 3 kids and no one is offering them junk food on a regular basis.Like they got a candy cane from the mall Santa, but thats once a year and I brought them there. No one has ever brought candy to a play date or sport event. Play dates fruit is offered maybe not organic but fruit, I let my kids eat it. Once and a while there is a store bought apple sauce that is unsweetened I let my kids eat that too. At there sports the coach brings stamps and stickers as treats.
    At school they have asked that parents pack healthy food only and that other snacks will be taken away, so school has never been a problem. I guess I have never faced this problem and I am really shocked to find out its a problem at all. They only person who gives my kids Junk food is me and I don’t give it very often if I give it at all.

  42. I have to really disagree with the idea that bringing food to a public place, like an amusement park is in any way wrong! Most of those types of places do not even prohibit people from bringing in food. And for those that do, it is as simple as eating ahead of time/after or packing a cooler and coming out to your car for a break.

    It comes down to choice, and all these little choices together add up to either a healthy lifestyle or an unhealthy lifestyle. My family started out doing this to be financially healthy, but now it is a decision made for physical health as well.

    We struggle with the junk food offers as well, but I don’t struggle in any way about the decision not to buy and serve overpriced garbage to my kids whenever it is within my control!

  43. My feeling is that I cannot fix everything, but I also cannot complain if I don’t at least try to help. My solution has been to join the parent council at school and the planning committee for our church group. At school I have created a school fruit/veggie bowl which is available to everyone. The goal was to give children a healthy choice if they are hungry and to normalize healthy eating. As a council we also asked that teachers stop using food as a reward and to choose healthier foods for our hot lunch days (there is no lunch program at our school, but once a month food is brought in). At church I volunteer to coordinate the snack and bring fruits and veggies. It is not perfect and the kids are still offered sweets too often, but at least it’s something. And there are always grateful parents saying thank-you. It’s more work for me too, but it’s something that I value and so it’s worth it.

  44. I also think the age of the child matters. I have a 2 yo and I’m surprised at the junk people feed children this age. They even ask at the drs office if we limit fried food, soda and candy. I have not introduced these foods to my lo. For her birthday she tried a bite of her cake and didn’t like it. I think it was all the sugar. I know there will probably be a day she will like the occasional piece of cake but why rush kids into it. With kids I think it is fine when they are young to say no thank you to junk.

  45. I think that saying no all the time or labeling certain foods as “bad” does more harm than good. In general my family knows me well enough not to offer my daughter junk food but if she is curious I just ask her if she wants to taste it. Most of the time she doesn’t even want to. Sometimes, if something is really off limits (like soda), I just say that it isn’t for little kids (she is almost 4).

    My daughter being young I haven’t had too much of an issue yet with her, plus most of my family is pretty conscience of food as is her daycare provider who provides absolutely beautiful meals for her kids and makes a rare treat for them with natural sweeteners. However, I don’t want her to have to obsess over food either. I think my job is to lay the foundation and then trust her to make informed choices. For example, I tell her that certain food isn’t something we eat all the time because it can make us not feel good. But eating our proper food helps grow, learn, think, etc.

  46. I struggle with this!! My circle of friends has dramatically increased recently due to my children’s school but this has presented a multitude of problems. When I talk to people about our way of life/children’s allergies they all state, ” yes we follow the same rules, minimally to no processed food, no food dyes, locally raised…” and so on but then when we get to a dinner event with the group all the that is offered is store bought, processed, bag mixes and food dye heavy choices and there I stand with my homemade food that everyone looks at strangely. Now my husband wants me to always bring over a full meal so that we can stay on task, but this too draws attention. I try to be polite and take some.

    However in public places that like to offer candy or a treat I always just say they have maxed out on their treats for the day ad that it was such a wonderful offer.

