Gathering with family for the holidays should be relaxing and joyful but family holidays can be stressful when food philosophies class. Here’s now to navigate family holidays with an extra measure of grace!
I’m willing to bet that you don’t eat the same as your extended family. Or your neighbors. Or your church community. In fact, if you’re reading Kitchen Stewardship®, you’re likely someone who goes against the flow.
And while the achievement of taking many baby steps toward better nutrition for your family feels GREAT and deserves celebration — it doesn’t always make things easy when you leave your house, especially to go to celebrations!!
One of the most common topics readers ask me about is how to deal with family members who don’t see eye to eye on food philosophies, whether it’s grandma feeding the grandchildren, spouses refusing veggies at the dinner table, or the dreaded family get-togethers where everyone is eating food coloring and sugar in all possible forms.
I don’t really have to go into detail or use examples for you to know that these situations are very difficult, especially if you don’t like conflict or tough conversations.
What’s a real food eating family to do?
Turns out, the culture we generally walk against expects us to fight – family fights, especially at the holidays, are the norm.
It was quite a few years ago now that I realized how the media encourages this “norm” and pushes us to embrace the idea.
It started with an exciting email.
You see, I get public relations pitches numbering around a dozen a day. Some of them are for processed foods, recipes folks want me to share, and a surprising number for financial advice and adult beverages. Seriously. I buzz through my inbox and delete like crazy, but every so often something interesting catches my eye.
The one from Anderson Cooper’s office was one of those.
I’ve “known” Anderson Cooper since he was a Channel One News anchor. I watched him every day at high school before classes began.
Getting an email from his office saying, “After reading your blog, I was interested in working with you on an idea we had for an upcoming show. I hope to hear from you as soon as possible,” was beyond exciting. I actually called that second (which is totally not like list-making plan-it-later Katie).
It turned out that Anderson Cooper was putting together a show about family conflict at the holidays, specifically things like one family member not getting on board with healthy foods or organics while another family member prioritizes it. At least, that’s what I think I understood through the crying baby in the backseat, since I was in the van with three kiddos when the Anderson rep returned my call. 😉
My first two rather jumbled thoughts were:
- Perfect. I live with my in-laws! I can talk about two different food philosophies clashing…
- But…at the holidays, we just get together with extended family for one day, everyone brings food, and no one really talks about nutrition or food choices at all…
After I talked a very little bit about my experiences, I could tell that I wasn’t giving him what he was looking for.
I finally said,
“You know, if you’re looking for someone who has had arguments about food during the holidays, you’re not going to find that with me.”
I saw some conversation from other bloggers about the same topic that week, and one of them quipped that a story about a family that doesn’t have any conflict at the holidays would be much more newsworthy.
That got me thinking.
Does Everyone Argue During the Holidays?
The holidays we’re talking about, specifically Thanksgiving and Christmas in our family, are really about family togetherness. Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate our history as a country and be thankful for what we have.
If you’re fortunate enough to be getting together to share a meal with family, I pray that they are tops on your list of gratitude.
Christmas, the holy commemoration of the birth of the Christ Child, who came to save us all from our sin, should surely be a time to rejoice and be glad, not pick on each other and have conflict.
It’s a sad world when “holiday,” “family,” and “conflict” automatically go together, when a joyful family holiday sounds like breaking news instead of just breaking bread together and appreciating one another.
Although I realize my blog colleague was speaking in jest to a certain extent, she has a point:
Family conflict is as common as turkeys and brightly lit trees when it comes to recognizable holiday images.
What Would You Do?
I started composing a response to the Anderson Cooper show email, but then I realized I could easily be wasting my time writing to one person who had a singular goal, when I could encourage thousands to have a more joyful holiday season.
You see, I don’t see any reason that a family should have conflict over organic food.
Unless you have a serious allergy or sensitivity, I strongly believe in the 80/20 rule:
If you eat optimally 80% of the time, fudging your diet 20% of the time (without gorging on true poisons like trans fats the entire 20%) won’t kill you.
