Q & A- Eating healthy in social situations

How do you handle eating nutritiously at parties, both ones you host and those where you're a guest? We frequently host/attend get-togethers, and I find that I eat way too many high carb or junky foods.


A couple weeks ago, this awesome question landed in my inbox. I've been wanting to answer it ever since, since I think it's such a relevant topic!

First, I have a couple of basic rules that I follow when it comes to eating with others:

  1. Relationships and people are more important than my convictions on eating, and even any special diets that I am on (unless they are crucial to my health, such as a food allergy or strong sensitivity).
  2. I willingly accept (almost) anything I am offered in most social situations where I am a guest or being hosted by another. This is a respect issue in my mind, and comes down to how I love people (a spiritual, moral issue with eternal consequences) vs. how healthy I am eating (primarily a physical issue with temporary consequences, though I hope you know by now that I view it as a spiritual stewardship issue as well).
  3. When given choices (ie. at a buffet style meal) I will chose the best options available, while eating enough variety to make sure that my hosts are not offended in any way.

This is an issue that I have had to deal with often, particularly in church situations, and also when sharing meals with family and some people yet to know Christ, whom we have been blessed to be able to spend time with.

I have struggled with many aspects of this issue– my concerns (over eating foods I consider very unhealthy), my arrogance and pride (considering myself better than others, or judging others), my lack of self control (using these situations as opportunities to load up on foods I otherwise wouldn't eat, and be able to justify it to myself).

Over time, I have become convicted that the best response in these situations is to make it a priority to first serve and bless the people that I am with, and secondly, discreetly seek to find the best balance or compromise I can make in my food choices.

I actually found out recently that two of my friends are actually somewhat intimidated or worried about what they are serving to me, and I wonder how many more feel that way. Though I have tried to always graciously accept everything I am given, many people know of my strong convictions regarding what we personally buy and eat in our own home, and this creates an invisible hurdle that they feel they must jump over in order to have us over to their home.

I so strongly desire to communicate quite the opposite- that we see their generosity and friendship as far more important than what they might serve us (I hope my real life friends are reading this!), and that although I am sinful and sometimes fail, I try very hard not to pass judgment, but to recognize that not everyone's journey will look like my own and that's ok.

I mention this just to remind us all of how very careful we must be in our relationships, and that our zeal and passion for good health must be tempered sometimes. Though I believe nutrition and health are very important, I must often remind myself that it is certainly not of the utmost importance, especially when compared with the centrality of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God in my life, and how I love and serve others (both in the Body as well as the lost).

A phrase that is used in our church which I would do well to remind myself of more often is to "keep the main thing the main thing". I so often get lost in the peripherals.

I should also mention, as it was part of the question, that when I am serving guests in my own home, I try to find that fine balance between serving healthy food that I might normally serve my own family, and serving things that are familiar and appealing to others.

I will confess, I have not found the balance entirely yet. Sometimes I forget just how differently we eat. Sometimes things that I think are fairly normal are not well accepted. It can be challenging to figure out what to feed to other people's children. And it's tough to stick within my budget in the midst of all of it. I am still learning in this regard, for sure!

As for when I am hosting a party or potluck of some sort, I will try to make sure that there are at least a few really healthy dishes that I know that I can freely eat from, and then I will feel less tempted to sneak a couple bites continually stuff my face with all the yummy, sugary, carb goodness (badness?) in front of me.

When it's hosted by someone else, I will try to be the person who brings the healthy dish, and I'm often surprised by how well it goes over!

Hummus, veggies with a dip, deviled eggs, fresh salsa and guac with organic corn chips, a fruit platter or salad, homemade mini meatballs, healthy date bars, etc. have generally been winners for me.

One last thing to remember- if we are eating well most of the time, there are occasions where slipping up a little or just plain old indulging in celebration foods may be acceptable. Many people say to aim for the 80/20 rule, where you eat the best you can 80% of the time, and don't stress out about what happens during the remaining 20%. Personally, I like to aim for more of a 90/10 rule, but you get the idea.

Every once in a while (now hear me, I really do mean just very rarely), you can eat that scrumptious molten chocolate lava cake with whipped cream, even though you just ate a croissant and 7 mini-sausage rolls (I won't tell if you don't!). And enjoy it– no guilt allowed! On occasion, even unhealthy celebration foods can have their place in an otherwise healthy and balanced diet!

I realize that my answer wasn't entirely practical or focused on the nutritional aspect of the question, but I suppose that's because for me, it's less about exactly what I eat, and more about all of the important issues I've brought up (loving others, being gracious, using self control, finding a balance, and ultimately glorifying God and keeping my eyes on what is most important).

Have you dealt with this issue and what do you do in social situations? I'd love to know how you find that balance!

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  1. You did a FANTASTIC job answering this very important question! Put this right up there with one of your best posts!

    We have dealt with this often as we house church and have a variety of diets to deal with. Since it is often potluck, I do exactly what you do, and it works out well.

