What would you like to eat?
June 26, 2014 4:24 PM   Subscribe

My brother and sister in law and 14 month old niece are coming to stay with us for one night this weekend. I want to make sure we have the right food. Or do I?

My SIL is a lot more picky than I am about what she feeds her baby. We have a 17 month old, so at this point it's more 'oh good we got some veggies in and he didn't notice'. Should I ask her what her baby eats so we can have it on hand or just let her adjust accordingly to what we have? Last time she was here her baby was not to eat canned veggies or cheese or insert random food here- no allergy, just preference. I don't know how she feels about frozen veggies or mac n cheese or chicken nuggets.
Basically, do I ask and accommodate or hope she goes with the flow? Not judging, just don't want to commit a faux pas.
posted by MayNicholas to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I'm putting together a grocery list, anything you want me to get for you all? Right now our menu is probably [xyz], but it's of course flexible."
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 4:28 PM on June 26, 2014 [22 favorites]

If you think SIL is going to kick up a stink, I'd ask beforehand to avoid that. It's only for one night, and if her requirements are too over the top you don't have to do exactly what she says. Alternatively, she could bring baby's food with her, if you think that would work.

When young family members come to stay we usually make sure there's simple kid friendly things like yoghurts, carrots, and pasta in the house, but we also don't have an draconian mothers insisting on baby-paleo or whatever.
posted by mymbleth at 4:29 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking, when one is a guest, the polite thing to do is to eat (or not eat) what is offered, and not to make a stink about it.

Have normal kid things around--you have a seventeen month old, so you presumably already do. If she's still that uptight about it, she'll probably bring her own food for the child anyhow.
posted by MeghanC at 4:37 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have a good friendly relationship with her just ask. "We're thinking of serving xyz, will that be OK with you guys, I have yyy instead." Depending on when she last came to visit, she may be at the anything to get them to eat stage now too.
posted by wwax at 4:45 PM on June 26, 2014

I would just ask, for sure. "What is the baby eating now?" How are you supposed to know otherwise? I don't think it's a weird or inappropriate thing to ask at all.
posted by something something at 4:53 PM on June 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not your SIL and I don't know how old her baby was last time, but those don't sound like crazy requests on her part. She may well not want processed foods and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Her requests may well be normal within her community - they would be in mine. So what I would say is, "This is what we have planned: _______, etc. Would you like me to pick anything up or I can watch Baby for an hour or so while you run around and pick up stuff at the store?"

My kids are much older than babies and I run around and do shopping when I go to visit family and friends. There's an allergy, but I would probably go fetch a few things anyway, especially so we can avoid nitrites, sulphites, msg, high sodium and so on. Others in my circle would want to steer clear of GMOs, non-organic foods, etc. She might have told you she doesn't give the baby cheese when it's really that she doesn't do non-organic and she didn't want to offend you and canned veggies are full of salt, so she might not want those. Just give her some options and don't see her as crazy. There are so many hills to climb in the stress of parenting.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

The ones that are picky enough that their kids can't eat things outside their dietary norms for a single meal (barring actual allergies, of course) definitely want to be asked.
posted by MsMolly at 5:06 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always appreciated a quick check in to see what my kid likes, but my family's the type where we like preparing each other's favorite foods so I think of it as an extension of that. They'd do the same if I was bringing a friend for a visit.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:07 PM on June 26, 2014

Sorry I chose the wrong adjective to make me appear judgy.
It was about a month ago that they were here. I certainly understand all the no sodium, gmo, nitrate, organic stuff. We don't bother with that here because if we could afford perfect foods we couldn't pay our mortgage.
I am only hesitant to ask because I'm afraid she will make requests that will go to waste once they have left. We are at picky toddler stage, so we do what we can.
posted by MayNicholas at 5:08 PM on June 26, 2014

Buttons Bellbottom has got a good script, and it's thoughtful and considerate of you to even be asking this question.

I'm way way more picky than my friends with regard to what we feed our same age children, so I consider it my responsibility to make sure to bring something he can for sure eat, plus more to share. I don't expect anyone to accommodate my pickiness. But it's kind when someone puts that extra bit of thought into their menu.
posted by vignettist at 5:10 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you feel your SIL is perhaps overly fussy, speak with your brother instead (he's also this kid's parent). And if you do end up with some unusual leftovers, plan on incorporating them into adult meals later that week rather than trying to tempt your picky eater.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:31 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, talk to your brother if you don't like your SIL or think she's annoying or whatever. Tell him you're tight on cash but you'd like to accommodate and you're not sure what to do.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:44 PM on June 26, 2014