Even if you’re just 90/10, you can count Thanksgiving and Christmas in the “10%.” For those with allergies, of course it’s VERY important that family gets on board, and I pray that you can find ways to make it work without stress or conflict. Mary’s story of why she secretly loves her kids’ food allergies inspires me!!
Is Organic Food Worth it?
It breaks my heart that there are people out there who would cause disunity and strife in their family just because of organic food. Personally, I don’t even eat organic food all the time myself, probably not even 75% of the time. I can’t justify the cost in every situation, and I certainly can’t imagine expecting my entire extended family to fork over big bucks for organics for one special day, particularly if they felt that they had to just because I thought it was important.
The mission of Kitchen Stewardship® is founded upon balance, striving to figure out how to stay within a budget while prioritizing nutrition and being gentle to the earth. It’s not easy, and I certainly don’t expect my family to achieve the balance at the holidays.
For one meal or one day, those who would cause conflict over special foods truly need to lighten up and embrace the 80/20 rule. Have a hearty, nourishing breakfast, make sure your contribution is super healthy and incredibly tasty, something that your own family will max out on (or bring multiple dishes!), and detox the next day. Enjoy it.
(Yes, I’m speaking to myself here too.)
My personal goal is always to volunteer to bring an appetizer so my kids eat it first, and I make it as nutrient-dense as possible, plus I often bring one other thing that I know my kids love. I hope they’ll eat it and work hard not to stress about the rest! But having good recipes that other people love has been a godsend.
Tired of Unhealthy Choices at Every Social Gathering…
…and tired of watching your kids eat junk?
I’m happy to be able to offer you this free ebook with:
- 10 whole foods recipes that won’t break your budget
- Well-tested appetizers, salads, and desserts that every guest will recognize and enjoy
- Practical strategies for sharing healthy food with others
- And the valuable secret to getting kids to eat real food in the face of a rich buffet spread…
Many solved the conflict possibility simply by bringing their own or offering to cook/host, and many more simply said they wouldn’t sweat it. Then there were the lucky ones whose family just eats the good stuff anyway.
Great quotes about balance:
- from Erin Odom, The Humbled Homemaker: I think relationships always trump real food. Eating bad a few times a year for the sake of Christian fellowship with your family is ok. I would never want my love for real food to sever my relationships.
- from Alea of Premediated Leftovers: I don’t argue. I remain firm that my children cannot have gluten and dairy for health reasons, but I remain flexible on other issues for occasional family dinners. When an opportunity presents itself, I will gently educate. Of course, one of the best ways I have found to “sell” real food is to host dinners at my house.
- from Melissa Naasko, author of Fasting as a Family: Since I host Thanksgiving (we have the most room) I prepare lots of real food. We never fight, but graciously accept whatever relatives bring. Honestly though, my kids know and appreciate real food and choose to eat it. But if one of them eats *something else*, it really is only one day.
What About More than One Special Day?
Pasta salad bar, above, a great way for everyone to eat something they like! Grain-free? Eat the salad part! Picky kids? Pasta with noodles! And everyone can contribute some toppings if you organize a list! Do the same thing with baked potatoes, Mexican food, build-your-own pizza and more!
If you’re getting together for an extended period of time, offer to cook one meal a day or more. Seek to provide simple, nourishing, delicious food, and think of it as a chance to nourish those you love and maybe even practice a little real food evangelism. You know, like this: “Wow, these scrambled eggs are such a lovely deep yellow, aren’t they? That’s from the happy chickens running around outside and eating bugs. Yummy.” (Obviously, know your audience.)
During these last two months of the year, it can be hard enough to get together with family. There’s already incredible conflict over timing, who celebrates with whom, multiple sides of the family, gift giving and other traditions.
If you really want to eat well during the holidays, spend less time worrying about the food – neither nutrition, frugality, nor beauty – and spend more time appreciating your family and the fact that you’re gathering to break bread…whether it’s white bread, whole wheat sourdough, or cardboard.