Vacation time is supposed to be fun, and while parents often loosen up the food rules when we’re on break, sometimes it can get a little out of control. Like, when it’s the grandparents who are the ones sneaking those six extra cookies to the kids behind your back at your vacation rental, or offering thirds and fourths on brownie sundaes during a long weekend visit to their place.
So what do you do when people who love your kids (and really do mean well) are the ones pushing junk food, sweets and desserts well beyond your own rules?
It can be a challenge, but here are tips to help find a balance and (hopefully) keep everyone happy.
Photo: Bethany Newman via Unsplash
1. Talk to family about food limits
Of course, just talking to the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other treat-sneakers about your limits and reasoning is the first tactic to try. Maybe they don’t realize that you have a kid who fills up on half-a-glass of ginger ale and then can literally not eat dinner. Maybe they just need to hear from you what you think the limits are, when, and why.
Be clear, and see if you can come to some agreement up front about rules and guidelines so there’s no misunderstandings later.
And of course when it comes to allergies or dietary restrictions for medical or religious reasons, those are 100% non-negotiable.
Anyone who doesn’t respect those boundaries can’t be around our kids without supervision, and I don’t want you to feel bad for one second about making that clear to any caregivers at all.
2. Try the sandwich technique for breaking “bad” news
When it comes to gently correcting family members about anything at all, I like the sandwich technique. This means you say the unpleasant thing in between two happy things.
“Mimi, Jasper loves your delicious cookies so much! But we’ve noticed that when he has sweets too early in the morning, he doesn’t have much energy for the rest of the day….so let’s give him some eggs first so we can all have a great time. I know he won’t want to miss out on taking a beach walk with you!”
See? You’re doing this all so that Mimi has the best possible time with her grandson. Same team!
3. Find healthier sweets you can agree on.
Food is love, right? And when grandparents give a kid a big spoonful of chocolate pudding or slip a Twinkie to them, that mischief they’re sharing together can be bonding.
Plus, what grandparent doesn’t love the immediate gratification of a big smile and a hug from the grandkids?
You don’t necessarily want to take away those good feelings — just the handing out of junk food as a technique to gets them there. So instead of putting the kibosh on snacks and treats, consider alternatives that are still indulgent.
Try healthier popsicle options (like Julie’s Organic, here), healthier dessert recipes, a selection of special watermelon treats, healthy homemade smoothies or DIY yogurt drinks served with a crazy straw, or fruit cut into fun shapes.
This way, the grandparents can still dole out the dessert, while keeping the sugar (at least a little) in check.
4. Try leaving the healthy foods out in plain sight and stashing away the “sometimes foods.”
Like my mom did for me, I leave out bowls of cut fruit and raw vegetables around the house or patio, because if my kids can see it, they’re more likely to eat it.
That also means keeping the Oreos and chips in a cabinet, and not on a counter. (In a vacation home, it seems everyone is always more likely to keep food purchases out on the counters.)
This simple tip takes the the onus off the grandparents to monitor foods, so there’s less saying no, and more saying yes — to the good stuff that’s lying around.
5. Share cooking duties.
Whether you’re visiting Grandmom and Pop-Pop or traveling together, sharing in the kitchen duties is not only generous — it gives you a little more control and even can help the kids stick to more of a non-vacation routine. Like if they see you making the pancakes, maybe they won’t be as likely to ask for chocolate chips in them as they would when Pop-Pop is manning the stove.
And of course if you’re visiting the grandparents on their own turf, present this as something you’re doing because you want to help,– not something you have to do because they’re known to give the kids Marshmallow Fluff for breakfast.
6. Give your kids knowledge so they make their own better-informed choices.
When I was grappling with this situation, my husband and I armed our kids with knowledge about their own bodies, nutrition, and how different foods make them feel.
Photo: Joanna Kosinska via Unsplash
Once again, sandwich technique to the rescue: “Grandma’s cookies look great! Remember how bad you felt when you ate sugary sweets before lunch and then felt too tired to go to the water park? Let’s save those delicious cookies for after lunch.”
You can also talk to your kids in the most simple way about having enough “good food” in their bodies to balance out the treats — not to make dessert a reward for eating well per se, but to help cushion the blow of those extra goodies.
Even younger kids may surprise you with their ability to make good choices about foods, even when faced with some tempting alternatives.
7. Consider making a few exceptions. It is vacation, after all.
We all want our children to grow up healthy and happy, and of course, so do their grandparents. But the reality is, one crazy indulgent donut breakfast, an extra slice of pecan pie after dinner, a few visits to the ice cream truck, and even some cookies between meals instead of carrot sticks is not going to ruin their lives.
Indulgent snacking on vacation doesn’t have to be a free-for-all sugar fest, but I’ve learned I can let my children enjoy some of the same special treats we enjoyed (and survived) at Grandma’s house when we were young.
Hey, sometimes we parents like getting those big smile and hugs for the surprise mid-afternoon ice cream sandwiches too.