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Q&A Video Blog: Eating Healthy During Summer Travels and in Other’s Homes

In today’s video, I’m answering this question from a reader:

How do you handle situations where you know you will be eating at someone else’s home… and the home you are eating at does not eat whole foods? I am trying to get my family on a more whole food/healthy food diet but when we are out at friends or relatives we are served “regular” food. What do you do when in these situations?

For those who didn’t watch the video, here is a quick synopsis of my thoughts on how our family eats well while in someone else’s home:

1. Bring some of your own foods.

Although you will need to carefully assess situations to see whether this will be an offense to your hosts or to the other people that you are with, but there are many situations where it isn’t. Breakfast is often a casual meal where you may be able to serve your family some free-range eggs or fresh fruit  (or whatever you like for breakfast) that you have brought yourself, with no offense or inconvenience to your hosts.

Snacks are definitely another opportunity to get the good stuff in. Bring homemade bars or muffins, nuts and dried fruit, fresh fruit or vegetables, etc. If you can’t bring these on your travels, then go out and purchase them once you arrive at your destination. I often make a quick grocery store stop when we arrive somewhere and pick up those things that I think will fit in well with our accomodation situation.

2. Offer to make a meal or help with the cooking.

One surefire way to ensure that healthier foods end up on the table is to volunteer your own services! Few people will reject a sincere offer to help with cooking. Also, it is always a kind gesture to purchase some or all of the foods yourself, and to help hosts with the costs of food during your stay.

Offer to make one meal a day, or to make a salad for dinner each night, or whatever you think might work well. I frequently cook when I stay with others, or at least help with the meal preparation.

This gives me at least some say in the food that is served, although I still always need to be sensitive to the plans and eating preferences of the host family. I don’t want to overthrow their own tastes and eating style or meals that they have already planned to serve. If they’re a strictly processed food family and I make them a pot of lentil stew with a large, dark green leafy salad, we might have some issues come dinnertime. Compromise, balance and thoughtfulness are keys to making this work.

3. The last (and most important) is to accept the food with graciousness.

When we are served food in someone else’s home, unless it is something that we absolutely cannot eat due to food allergies, we accept it with gratefulness. It will certainly not kill us to eat foods that are not our ideal for a meal, a day, even a week or two on vacation. But how quickly we could kill our relationships with others by making food a dividing or condemning issue.

In our own homes, we have complete control over what we buy and consume, but in another’s home I feel strongly that the best response is to graciously accept whatever you are offered, to thank your hosts, to thoroughly enjoy the meal and trust that our God is big enough to handle a little bit of processed food. He is the true guardian of our health, not us (as much as we are called to good stewardship).

I think some of us can struggle with being so principled in our eating that we let it become too large of an issue. When you’re struggling, just remind yourself, “people matter more than food“. Because they do.

How does your family handle eating situations where you are a guest in someone’s home? (And what are your summer travels plans?)

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  1. Thank you for your third point. You are soooo right: relationships are more important than a meal. Blessings!

  2. Luke 10:8 (NKJV) “Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.”

    I like that you say “trust that our God is big enough to handle a little bit of processed food. He is the true guardian of our health, not us (as much as we are called to good stewardship).” We always do as much as we can, but sometimes it is better to do without for the sake of the relationship with others, which is so important to the health of our whole being sometimes — and theirs too! The Bible talks about these kinds of things in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10 and in Romans 14 – amazing that even what we eat with others is an important part of how we show our love to them and our respect for God!

  3. I couldn’t agree with your thoughts more! Last Christmas we spent two weeks withh my in-laws (my MIL and my SIL’s family live together). There was no whole milk, no real butter, and very few whole grains or veggies. My niece & nephew are very picky eaters (plain white rice or a baked potato for dinner) – which limited our meals even more.

    We did a little cooking (which wasn’t well received by the picky eaters), we did our best to avoid the “really bad stuff” and we graciously ate what was served. We had to carry some tummy soothers with us (mint tea, ginger tea and some bicarbonate of soda – which I still don’t know if its good for us) and were prepared for the inevitable headaches and uncomfortable trips to the bathroom (sorry to be gross!)

