Firstly, I need to mention that grandparents are wonderful, and I’m incredibly lucky to have my parents and in-laws look after my kids regularly. Thankfully, they’re great around food as they know how important it is to me. However, I do get parents coming to me worried about what the grandparents are feeding their little ones when they’re in their care. Some parents/carers have said their parents/in laws don’t understand or respect their ideals and routines around food. Many have said grandparents are horrified the little ones aren’t allowed chocolate and sweets. Or even that allergy needs/dietary preferences are being ignored or disregarded.
Then on the other end of the spectrum, some grandparents are anxious about offering any foods at all. This can be really tough on families, as lots of people in our society now rely on family for childcare. This can cause issues between family members and make for awkward conversations.
So, what can you do?
Well, obviously I don’t have all the answers to this as every family and situation is unique. It can really vary depending on your family dynamics and relationships. Here are some of my top tips to broach the subject of food with grandparents (or other family/friends who help with childcare)…
Remember it’s not all the time
Firstly, you’re definitely not alone. The worry of what little ones are being fed when they are outside of your care is something that a lot of people struggle with. But it’s also good to remember that the odd chocolate, sweet, ice cream isn’t going to be detrimental to your little one’s health. It only may become a concern IF it becomes a very regular thing.
Therefore, the odd holiday or day trip with Grandma isn’t going to be a problem and might even help teach kids a little more about “balance” too. If, however, Grandparents become more than just a ‘once in a while’ babysitter, it can get a little tougher for parents!
Often the best approach is being very honest, open and clear about your own feeding routine; which foods you feel are and aren’t appropriate for your baby/toddler.
Bring the conversation up early, so it’s not something that is sprung upon them on their first day babysitting. Involve them in mealtimes when you’re all together at other times, having them see first-hand what and how you feed your children can help them get to grips with it.
Talk to them about “new research” and new methods of feeding baby such as Veg Led Weaning or Baby Led Weaning. Explain how lots has changed since they were parents due to there being such a wealth of research in this area.
Giving clear instructions can help nervous grandparents have something to go by, so you could try writing it down/drawing out routines etc. I know this actually helped with my very organised parents in the early days.
Share info that you read online, via my page or via NHS pages about Child Nutrition & current recommendations. It might help them to hear it coming from someone else and not just you. It can also take the pressure off you a bit, so you can say “NHS guidelines say X”, as an example.
Having print outs or handouts can help too. I have some of these on my website and am adding to them all the time. I also have my book How to Wean Your Baby, which might also help to provide some confirmation from a Registered Nutritionist. It could help to share this so that grandparents can understand the process that you’re going on and a little bit about why early years nutrition really matters. Leaflets that you receive from the GP/HV/Midwife/Nursery can also be handy to pass on too, as a way of explaining the ‘why’. This way they can absorb the information in their own time as well, instead of in one conversation.
Food from home
Try sending them off with a packed lunch or food you made from home. Often this can save you stress and worry and it can help them out too. It also sets an example of the kinds of food they would normally have at home. It’s not always practical, but it can work really well for some families. I started doing this with my mother-in-law, but she loved the food I made. She has even asked for recipes and started making them for them both to share, which was such a win for me!
Sometimes including the foods or suggesting the foods you KNOW your little ones love can help too as Grandparents are likely to get pleasure out of seeing your little one enjoy their foods. Focusing on the more balanced options that they love might be all they need.
If grandparents do insist on giving certain foods to toddlers, suggest that they only do so at certain times of the day. Then you can adjust their meals at home accordingly that day/week.
Lastly, just a big shout out to all the parents/in-laws/grandparents out there who are helping with childcare. I genuinely think EVERY DAY about how lucky I am to have my parents and in-laws and wonder how I’d cope without them!
Let me know if any of these work for you and if you have any tips to add, I’d love to hear them!