Whether it’s an ill-timed snack too close to mealtime, or food that is being avoided as part of a special diet, getting your extended family on board with your child’s healthy eating plan can be difficult and demoralising. And while well-meaning relatives – such as grandparents – may have the best of intentions, they could be innocently contributing to complex health issues connected to the digestion and absorption of food and reactions to certain sensitivities.
So how do you get everyone to take dietary and lifestyle changes as seriously as you do – and stop sneaking food that can cause health and behavioural problems?
If your child regularly sees and spends time with a relative that ‘pushes’ unsuitable food on your child – or sabotages healthy eating and regular mealtimes in other ways, it’s time for a chat. This is best done privately, and delicately, with the other adult. Explain the problem clearly and let the family member or friend know it is in the best interest of the child.
You might need to ask why they are giving these foods to the child – when it is against your wishes – because finding out the motivation behind their actions is key to changing the behaviour. It may well be that the relative is unaware of what is considered healthy, and that nutritional thinking has moved on and changed from when their own children were young. If this is the case you can offer a written list of what is allowed – and what isn’t. You could also suggest you provide lunches and snacks if shopping for or preparing unfamiliar foods is a problem.
If they feel sneaking ‘treats’ is a way of spoiling and demonstrating their love for a child, give them alternative ideas of ways to do this – such as reading or playing a game together, watching a film, going for a special outing or writing a cute note for their lunchbox.
If discussing the issue still leads to a dead end, it might be appropriate to ask that relative to accompany you on the next visit to a specialist that you see for nutritional advice. The views of the “expert” may help to add credibility to your concerns, and further explain why you are taking your child’s nutrition seriously. Other outside influences, including medical research and the media, could also help add weight to your argument.
Other ways to head off the problem include ensuring that your child has a healthy meal before the relative arrives – or supplying recipes that the child and family member can prepare together. As a last resort, you may need to limit the time your child spends with this person until he/she agrees to follow your guidelines.
While children are young, it’s best to keep them out of discussions between adults. If they sense conflict and tension it can affect how they come to view food and mealtimes in the long term. However, as they get older you might want to prepare them for when they find themselves in an awkward situation.
Play through possible scenarios they might encounter – and equip them with some go-to phrases that will help them handle the situation without offending anyone – such as ‘It looks delicious, but it’s too close to dinner. May I take some for later?’ No child should feel that eating (or not) causes emotional distress.
Just remember, your child is your responsibility – no one else’s. Stand firm – because you know you are doing what is the best for your child’s health.
Do you have issues feeding your kids nutritional food – read our article on How to Feed Fussy Kids (includes tips on feeding Kids with Autism).