food kid

While on vacation with a friend who doesn’t exactly share the same views about food as I do, we got into a disagreement about chicken nuggets. We were food shopping for the week and my typical frozen free-range chicken nugget brand wasn’t available. Among the rows and rows and bags and bags of chicken nuggets, there was one organic/natural brand. It was very expensive and when I showed it to my friend, she scoffed at the price. She wasn’t paying that much money for nuggets. No, sir.

I studied the lengthy ingredient list on the less-expensive bag, which was filled with your typical sodium-laden markings, but then fixated on the italicized mention on the front side of the package that read: Made with 98 percent chicken meat.

“What is the other two percent?” I asked.

She didn’t know.

I have a few friends who, while well meaning and with good intentions, are on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to healthy choices for themselves and their children. 

So how do you deal with friends or family who don’t get why it’s important to feed your kids healthy food?

1. Avoid being preachy.

Because I don’t want to be the kind of friend who preaches to people about food choices—you know, that friend—I typically wait until someone asks me about a healthy choice. If they really want to know about why I buy my meat at Whole Foods, I’ll steer them into the direction of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Or Ellen’s new vegan website.  Let them do their own research.

2. Politely say no.

Okay, I’m going to admit something so please try not to judge me. I take my kids to McDonald’s once a year. I think it’s good for kids to have a small, controlled dose of junk food so that they’re not insanely curious about it and end up bingeing on it outside the house.

So I give my son full disclosure about what he’s eating. Fries incapable of biodegrading (check out Supersize Me for proof). Chicken that’s not really chicken. And toys to lure in children. “But it tastes so good, Mom!” my 7-year-old says.

On our annual visit this year, we invited my neighbor’s daughter along. The girl’s mother declined. “I can’t let her eat that stuff,” my neighbor told me. And I agreed—how could I not? I was my own hypocritical enemy, but I absolutely understood her stance on it. You can do the same when it comes to the outside world—without feeling bad about it.

3. Bring your own food.

I’ve been bringing my own food to places for years—before I even had kids! My brother used to call me a walking picnic. My family teased me constantly. But in the end, I didn’t sacrifice my own healthy food choices. Of course, you take the chance of insulting your guest; no one wants to hear that your food is better. So soften it. If they ask, say something along the lines of: We make different choices about our food and that’s fine. This kind of food makes me happy. Maybe you’ll even get their kid to try Cheddar Bunnies for the first time. And maybe their kid will love it.

4. Don’t be judgmental.

I became a vegetarian at an early age. People forever asked me if their meat was “bothering” me. “Bothering me?” I’d say. “It’s your food!” As long as their meat didn’t touch my fork or plate, why should it matter to me? People are going to eat what they’re going to eat. It’s up to you what you choose for yourself and your child. It’s not your place to tell people what they’re eating is wrong or sneer at their lamb chop. That’s just rude.

5. Invite them for dinner.

I’ve gotten friends who swore they didn’t eat any leafy greens to love my egg-free Caesar’s kale salad

Why? Because it’s good! The best way to get people to understand why you eat healthy is to cook up a delicious meal in your home filled with organic ingredients, fresh herbs and veggies. They’re bound to see the difference.

Image: Bruce Tuten