  47. I agree – it’s tough to take one side. I think each situation is different and as parents we just have to remember we are doing the absolute best we can! My daughter gets a treat or processed snack at dance, church, and sometimes school (all weekly). I let her eat it – and a lot of time she won’t finish it or even want it. She doesn’t get those things at my house and for her and her personality it needs to be her decision. If I force her to say no – that will backfire on me. I don’t want a kid who sneaks “food” because of me. Instead I’ve tried to teach her (I started at the age of 2 – she’s very logical) how she feels after she eats something. One time there were cookies at a grandparents house for a party and she had 2. She asked for another and I told her it’s her decision but too much sugar will probably make you feel yucky and your tummy may hurt. She choose to eat 2 more. Guess what…?! 30 minutes later she came to me and said “Mom, you were right I shouldn’t have eaten anymore cookies. My tummy hurts and I feel gross.” She’s now 4 and still remembers that incidence. We have talks about how the difference between processed food (we call it pretend food)and real food and when eating “pretend food” we only should eat a little. She usually says no to pretend food since she remembers that feeling of “feeling gross”. Every kid is different and every situation is different. So I don’t think there’s one right answer to handle every situation. There’s no reason to criticize anyone for what they do and there’s definitely no reason to criticize yourself for how you do things. We truly are all doing the best we can and kudos to you parents who are aware of your kids health and eating lifestyle – no matter where you are on the spectrum!! :)

  48. We have just made this change in our family. We have always tried to stay away from processed foods, but I have a serious sweet tooth and have a hard time avoiding sweets. We have always been careful around our daughter and monitored her intake of sweets. She loves sweets. And as you point out she is offered sweets on a daily basis, not from us, but from school, friends etc. It’s ridiculously! In Sweden, where I’m from, most preschools and schools have a no sweets policy because they feel that it should be up to the parents to decide when and where children get sweets. Maybe the family has a policy to eat a treat together a week, but maybe one week the kids have celebrated 2 classmates with cake or ice cream…or maybe another family don’t serve their kids sweets at all.

    Now, when we have taken the 100 days pledge our daughter is not allowed to eat cupcakes or candy at school or anywhere. It’s hard for 7 year olds to say no when everyone else eats. I have promised her that if she tells me they’ve had a party at school and she said no to treats I will give her a healthy substitute for lunch or snack the next day. Like fruit salad with some whipped cream, some popcorm or smth like that. I don’t know if that’s bribing or bad, but it makes it easier for her to say no To junk. She likes fruits and healthy treats, so that’s no problem.

  49. It is a frustrating issue, and I agree that it’s not just the occasional treat. My daughter is in church programs 3-4x/week, so that means junk 3-4x/week.

    One thing I find that helps a little bit is to ask for a small piece or half a piece of dessert for my daughter, or just one candy or cookie. Then she is getting a little but still both she and the person offering get the message that treats are to be restricted, because they are just that, treats. And then it cuts her junk intake in half.

  50. For me personally, it’s entirely situational. We generally stay far away from processed foods and especially sweet treats. However, I will say yes in instances like birthday parties, weddings, retirement celebrations etc. In my mind, to attend such an event and then tell my daughter “no, you can’t have any cake” while everyone around her is enjoying this treat… just seems brutally unfair. Also, from a cultural standpoint, I was raised that to refuse someone’s offer and gift of food at such a celebration is a grave insult. For these reasons, I politely request a small piece for us and join in the festivities. Honestly, I have lost my taste for processed bakery made cake, and the tiny square reminds me that I am so NOT missing out on anything. hahaha My daughter still enjoys it, but she has begun to tell me how much better the healthy treats I make taste. It makes me happy she recognizes this!

    I’ll also say yes when visiting our elderly family/Church members. It’s usually only 1 piece of hard candy, and it’s all they have to show their appreciation and gratitude for our company. In instances like these, I feel the fellowship and levity of spirit that can be gained by sharing a sweet treat together is perfectly acceptable for my family. It’s not something that occurs often, and if I’m truly worried about it (when visiting family) I just whip up some homemade pudding or real food treats to share with them instead. However, parties will always be on the “yes” list for me, but that’s a cultural thing.

  51. I agree it is hard to monitor kids snacks that are offered outside of the home. I bring snacks for my grandkids after school and started out with the usual cookies and milk. Now I bring them apple slices, cheese, carrots, broccoli (all things they like) V-8 and milk. Not perfect but a whole lot better.
    While I’m on the subject, I would really like to support the Girl Scouts but feel bad when I have to explain to a young girl that what they are selling is not healthy. You would think that an organization which supposedly teaches girls to live a healthy and purposeful life could find something else to sell. Nuff said.

