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How to Handle Different Eating Habits in the Same Household

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Last week  Pattie left this question in a comment:

How do you handle having such different eating habits than your husband? I have two small kids (4yrs. and 5 yrs.) and a husband who likes bigger, heavier meals with very little variety in taste, spice, ethnic variety, vegetables, etc.! Oh and … he NEVER gains a pound. So while he does work out, he doesn’t necessarily need to “watch” what he eats … ever. I find when I cook a healthy meal, with variety, vegetables, etc. it is not filling enough for him and he’s not satisfied … then there are the kids to feed as well. I try to avoid cooking separate meals because I just don’t have time for that (I work full-time outside the home). Would love your perspective on this. How do you avoid all the temptations your husband brings in the house? How did you (if you ever did) get over the … “why can he eat that and I can’t” mentality.

Oh, how question like these get me fired up!

Not “fired up” angry but “fired up” as in “Girl, I could give you an earful!

Last week I established how different my husband’s diet is from mine. Honestly, not exaggerating here, he would (and basically does) live off fast food, mac & cheese, chips, soda and chocolate. The man never would never eat vegetables if it wasn’t for my home-cooked dinners, he never eats breakfast, and what he consumes after 10 p.m. is honestly just scary.

Do I worry about him?

Yes.

OMG YES! (I wrote this post a few months ago and I suspected he didn’t see it. He unfortunately still has said bad habit.)

Maybe it’s my age, experience or the fact that we’ve been together so long (19 years!) but I have fully accepted the fact I have no ability to change him. Eating healthy, taking care of himself and exercise are simply not a priority for him. Do I think they should be? Ahhh, yeah. Honestly, as a husband and father I think it’s selfish and irresponsible of him not to but it’s his life and he’s in the driver’s seat.

There was a time we’d argue about it. Especially after we had kids, which for me was the eye opener. Dinners were stressful. We would bang heads a lot about what I was cooking and what he wanted to be eating.

Now?

Not to much.

As the sole cook in the house, I had to lay some ground rules and we had quite a few conversations about this.

1) I’m going to cook what I cook, and as the cook I make all decisions. You can have and I will solicit input, but at the end of the day dinner is my domain.

This didn’t go over too well at first but it’s hard to argue when you don’t have any interest or desire in cooking. The rule may seem authoritative and dictator-like but I’m not mean about it. Overall, I try to make meals that contain at least one or two things that I know everyone will like. Then I use the third side to appease my desire of trying new and healthy foods.

20130415_rutabaga

Let’s take this rutabaga idea I wanted to try.  Ask anyone in my house if they want rutabaga for dinner and see what they say.

I mean who enthusiastically says YES!?

I really wanted to try it so I made it as a side to London broil and asparagus — two things that always get eaten in my house.

This approach and compromise works for us and there have been more than a few times when the family ended up liking my “healthy” experiment. Our Beet Adventure comes to mind as does parsnips. Both of these things have since been adopted by my family as approved dinner items MOST of the time because, well, kids are fickle.

Including the family is a great way to raise healthy eaters who aren’t afraid of trying new things  (and expose unenthusiastic husbands). You can’t shove some crazy quinoa dish in front of them and say EAT but you can introduce healthier sides along with their favorite and create a culture that celebrates variety and trying new things.

 2) I make one dinner. ONE. 

Pattie, I’m on your side with this one. I know so many parents who make separate dishes for the kids and I just can’t comprehend it. I make dinner and as I described above I’m going to make what I make with consideration to the likes and dislikes of my family, but if you don’t like or don’t feel like eating it then you are on your own.

Now who I’m really talking about is The Husband because my kids don’t have a choice. The Husband is a grown man, and if he wants to go to McDonald’s for dinner instead of eat my homemade stew so be it.  That’s his choice, albeit the wrong one in my opinion. However, he is not to influence the kids and we have talked about this in great length. It is OK for the kids to know Daddy doesn’t like something but it’s also important for them to see him try new things and eat something he may not like out of respect for me, the cook. That’s how I want to raise my kids. It’s important to me that they are grateful someone took the time to cook them a meal in the first place.

The Husband agrees with me for the most part and as I’ve said, we’ve had this discussion multiple times.

Communication is key. You have to have a game plan especially when kids are involved.

3) Everyone tries everything, aka The One Bite Rule. 

20100911_leekkalesoupRyan8-year-old trying something for the first time – I posted more about feeding picky kids on GreenLiteBites.

No one leaves the table without truly trying everything that was prepared. At the end of the day I can’t force people to eat, but in my house “I don’t like this” doesn’t fly unless you’ve tried it and even then I’ll disagree on some things. For example when the 8-year-old tells me he doesn’t like some chicken dish I cooked, I say, “It’s chicken. You eat it all the time. This may not be your favorite way to eat it, but at the end of the day it’s chicken. Have another bite.”

That works most of the time.

These rules are working for me but they don’t necessarily answer your question, Pattie. In your case your husband seems to want big meat-and-potato meals, right? I’d make his style meal the cornerstone of dinner and make sure to pair it with lots of vegetables. Make him an extra potato or increase how much meat you cook to satisfy his appetite but also make sure the sides are where you are getting your veggies and variety in.