    You made an excellent point that relationships take priority over what we eat. I have found though, since I am a vegetarian, if I am invited to someones home I will make sure that I mention that to them. There are times I have failed to do so I have unintenionally embarassed the hostess! I have found it is better to mention that up front and I would guess the same would be true with food allergies or other special diets.

    Also like you said, it is ok to splurge once in a while!

  2. Your post is exactly how I would answer and what I try to do.

    Part of my problem with social situations is that unfourtunately its hard as I have some fairly strong allergies/intollerances especially to dairy…which is in A LOT of things. It makes it very hard in social situations and I have heard some people say that they would bring me supper etc (when we have a baby, or I am sick, or family crisis,etc is what I mean) but they are too scared to do so in case they give me something I can’t eat. And it has happened that they do. My DH happily takes it to work for lunch if I really can’t eat it. Other times I do notice that only people who know me really well give me meals. I understand that. I try to be thankful no matter what.

    Apart from allergies though, like you, is my real desire to be healthy and that also affects things. How I handle that? I basically do what you do for the same reasons. I do find it difficult though but I have to remember how I want to bless others, same as you. Great post!

  3. What a fantastic, well grounded post! We certainly don’t want to become legalistic about these temporal (yet still important) things. Keeping the main thing, the main thing and building up treasure in heaven in the way we relate to one another is paramount.

    I’m glad my “whoops did I really spend that much!” purchase at Thrifty Foods for the HS meeting had a silver lining!

  4. Well said. I too still struggle continually finding that balance. We are a family of about 80-85% of eating well. When I first started this way of life, oh my gosh 7 years ago, I was very strict and rigid about it, over time I have loosened up, and still at times struggle not to feel guilty about it. As most of our diet issues are sensitivities not allergies. People have a hard time understanding sensitivities. All one can do is try their best. I love your thoughts on accepting and taking our Savior into the food picture when out with our friends and family. This should be our focus and our goal. However, lastly, I have found more recently people are open and will ask what not to serve and how to bake/cook something along the lines of say not having dairy in the dish. It is wonderful to share this knowledge. Have a great weekend:)

  5. Thank you for this post and all the comments as well. This is something I struggle with all the time, finding a balance is so hard. My children have allergies, and intollerances to food which can make things really hard. Most people have a hard time understanding this. And we all know that it’s really hard to find things when you go out that don’t have dairy or wheat in them. I really struggle with my pride issues and thinking I’m better than others. I’m glad to know that others have the same struggles and are trying to overcome as I am!!

  6. Excellent answer, Stephanie! Thank you so much for this post – it’s good to know that many struggle with this issue. I have come to very much the same conclusions as you and it has been such a lesson in humility and confessing my pride. Probably the hardest situation for me is when we stay at someone else’s home for a week-long (or more) stay or even overnight. Sometimes anxiety about it wells up within me, which is when the Lord reminds me that I am to cast all of my anxieties on Him and trust Him alone and in the end, it usually turns out being just fine. Thank you so much for these words of wisdom!

    On a side note, you mentioned “healthy date bars” in your post. Could you share the recipe sometime? They sounded appealing! 🙂 Thanks so much – have a blessed day!

  7. Stephanie,

    Thank you so much for answering this question! I really appreciated your perspective. I don’t eat red meat (and live in Iowa!!), and I usually mention that when we’re invited to someone’s house. My main problem is all the tempting desserts and snacks. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Thanks, Stephanie, for this great post. I am totally on the same page as you. I have also had to worry that close friends would feel pressure when feeding my family since we do eat so “nourishing” most of the time. (If only they saw the dairy free package of cookies I consumed today!). Since I am on a strict dairy free diet right now, that makes things harder, but before that I would definitely feel comfortable eating whatever was served, and would always enjoy it as well.

    In our church, there was a little bit of tension when many of the ladies got excited about the book Nourishing Traditions. The ladies who didn’t care to even read the book, kind of took a bit of offense. So there were the “nourishing” people and the un”nourishing people for a little while. It was, thankfully, mostly a thing that could be joked about and the tension soon left. But it was a good reminder of how easily a little thing can become bigger than it should!

    By the way, I don’t know if you ever saw it in my post, but the sourdough starter I got from fermented treasures was the New England one. It has worked very well for me. But I also listed that other site, sourdough internationals, that I just found out about, who also many options. 🙂

  9. Great post Stephanie.

    Before I go on to commment I must say that I don’t feel that this applies for allergies, vegetarians etc. And I agree that it is really important to let people know about dietry requirements beforehand.

    I can’t remember where but I am sure in the Bible it says we are to eat what is set before us. This is the principle I try to put into practise whenever I am out. And one that I want my children to adopt as well. We have a lovely couple at church who are a joy to have for dinner because they always eat what ever you put them before them with pleasure and relish. I hope to be able to bless others by having this attitude too.

    I trust in God that if I am following his word he will sort out the rest!

  10. This is a fabulous post and something I’ve struggled with not just for healthy eating sake but due to my sons severe food allergies.

    We really try to make sure he’s safe yet graciously accept what others have for us.

    Thank you so much for these thoughts, I’m going ot continue to mull them over.

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