    1. When it comes to Girl Scouts we do buy some cookies but often I just give a dollar or two to the troop. That way the kids get some money to do fun things and i don’t end up with cookies. Doesn’t solve the problem but it works for us.

  52. While I believe we should all eat real food and be really concerned with America’s food supply and I try to improve my eating habits daily, I also know and remind myself daily that all the healthy people and all the unhealthy people both die and have diseases.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. I turn down candy for my child all the time. I say he doesn’t need it. Most people smile and nod because they have had their children running around at full speed before too. I have not had any backlash from it.

  57. Well, at work on a daily basis, I have to say no to donuts, pizza, and all sorts of stuff. You have to be really strong in your commitment to override the constant nagging to have just one. I don’t even have a desire to eat the stuff but people will drive you crazy. I just say “no thanks” and move on. Yes, it’s always not just one. People come up with an excuse for treats daily. I definitely try to educate my kids about the right things to eat . As they get older, you can’t be at their side all the time. They need to know how to make the right choices for themselves.

  58. I think everyone should stand firm in their personal choices that are best ( morally, physically, or emotionally) regardless of the audience…. The ones who are offended are either jealous in what you have willpower to do, or mad because they think you feel superior to them and their food choices. It is like everything… Those “muscles” get stronger as we exercise our right to choose for ourselves. What a wonderful thing to teach young children!!! Regarding food, or any other personal choices we make for ourselves….
    It will get easier! Keep strong!

  59. It all depends, like everything. Sometimes I have no problem (easier when it’s strangers than friends) but it amazes me how difficult some people make it to say no. People have a really hard time accepting it. Especially if it’s included…like when you turn down the “free” juice or chips. I’ve had to almost get not so polite just to convince them I really don’t want it. If I know it’s coming (lollipops at the haircut place), I can let the kids know ahead of time not to ask. But there are often surprises like the kid that brought extra snacks to the playground just in case (I had never met the kid and still hadn’t when he was trying to hand my 3 year old some chewy snacks). Anyway, I still don’t have an answer but do have some practice since I am vegetarian. I must say it’s somewhat easier but I run into similar issues being vegetarian. People always have to explain to me why they eat meat and how they could never give it up. I don’t really care as long as I don’t have to eat it. Same goes for the other types of food. I won’t force my kale chips on you if you don’t force your food on me.

  60. I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on the “French” book. I read that book just before my daughter began to eat solids and I now have a 3 year old foodie.

  61. I don’t have kids, but this used to happen to me on a daily basis at my old workplace. My boss and co-workers were infamous for bringing in donuts, cakes, cupcakes, popsicles, candy, etc. in for everyone to share. They didn’t understand why I never wanted to partake, even after explaining that I am trying to be healthier and I limit my intake of processed foods. And then I got teased for not eating junk food. My boss, who had noticed I never ate the junk food, pulled me aside one day to say she’d noticed and to inquire if there was anything she could get at the store next time that I would eat, too. Which was super nice of her. What was not nice was my co-worker standing next to us snottily saying all I ate was fruits and vegetables. As if it’s weird to eat fruits and vegetables. My boss ended up bringing in some Lindt 75% dark chocolate, which I did eat. It’s just weird that junk food has become such a culture in our society that NOT eating it means you’re weird.

    I feel comfortable declining junk food and foods that don’t fit my “real food” rules. The only time I don’t decline is when I visit my family. One, because this is usually only a day or two at a time. Two, my family usually goes out of their way to get some things they know I’ll eat, like specific fruits/veggies and even wheat bread. Three, my grandfather loves to cook and feed his family but does not have any idea about nutrition other than that it shouldn’t be fried. So, I don’t stress if one meal of the day contains boil-in-a-bag pot roast and white rolls from the grocery store. I also try to make the other meals I eat away from my family during the visit more nutritious and more in line with my food rules. I occasionally will bring my own food, especially breakfast items. I’m a yogurt and fruit kinda girl; my family is breakfast cereal all the way. Other than that, I don’t stress and just have a good time.