    We live 12 hours from my in-laws – and only see them once or twice year – it was more important to us to have a solid chunk of quality time with them than to stay away because of food issues. We keep crusading for real food for the niece & nephew, and then come home to a really cleansing detox!

  4. While I think this is a great question, and I think your answers are great, my favourite part is the ‘accept what you’re given with graousiousness.’ Honestly, as a kid growing up in a family where my Mum was into whole foods, I was always horrified when she would take her own food to other’s houses. She didn’t mean offence, and I don’t think anyone was ever really offended, but it just seems rude to me. Now that I have my own family, I do try to eat whole foods as much as possible, but for me, the whole point is to eat as well as we can at home so that when we’re out we can splurge a little. It may not be our favourite, it may not be healthy for us, but we can deal! Our family actually just got back from a three week vacation in Texas with my husband’s family, and we hardly ate anything green that whole time. Sure it was hard, but we did fine, and were extra thankful for our salads, veggies and fruit when we arrived home.

  5. What a great answer to a great question.

    One other way that compromise is possible is to provide your own beverages. If you’re going for a short time, bring your own water kefir so that you can have a whole, live food throughout the day without anyone feeling like you’re replacing the food, per se. I tend to bring a mason jar of healing tea with me wherever I go and am more than happy to laugh at myself for my “odd” drinks.


  6. When we visit my mother’s house, I usually follow you first tip and third tip. In the beginning, after we started raw milk for my then 1 year old, I think she was a little put off that I brought some food and snacks for him. I just made it clear that I wanted him to have raw milk. However, I also brought some homemade yogurt, pastured eggs and fresh fruit because that is what he usually eats for breakfast. Breakfast is extremely casual at her house, and usually she is the only one up when my son in ready to eat. She doesn’t eat until mid-morning, and he needs to eat shortly after he wakes up. I also brought raisins and a few other snacks. I figure if he gets a good breakfast and snacks, he’ll be fine with the more processed SAD lunches and dinners.

    She’s used to the fact that I always come with a cooler now. 🙂 Last spring, she kept my son for 5 days when my husband and I went on a trip. After thinking carefully about how to broach the subject, I got up the courage to ask her if it would be helpful to bring some foods that he is used to eating. She actually sounded relieved at the offer, and said that would be great. Finally, understanding and acceptance for the way we choose to eat! I made a huge batch of really yummy pizza rolls: http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2009/12/jeannes-pinwheel-crescents.html

    She told me those in particular were a lifesaver, and she and my younger brother actually enjoyed them as well! I know he didn’t eat perfectly for those 5 days, but most of the food I sent (lots!) was almost gone or entirely gone when we picked him up. I do totally agree that if you choose to take some of your own food, definitely provide enough to share. Great post!

  7. Stephanie, thank you for what you said about being gracious to your hosts and gratefully eating whatever they serve you. I couldn’t agree with you more. One thing I remind myself of is that when our friends/family cook for us, they are serving us and trying to bless us–they love us. I want to receive their gift with a grateful heart, and I want them to know that I am truly grateful. People ARE more important than food, and not only does God want us to steward our health, but He also wants us to love others and view them as more important than ourselves. I thought your ideas of helping were great too–in many situations it will bless your host if you do offer to pitch in and help. You shared some great thoughts!!

  8. “People matter more than food.” So true!

    Every year we take a trip to visit my husband’s Grandma for a week or so. She used to cook for us (usually somewhat processed, which we just accepted), but as the size of our family has grown it’s become much more stressful for her to cook for us. So slowly we’ve taken over more of the meals, and probably this year we’ll be making most of them. It works well for both of us because she gets home-cooked meals (which she enjoys, but never feels up for making herself) and we get to eat what our bellies are accustomed to eating.

