When Family Pressures Mess With Your Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating PlansI was in the car with my mom driving to my aunt’s house for her 60th birthday party celebration. We started talking about what to do when you are with family for a dinner, and they offer food that you would not normally eat. There may be deep-fried chicken, white bread rolls, and the only beverage available is milk. My opinion is that you should politely decline, and my mom said, “That’s rude.”

Can you offend someone by your healthy eating habits? Should you just take a bullet—bad meal—for the team to keep the peace in the family?

Everyone eats healthy, may be the obvious assumption. Then why are there so many family events with spreads of unhealthy foods? Fried and baked options, party snack mixes with every preservative imaginable, and processed cheese and crackers seem to always be part of the go-to party buffet. There are also heritage cuisine favorites that would be blasphemous to turn down, like my aunt’s favorite deep-dish pasta supreme. When it comes to family birthdays or special occasions, you have to fit the mold for that one day. Or do you?

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Society has changed, so can’t the family get-together? Many people have incorporated various healthy eating lifestyles or diets and may have lifestyle restrictions they have to follow. What if the meal isn’t gluten- or dairy-free? How do you please the vegetarian or vegan in the family? I have several food sensitivities and am unable to eat dairy, gluten, tomato and a variety of other foods. What do I do? It’s the “holistic conundrum” for the person geared toward wellness.

The summer often is full of family get-togethers to make the most of the warm weather. How do you handle the family pressure of eating food that’s not right for you? Here are four tips to keep you healthy (and inoffensive) at any occasion.

1. Call Ahead and Inform

A good first step would be to call ahead and inform the host of your dietary and health restrictions to certain foods. The top food allergies and sensitivities include gluten, wheat, dairy, fish, shellfish, soy, corn, peanuts, nuts, citrus and tomatoes. It’s not rude when you are thinking about your health. The host will probably comply with your health restrictions when they are health-related. You may have become vegan or vegetarian since your last family get-together. Call ahead and ask your family member if they could prepare a meatless option (possibly also eggless and dairy-free) to fit your dietary preference.

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2. Offer to Bring a Healthy Dish

Your guest might not know how to make a vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free option. It sounds a little weird to make and bring your own dinner when you go to a family party; however, you know what’s best for your health, and possibly other family members will enjoy your healthy dish as well. Make a hearty spinach salad with organic eggs, or a rice and bean side dish, and I’m sure others would appreciate your effort to contribute. They get to taste a little bit of your life, while trying something new. The meal you create is also a good conversation starter. What ingredients did you use? Where did you get the ingredients? You want to socialize with family and friends, and food can be a talking point.

3. Stick with Healthier Options

Most of the time there will be healthy options to choose. You may be sensitive to certain foods or have gluten restrictions. Most family get-togethers will have various vegetables, or other healthy options available. Avoid the foods you can’t eat and stick with the vegetable, fruit or whole-grain options that your body can tolerate. There may not be adequate protein or other nutrients, so eat what you can and wait until you get home. Then you can prepare something to complete the nutrition you require for your day.

4. Eat Before You Arrive

This would be a last resort! You wouldn’t normally show up to a family event and be the only one not eating the food. I forgot to mention: I didn’t eat any of the food at my aunt’s birthday party. I had been doing a 30-day detox diet, which involves fermented green shakes, master amino acids, a fiber blend shake, strict flex-foods and an antioxidant drink. No caramel birthday cake for me. Everyone was accepting of my diet choice. When you know that the food available just won’t work for your diet, eat your normal portions at home and come to the party just for the visit. You will be less hungry, of course, and can possibly just eat a salad or small plate of veggies.

There are polite ways to keep the peace in the family and be true to your health. I know first-hand, it’s worth the planning and effort.