Honestly, looking at the other responses I guess I'm outside the norm on this, but I have always worked on the general assumption that - barring food allergies - the hosts choose the menu, and the guests graciously eat it (or, as a suboptimal and not-entirely-polite alternative, bring their own food). It's always considerate when a host asks in advance about preferences (and I always try to when I am having people stay), but you're a relative, not a restaurant: if they have expensive and/or complicated food preferences, it's really incumbent on them to eat what you serve or bring their own food with them, especially if you're cash-strapped. I personally think it's horrendously rude to complain about the food offered to you by someone generous enough to let you stay with them for the night. While enjoying the hospitality of others, I personally have eaten plenty of food on lots of occasions that wouldn't have been my personal first choice, but I appreciated it because they had chosen and prepared it for me. The fact that this is a toddler in my opinion makes little difference: unless this is a case of peanut or dairy allergy or whatever, eating non-organic frozen vegetables on one occasion isn't going to kill the kid. Heck, it's a good life lesson for both mom and child about being gracious and flexible about what is offered.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:59 PM on June 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

If the child were three or four years old, it might make sense to be thinking about etiquette and life lessons for the child. For a one year old baby, though, life lessons around appreciating the host's food for one night is not conceptually possible. The mother wasn't complaining about food served to her, she was having some control over the food served to her baby. A baby can't be rude by definition since it doesn't know what manners are, and a mother isn't rude to feed the baby something it will indeed eat, even at someone else's house. A lot of babies just won't eat much new food (even though yes, other babies eat whatever's given.) Think of it this way: It will be stressful for everyone to have a 1 year old baby who's hungry and cranky but not eating at your house for this visit. People who don't have kids, or who have kids who eat basically what the family offers, might easily think "if the kid is hungry he'll eat," but that isn't really true of all babies. So sometimes the mother isn't being selfish or rude, she's just being a mother who needs to feed her kid, and if your goal is to have a happy, stress free visit without a crying, hungry baby, it would be indeed be nice to ask "what's the baby eating these days?" as mentioned above -- or if you don't want to buy it, you could give her a heads up that she might want to bring the food herself by saying "My baby's eating XYZ these days, do you think that is going to work for yours?"
posted by third rail at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2014

As a more practical follow-up to my comment above, in this situation I'd probably email your brother and SIL in advance with something like the following:

"Dear John and Sue, We're hugely looking forward to your visit [etc. etc.]. I just wanted to give you a heads up that for dinner that night, we're planning to make Kirkland-brand frozen vegetables and chicken nuggets. We'd be happy to make enough for all of you too, or you can feel free to bring your own food if that suits you better - we won't be offended! :-) Just let us know what works best for you!"

I think this is helpful for a couple of reasons. First of all, it lets them know what's on the menu so they can decide in advance whether this is suitable for them. Second of all, it allows them to arrange and bring alternatives if it is not. Third of all, it will hopefully cut out what sounds like an unpleasant time last time where you ran through the contents of your fridge and she deemed them unsuitable for her child's consumption. My answer would be more accommodating of this family if this were their first visit (or if they hadn't made such exacting culinary demands on their last visit), or if there were actual allergies involved. My answer would also be more accommodating if you had the money to buy easily the type of food that it sounds like they regularly eat. But neither of these things is the case.

On preview: third rail, point taken. However from the OP's post, it sounds like the problem is not that the baby won't eat her food, it is that the food doesn't meet the mother's standards of moral purity. Additionally, if one's child is a picky eater, I really think it is one's own responsibility to bring food that your child can eat rather than foisting this on your hosts, especially if this would financially burden them unduly.
posted by ClaireBear at 7:49 PM on June 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, if you are not affluent and offering, then she should certainly be providing the food. (And I would expect her to eat the food you are providing. If she personally won't eat your food for 1-2 meals, that's unsettling.) Her baby is still pretty little - it's not like she has a 3yo, by which time most paranoia about eating one meal of chicken nuggets is gone. I am the parent of much older children and face a constant barrage of info about whole foods, avoiding salt/sodium, GMOs, hormones, etc and I can imagine it must be even harder for a parent of a baby these days. I still remember our community health nurse, whose child must have been about ten by then, telling us how she gave her baby a can of Campbell's Soup around 9 months and realized there was this easy meal with all her baby's favourite foods. Everyone in the room gasped, thinking of the sodium, msg, etc. But I bet I could have lived in another community where no one would have blinked. I remember having an 18mo and one mom confessing to me during a playdate that she sometimes let her son have ketchup and that she just couldn't help it. It's not about moral purity. It's that the culture she is in (even a microculture) likely saturates her with info about cancer risks, heart disease, obesity, etc. Try to empathize with that...it's an enormous stressor and hopefully she will give herself a break as the baby gets older. If it is huge, it might actually be part of PPD, anxiety or OCD but made worse by cultural expectations. But that doesn't mean you have to cater to her. I would just offer to watch the baby for an hour so she can run out and get something if she needs to.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:27 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can see the concern, then, with finances and food waste into the mix. With our small ones, we brought or bought groceries as needed, taking into account what our hosts would be serving and what was and was not allowed in their homes. I've had guests that ask, bring, or just say "No worries, just keep in mind that we have a Mango allergy and Bobby hates hot dogs."