  9. I handle it much the same way you do. Although thankfully most of my visiting is to family and my parents have always been great about serving fresh fruit and vegetables (and lots of it). Overall most of our family serves from scatch meals (sort of food guide types) but its the snacks that get more processed. Instead of offending them completely, I tell my kids they can have “one” choice. This means that they are usually getting 2-3 processed snacks/sugary desserts per day (when at home they have zero). However this is what I feel is the best compromise since otherwise it would offend them. Sugary desserts and stuff are so much part of our culture and how many people show love. My kids actually sometimes don’t even want what it is once they bite into it.

    I do bring some fruit and healthier snacks and such that keep well (apples, Lara bars or muffins etc) in my room and then eat those myself in my room or offer them to the kids say if we are in the car going somewhere etc. (no one sees this so no one is offended, and if they did see it, most people understand that a breastfeeding mom needs to eat more and kids need snacks sometimes to ward off crankiness especially when they are not in routine).

    If its some kind of family thing where everyone is to bring some food to contribute, I make sure I bring healthy options, and my oldest usually just picks what I brought anyways down the buffet line. I do help her pick out some other healthier options too so it doesn’t look like we reject the other food totally.

    I’ve also thought about bringing some powdered greens to a place we visit sometimes, and then just mixing it with water…not the best but would work…however that is pretty expensive stuff and so I haven’t done it yet.

  10. Stephanie,

    This post is super-timely for me! I just got put on a wheat-free, low-sugar diet and I’ve been wondering how I’ll handle invites and family gatherings. Thankfully, though it’s not an allergy, I do have specific health reasons for eating this way and so I can always use it as my excuse for bringing my own food! Thanks for the good advice.

  11. I think response #3 is the right one! Quite frankly, if someone entered my kitchen to “cook up” something healthier alongside me, I would be horribly offended. In addition, I think it is wise to remember that each person has a “flow” in his/her kitchen that can be interrupted by someone needing a pan to cook up eggs or creating extra dishes to wash. I’ve hosted dinner parties before where the guests bring something to contribute that they have NOT YET PREPARED. So, they need a soup pot, a ladle, a paring knife, a cutting board. Oh, and use of the stove and/or oven. 🙂 Seriously!! I think we need to extend Christian hospitality…and, I seek to be a Christian guest who people enjoy having over. Sharing food, without judgement and condemnation, seems me to be part of loving people well.

    1. @AK, I think that issue of whether or not you can offer to make food alongside someone else is one of those issues that requires sensitivity and discernement.

      In many homes where I have stayed (especially when it’s for a longer period of time- I’m not talking about instances where it is for just one meal), hosts will often welcome a second pair of hands in the kitchen. Cooking for your own family plus guests for several days or weeks at a time can be a lot of work for one person, and so the offer to help has often been welcome (at least, in my experience). And certainly it should never be done with the stated purpose (can you imagine?) of “wanting to make something healthier”. If that opportunity arises during the course of cooking, then that’s great. If not, it’s simply a way to serve the hosts regardless, even if only by helping them make their regular meals.

      But certainly, there will be those cooks who prefer to work on their own or who would be offended by the offer. Sounds like you don’t like to have others in the kitchen with you at the same time. Personally, it doesn’t really bother me. I think it’s a really individual thing.

  12. I totally agree with your last point. I was involved with a health and fitness board where this question came up often and sadly a lot of the time people recommended bringing your own food or claiming to have “allergies” to foods to avoid eating the food served. How offensive! I couldn’t imagine inviting someone to share a meal with me, only to have them bring their own food. I probably would not invite them again! I would happily accommodate any intolerances or allergies or even dislikes as would most hosts!

    One meal is not the end of the world and if you are really adverse to eating food that you don’t normally eat because of a healthy kick, just eat a smaller portion than you would normally and enjoy it as much as you can.

  13. This was a great post. I think some of us “Real Foodies” can make real food an idol of sorts if we’re not careful. This life is short, even if you live to your maximum potential, which really is not the goal. The goal is to bring glory to God, by using our health and well being for His purposes. People and relationships first! Thanks for the reminder.