As for your other questions, the temptations the Husband brings into the house doesn’t phase me as much as they used to. I think once you truly adopt a healthier way of eating, especially over years the junk just doesn’t seem as appetizing. The times I have indulged I never feel really good afterward and this has reinforced my desire not to eat them.

Now, the  “Why can he eat that and I can’t” mentality is a good one. Sometimes I am jealous of The Husband and his ability to eat whatever he wants but then I realized…

I could, too!

I just don’t want to. And that’s  an important distinction to make.

I don’t want the consequence of feeling sluggish, gaining weight and being blah. Your husband may not gain weight eating the way he does, but you have to understand he’s different than you. His calorie needs are not the same. His body metabolizes food differently. He probably also doesn’t have the same desire to lose weight or stay thin as you do. I know my husband has put on a few pounds in his “old age” but it’s not enough to motivate him to lose because he just doesn’t care. If anything, THAT is what I’m most jealous about. His ability to just accept his body for what it is.

Wow, I told you I get FIRED UP about this stuff! I feel like I’ve written a novel. I’d love for others to chime in with their thoughts and strategies on handling a household with different eating habits. That’s this week’s weigh-in topic! 

 



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Discussion

There are 28 comments so far.

    Beverly

    January 15, 2014

    Thanks Roni for answering Pattie’s question. I saw her question & was wondering if you would address what works for your family. I love all your ideas & I don’t have anything to add unfortunately. I have pretty much catered to what I know my husband & boys will eat, but for myself, I eat less of the meals that aren’t necessarily “healthy”. I oftentimes make healthy meals for the husband & I when I know my youngest won’t be home (he’s almost 17). My husband doesn’t grumble too much. He knows the journey I am on & it’s not his journey (he’s like your husband in that he has no desire to change his current health/weight status, but he is unfortunately overweight). I think my biggest question after reading your post is when your husband wants McDonald’s, does he actually get McDonald’s & eat it in front of your kids (who I assume are eating what you cooked??) My problem right now is a teenager who drives & has his own money & eats fast food even though I discourage it. If your readers have any helpful hints in discouraging that, I would gladly love to read them! (Not that I actually listened to my mother at that age either! haha)

      RoniNoone

      January 15, 2014

      No, and that’s what I mean by he can’t influence the kids. Normally he’ll just pick at dinner and then eat something later or then they go to bed.

      And let me clarify, there are days we go to McDonalds (or other fast food) as a family. I’m not anti-anything, I just strive to cook more at home and to serve balanced meals.

    Donna

    January 15, 2014

    Great response to different eating habits Roni! I wish it were that easy in my house…. my daughter (11) and are are vegetarians, husband not. We rarely eat a meal together due to work schedules- she is starving before I get home so I try to prepare things that he can just heat up for her. I try to make all meals on Sundays so there is enough for lunches and dinner for most of the week, not always enough room in the fridge! I like all kind of healthy mixed vegetable dishes, chilis, soups etc. She doesn’t like most of this- she prefers to eat 3 different vegetables at the same meal as long as they’re not mixed together. Yes she tries stuff, more than one time, but never eats a whole serving. Believe me I try but it’s a struggle. I make the husband mostly italian dishes, pizza, etc because I don’t cook meat. But i want the lighter stuff not cheesy pasta every night.

      RoniNoone

      January 15, 2014

      Well, my kids are young, I’m sure things will change when I have an 8 and 14 year old!

      I think having strict diets (vegetarian, gluten free, etc) in the same house is much harder too! For my family it comes down to tastes not specific diets and I think it lends itself to a different approach.

      Does your husband cook at all? Just curious because as a meat eater I’m assuming he may want too.

    Laura Podrasky

    January 15, 2014

    Awesome post. I liked your way of getting in the extra veggies and variety. My husband is the extreme healthy eater in our house. And so he cooks for himself, too. One of my kids is willing to try new things and likes a variety but the other just likes a few things but I’m getting pretty good at adding something into what he normally eats. I try to cook just a couple of times a week but a lot at one time so can reheat during the week when our nights are full.

    LisaM

    January 15, 2014

    I really like your comments about trying things just for the sake of respect and gratitude for the cook. Not that the family “owes” you anything for it, but they do need to recognize the care you feel for them, and the work it requires. Playing that mutual respect card with my kids almost always put things in perspective for all of us (it worked both ways!), in a variety of situations.

    Maureen

    January 15, 2014

    I fully agree with your post here! I do not have children, but my husband can eat and eat and eat without gaining a pound. I am lucky that he trusts my cooking, but he will let me know if there’s a meal he likes or does not like. Sometimes I change it up, sometimes I do not. Example – he says he hates raw spinach…but there are MANY times he has had spinach in a salad and not complained. So I will buy a lettuce mix with spinach in it and if he wants to pick out just the spinach, he can. He has only done this once.