"Hey, just getting ready for the visit, guys. Right now our menu plan is [xyz], but we're flexible. I can make room in the fridge if you need it for anything you're bringing for [baby], and there's a lovely [farmer's market / organic grocery store] nearby you guys can hit up if you want to pick up anything while you are here."
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 4:30 AM on June 27, 2014

My baby has a yet-un-pinpointed sensitivity to some foods, so when we went to my sister-in-law's house for Father's Day, I sent her an email a few days earlier to let her know that kiddo and I were on a strict diet and we'd bring our own food, but that kiddo's dad would be more than willing to eat his, and probably our, share of her excellent cooking (oh, she's such a wonderful cook!).

She misinterpreted the email as saying we'd only bring some food and we'd still eat the main dish and dessert she'd made (?), but it all worked out in the end I think.

So, hopefully if your sister-in-law still has a strict menu for her baby, she (or your brother) will reach out to you first to let you know what's what. Otherwise, I really like Buttons Bellbottom's responses. They show that you are sensitive to her and her baby's needs and will let her know she has options.

Know that she is just trying to do the best she can by her kid the best ways she knows how. The information age we are in just makes every decision rather guilt-ridden. (For me, at least.)
posted by jillithd at 8:57 AM on June 27, 2014

So I have friends with kids with allergies, friends themselves with allergies, and friends with picky kids. I try to accomodate all I can, and will always make something that people with allergies can eat. This is not the norm, I know because I get so many very thankful people who seem surprised that I do this. That said, most people with kids like this also bring their own food. I totally get the low income bit, and understand the picky toddler stage. But this is only one day. I bet there is something you can make that would accomodate the majority of her issues seem easy to work around, if a little more expensive than your normal food. If I were you, I would ask what her preferences are and buy something to work around that. Go simple, buy things you would normally use, but the "upgraded" version (ie. if you buy canned peas, get the frozen ones), that way you can still use them after she leaves and nothing would be wasted. If it was a longer stay, I would encourage her to either buy what she needed or chip in for the cost of the more expensive food. If there is really absolutely nothing that you can make that will overlap (heck, they even have organic mac and cheese that looks similar to the boxed stuff these days), then make something that will cover all of you, minus your toddler, and then make a special meal for your toddler, that way everyone gets to eat and you don't make a special meal for her, you are doing it for your "picky" toddler.
posted by katers890 at 9:27 AM on June 27, 2014

What I usually do is ask guests ahead of time about any meals they'll eat before they get (or I) will a chance to go shopping. If they're showing up in the late afternoon, I'll buy what they request for dinner and the next morning's breakfast. I switched to this approach because when I used to get a list from guests and pre-buy everything before the visit, I'd end up with brand-new food that hadn't been touched -- stuff that I had no use for.

If your sister-in-law gets on your nerves, pretend she's someone else. What would you do for a considerate and cooperative friend? Do whatever you can to distract yourself from how annoying you find her.
posted by wryly at 5:14 PM on June 27, 2014

You know, when my daughter was younger and I went to a friend's house for dinner, I frequently brought dinner for her. At that age, most of what they're eating is portable and simple. I wish more parents did this.

Also, we are talking about one meal or two. If one night of organic broccoli causes you to miss a mortgage payment well, I feel that's a bit dramatic.

I truly think the best way to go is a quick -- "hey, here's what we are having for dinner - let me know if you have any allergies or issues. If little one has strong preferences, let me know or feel free to bring what you know she/he likes best!"

Lastly, share this info with your brother and let him figure out how to handle it. Making a big deal about this on either of your parts is not worth it.
posted by amanda at 9:55 PM on June 27, 2014

For the record, I love my sister in law.
I ended up using a mix of your scripts/ suggestions. I bought some stuff without asking what she would prefer and long before mealtime I said we have xyz for the babies, but if it's not something she enjoys we can send the guys out to get something she will. Onus on how picky toddlers can be.
posted by MayNicholas at 9:15 AM on June 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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