    We have done a lot of traveling and staying with people, and your suggestions were right on. We try do do a little of all the above. We usually buy some food, help with meals, etc. I always enjoy your posts. Thanks.

  14. Health and nutrition are so important, but being gracious and loving guests far outweigh any other consideration! My friends and family are very aware of my “weird” health philosophies, so I really try my best to eat what I’m given gratefully and to find at least one thing to compliment at each meal.

    If I’m staying for a while, I do buy/bring some yogurt or kombucha to keep my digestive system somewhat on track despite any processed foods I happen to be eating. I’ll also buy some fruit for the whole house – my hosts are usually happy to not have to worry about snacks for us, and we can at least get a good helping of fruit each day. Oh, and we bring our clo “supplement” – this cements my weirdness, but no one minds 🙂

  15. I agree with bringing snacks and drinks. I don’t quite agree with bringing breakfast or offering to cook (unless you’re staying a long time and the host is overwhelmed). Really, I think it depends on who you’re staying with. I know most of my family doesn’t complain when I bring a few things, but my youngest has food allergies, too, so they know I’ll bring things that are safe for him. But I don’t serve the whole family – just him. Healthy relationships are much more important than a temporary dietary change.

    I have a similar question. We’re planning a camping trip this summer. In a tent, in 90 to 100 degree heat. When discussing food to bring, my husband immediately said to stock up on canned food. And he meant like canned meats and stuff. EW! Even when we were eating more processed foods, I wouldn’t buy canned meat. The thought of that just makes me shudder. Do you have any suggestions on what to bring? We will have coolers with us, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to replenish the ice during the time we’re there.

    1. @Rachel, I would probably do meats in the first few days, while your cooler is still nice and cool. Then I would switch over to more beans (pre-cook them, of course, or use canned) and maybe eggs (which actually store quite well, even without perfectly cold temperatures). Personally, I would rather go vegetarian for a short period of time than to eat canned meats, but that’s just me. 🙂

      Oh, you could also do canned fish, like wild salmon or tuna. That would give you some good protein and fats in a manner that stores well.

  16. Reverse it: How would you feel if you cooked a real-food, beautiful, healthy, top-notch meal, and your guests brought KD for the kids and some t.v. dinners (for example) for themselves? Wouldn’t you feel somewhat offended? I agree that discernment can be made. We’ve had an out-of-province family of six come to stay occassionally, and they always bring some fruit, cereal, milk, yogurt, etc. to help “ease the load” of feeding six extras for a few days. I don’t ask them to, but it really is nice to have some extra things – and they always help prepare meals and set the table, etc. We eat porridge for breakfast on the weekdays and they don’t prefer it, so they bring some cold cereal for themselves. That doesn’t bother me at all. But they’re good friends (hence the reason they’re staying with us!! lol!!) so it really shouldn’t be an issue.
    The thing I’m struggling with, is that since we’ve had our twin girls (six months ago), we’ve had a LOT of (not always homemade) meals given to us, as well as groceries. Such a huge help, and a blessing knowing that people are going out of their way to help and be there for us!! But I do struggle knowing how to deal with being given groceries that I just don’t want to eat – kraft dinner, minute rice, pancake mix, stuffing mix. It’s really well intended and super gracious and generous…buuuut…I’m considering donating them to the Food Bank rather than “throwing them back” in their face. What would you do?

    1. @Karen, I think it’s as you said… it depends on the people (like your good friends), it depends on how it’s done, etc. For example, if I was being hosted by a family I didn’t know while on a church missions trip or some sort of conference, I wouldn’t dream of bringing anything of my own other than snacks that I would eat separately. But, when I’m with family or friends who know me super well, I can judge each situation individually and know what would be appropriate. 🙂

      And I think that donating to the Food Bank is an excellent way to deal with foods that you wouldn’t eat. That way, the gift is still being passed on to bless someone in need, which was the original intent in the first place!

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