Being a good guest while eating healthier

>> Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another oldie but goodie that seems appropriate this time of year.  How do you handle holiday parties and dinners with friends when you've made a personal commitment to eat healthier?   Here's my take on this dilemma!

I'm going off on a little bit of a tangent here today. I read a quote in a magazine recently that set my mind to wandering and my fingers to typing.

What do you do when you've taken on a healthier diet - say, given up HFCS and trans fat - and are eating food at someone's house? Maybe you're at a playdate and a friend is serving your child bright blue yogurt or maybe a sugary punch drink that you know is filled with HFCS. Do you call them on it? Do you tell them that you don't eat foods like that?

I saw this quote from Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food and Omnivore's Dilemma, in Reader's Digest last week. He says:

I really care where my food comes from, but I also care about being a good guest. So I eat whatever is put in front of me and don't make special requests.
I completely agree with Mr. Pollan. I know that not everyone is on the same food journey that we're on. Some people are not at all concerned about the ingredients in their food, some people are on a very different sort of journey than we're on, and some people are way ahead of us in the foods they eat.

I have had mothers snub snacks that I've served at playdates in the past, and I found it incredibly rude. (I'll note that no food allergies were involved. Food allergies or intolerances completely change the picture.) You can serve me shrimp floating in a pool of HFCS and topped with globs of trans fat, and if it is my only choice that you're serving me as a host, I'll eat it with a smile on my face (or else take a cue from my father and declare that I ate a big lunch and am just not hungry). I'm happy to talk about what we're doing with our diet if it comes up organically, but I'm not going to belittle your way of eating. That just isn't polite and isn't what a good guest should do.

I do think that we should fight for the food that our kids eat. We should fight for better school lunches. We should make it known with our pocketbooks and e-mails and blogs that we won't tolerate trans fat or HFCS or whatever else gives you the heebie-jeebies in our food - especially when that food is marketed to children. We should lead by example and eat a good, healthy diet so that our children have something to model. But we should also remember to be gracious to our hosts.

What do you think? Do you challenge your host if they serve you something that doesn't fit a healthier diet? Or do you eat it what you're given without comment?


Blake December 2, 2009 at 8:09 AM  

I remember reading this before and i don't remember if I made a comment or not... but anyway, I still agree with this. Some people aren't on the same journey as we might be, like you said. Thanks cathy... helpful especially this time of year!

'Drea December 2, 2009 at 12:01 PM  

Don't know why but I found bright blue yogurt (LOL) funny.

I'm trying to lose weight and I just can't afford to eat everything that I'm offered like biscuits, cornbread and fried foods.

I feel that if I'm constantly making exceptions, it will catch up with me.

I did concede once. My aunt, in deference to my *diet,* offered me some baked fish. As I was eating it, I found out that she baked it in butter and mayo.

Brownie point for me for finishing the fish...

Also, I tend to travel with food if I know that I'm going to be out and about for awhile. Special, I know.

The Happy Runner December 2, 2009 at 12:15 PM  

I really agree. Pollan's comment struck me when I read it, too. I think it is important to find a balance between being gracious and sticking to your plan. At my MIL's for Thanksgiving, I didn't eat every piece of pie she (repeatedly) offered. But, I did sample desserts that night.

cathy December 2, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

'Drea and Happy Runner - I think that there is definitely a difference between politely declining and declining with disgust or a lecture on how terrible the food is. In my mind, if I can politely decline something that isn't palatable to me (for whatever reason), then I do. But sometimes that just doesn't seem possible, and when it's not, I am a PRO at eating with a smile on my face! :-)

Cindy Rowland December 2, 2009 at 4:26 PM  

I was holding my breath as I started to read the post terrified that you were going to go into the reasons to refuse food offered to you in other people's homes. The horror! I unthinkingly accept what is offered. I didn't have to cook it and it's just a drop in the bucket. I let my kids eat hot dogs when we go out to eat too. So there! ;)

Evelyn December 2, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

While I totally agree with this notion and have certainly eaten many things I would have never prepared in my own home for the sake of being a guest in someone else's home, where I find a tricky line is (especially with kids) how to handle eating at family's homes, especially when it may be family that you see often enough to have had the discussion already. I cringe when my family asks can Maddi have some...fill in the blank. While I would even be ok with serving my daughter ice cream that had high-fructose corn syrup in it (although certainly not ideal), I end up finding out later that it was suger free!!!! Even worse! I mean, come on, when you're splurging on ice cream it HAS to have sugar in it people! And of course they feel like they are being so virtuous. Don't know exactly how this fits in but I personally find it a harder situation especially because it would be easier viewed by the child as normal instead of treat like eating goldfish at a playdate.

Jessica December 2, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

Funny thing is I might eat it, but my kids would totally call me on it. They tell people they are trying to eat healthier and say no thank you. I think its not PC yet to say no to horrible food. But the time will come when it will be ok. Like smoking.

But we don't really go over to anyones house. I like to cook so we have people over a lot. But by saying no thank you in a very nice way to play date snacks and bringing our own (or doing their own snacks for school) we have changed the school. The teachers are buying "better" stuff and more fruit and veggies. And without even asking a mom brought an alternitive treat for my daughter when she brought treats for the class. I just think that in my personal life I have to say no, and that it is ok. But I am also ok with being weird.

Super Healthy Kids December 3, 2009 at 6:31 AM  

One thing I'm proud of, is that my kids get really really excited when their grandma offers them something as simple as fruit snacks! You would think they were getting a $20 slice of cheesecake. I love that I don't buy junk food, so grandma feels like Santa clause everytime she pulls out the forbidden fruit snacks and see's the smiles light up on my kids faces. Of course I let them eat the treat! They both leave feeling happy.

Jude December 3, 2009 at 11:54 AM  

My brother and I are both vegetarians. He said to me once, "I'm not one of those *obnoxious* vegetarians who won't eat meat when they visit friend's houses." I replied, "*I* am." If you're a vegetarian because you hate everything about meat, including the taste, then why in the world should you feel compelled to eat something just to be polite? How do I deal with it? I never eat at other people's houses. If they're offering free food at work, I bring my own food. I have no interest in eating what people serve just to make *them* happy.

Lori December 10, 2009 at 12:35 PM  

Glad you brought this back up again. It has become even harder since our move back to the US and our changes in eating. I don't think I'd ever get to the point of making a fuss or refusing to eat something like a main course. However, I would skip a side dish or a dessert politely.

The only time I've done this is at my in-laws house, which we talked about before, maybe a little different for some. For me it is about the same as eating at a friends house. Usually I just say I'm too full for dessert if I know it has been made with lots of low/no fat, sugar free, fake stuff.

If it is just a processed food that I may not have in my own house, it is no big deal. However if it is something like aspartame which makes me physically ill (headache) I'm more likely to not eat it. Again, I don't make a fuss though and try not to draw attention.

Greg December 13, 2009 at 12:39 PM  

While I don't scrutinize whether something someone made has an animal product in it, I will happily turn down a dish that's obviously drenched in butter, even if its brussels sprouts.

I never go to a food event without knowing there will be something there I will eat. I'm always happy to bring extra food with me, and as a vegan blogger, all of my friends and family know how I eat. If anything, my eating a fish covered in mayo and butter would simply confuse them and make them uncomfortable.

Micheal's comment is a cop out. He's more concerned with what people think of him than he is about eating healthy. There have been times where I'm disappointed at a meal, but I don't eat the S.A.D. diet, and no one in my life expects me to.

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