I’m taking a couple of days off to visit my grandparents in Florida and get away from the cold weather. The Jewish grandmother stereotype holds very true in my family, and there is a constant stream of, “Hungry? No? Here eat this.” I’m really trying to eat healthy lately, but saying no is especially hard because she’s the most wonderful woman ever. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for gently declining her offers or making food better choices while on vacation?
Never famished in Florida
I find it incredibly painful to acknowledge the times when stereotypes are connected to reality, but this one, about Jews and food, ends up ringing true more often than I can comfortably admit. When I hear myself begging guests to take home leftovers or admonishing my children to have one more bite, I have to stop and remind myself to get it together and not be such a caricature.
We’ve all been having lots of conversations about consent lately, and the same rules ought to hold true about food as about everything concerning your body: If you say, “no,” it means you don’t want it. Still, similar to other generational divides, your grandmother may have a hard time understanding why you’re declining and that you actually mean it.
This is in no way meant to trivialize the terrible abuses of power that are rapidly coming to light, and I hope that our current societal reckoning will lead to taking other people’s desires more seriously in a variety of arenas.
Fortunately, your question isn’t about unwanted sexual advances, though, and your grandmother is lovely and caring, so you have a lot of options. First, I think you should tell your grandmother how much you love her cooking, and then explain that your New Year’s resolution is to eat less. “Less” is a better framework than “healthy,” since there are so many generational divides and different interpretations of that word, and you don’t want your decisions open for interpretation. Another possibility is to focus on something specific: more whole grains, fewer sweets, less meat, etc.
Then, stick to it. If you say you’re not eating dessert, don’t “cheat” in front of your grandma, because she’ll likely remember and use one dessert as a chance to push another. If you say you’re not having seconds in a general sort of way, be sure to hold yourself to those standards when it’s actually mealtime. If she puts food in front of you that you don’t want, don’t eat it. You can discretely clear the dishes and hope she doesn’t notice, but it’s also possible to keep saying, respectfully, “I’ll let you know when I’m hungry.”
As for better choices on vacation in general, bringing along your own snacks, or going shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables when you arrive is a good way to avoid getting sucked into eating foods you really don’t want. Trying to do some of your own cooking to avoid constant restaurant fare also helps keep vacations healthier. In this case, though, it may be offensive to your grandmother if you don’t eat some of what she offers or if she sees you preferring your cooking over hers, and the approach of “less and only when hungry” may be better for this visit.
Remember also that it’s only a few days, and constant food battles won’t be pleasant for anyone. You have a lifetime of better choices to make for yourself after the trip, and a better (and less stereotypical!) example to set for future generations.