    RG

    January 15, 2014

    I think I have a hard time with the picky eaters because I’m the opposite: I like variety, within a meal and in general. I also like spices, whether they add heat or just complexity. I had a meltdown last week trying to put together a menu for my parents and two siblings plus kids. One person is on paleo, three are (not-strict) vegetarian, some only like spicy foods, some only like bland foods, and then each person has a list of vegetables they won’t eat. I mean, if I’m a guest in any of their homes, I eat what’s offered or I cook for myself. The vegetarians don’t make sure my protein needs are met, the bland eaters don’t give me an interesting vegetable dish, the paleo crowd doesn’t throw together a pilaf just for me. I know what to expect, I eat more of my preferences in the rest of the day.

      RoniNoone

      January 15, 2014

      I agree with you and that’s how I’m trying to raise my boys.. to not be picky and eat what’s offered. I don’t expect folks to cater to me either. As the preschool says.. you get what you get and you don’t get upset. ;)

      RG

      January 15, 2014

      Actually, I think you’re far more patient with it than I am. Your modular approach makes it easy for someone to skip one item and eat more of another. My problem is that, like Donna, I prefer mixed meals – casserole or stew or stir fry. I make home-made pizza, piled high with vegetables, and someone always needs their own 1/4 of the pizza made special. It’s irritating to go through all that work and get only criticism in response.

      RoniNoone

      January 15, 2014

      Ohh I fee your pain. I can rarely convince the fam to put stuff on pizza and one of my fav dishes is chili. I can’t get anyone to like it. So I make it really infrequently. :(

    Martha Glantz

    January 15, 2014

    Love this! I’m lucky in one way….my partner also wants to eat healthy and doesn’t cook so whatever I make she eats. But sometimes I’m puzzled. Tonight make a tasty spicy shrimp soup that was made for two. When she finished one bowl she took out the krab salad and kale salad and made herself a little dish. Uh, why? the krab salad is full of mayo and the soup is healthy and low cal? But i kept quiet. Her decision.
    What we eat is OUR choice and what others eat is THEIR choice.
    I know you’re not weighing in, but I am and still maintaining. Nine months and going strong!

      RoniNoone

      January 15, 2014

      AWESOME job on maintaining!

      Martha Glantz

      January 15, 2014

      Thanks! I think this is the longest I’ve ever maintained my weight and the biggest reason is that I didn’t diet. I changed how I eat and that won’t stop. Plus! I love moving every day.

    Georgia Reed

    January 16, 2014

    Well Roni.. I think you’ve found a book you should write! Seriously. I agree with you and took away some good pointers too. We do the one bite and if you don’t like what’s served now, good luck at the next meal (said in love of course). So seriously… I think this could be a book. YOu have a lot of knowledge and passion in this area and America needs it! Most people don’t even eat dinner together (womp womp womp).

    Pattie Welch

    January 16, 2014

    OMG Roni – I can’t believe you read and answered my question! THANK YOU THANK YOU. I love your blog and can relate with you on so many levels. Thank you for taking the time to put so much thought and energy into answering my question. I love your advice and approach … especially the respect for the cook discussion, as I have this discussion with my own kids on a regular basis. I also love all of your thoughts on how you handle the temptations and the understanding/acceptance that you are both different people, etc. I will definitely use all of this advice. And again, thank you so much for your thoughtful and “fired up” response. Pattie

    nancyabc

    January 16, 2014

    I live alone but sometimes when I sit in Wendys and eat my chili I wish I could eat the french fries I see everyone else eating–ugh!
    Every once in awhile you just neen to get it out. Good topic this week.

    Imacrazymomof4

    January 16, 2014

    Being one of 6 kids my mom made 1 meal. The rule was you have to try something 7 times before you know if you like it or not. That’s the same rule I have. The wonderful thing is, is that as kids you aren’t keeping track of each time you eat it…I was 11 before I realized I probably had eaten beets 7 times already. I love beets! I think when kids know they have to try everything, they are exposed to things that they think they wouldn’t like, or ever want to try. My kids will eat anything…I know it’s because they have the mindset that when it comes to eating new things it’s not a negative experience.

    My husband will ask me at 10 am what we are having for dinner. My mind doesn’t think like that! If I don’t know (I usually don’t) I ask him what he would like, if he doesn’t know I say a few things and if he doesn’t want them he makes dinner. Like last night, I was going to make a whole wheat baked ziti…we ended up eating baked cod, scalloped potatoes, beets and salad. The beautiful thing? I didn’t make any of it, and my kids ate every bite without one whimper.

    Carol

    January 16, 2014

    Great topic! And I agree with just about everything you said. However, as my kids get older, (I have 12 yo BG twins), it has gotten a little harder to feed everyone. My husband eats whatever I put in front of him for the most part, there are certain foods that I love and he can’t stand. I try not to cook with those and I’ll order them at a restaurant instead. My daughter is a swimmer and has crazy swings of hunger. When she is ravenous, it seems like I can’t get enough food in her body. I’m beginning to adjust how much I make for dinner. We just discovered that all my sons stomach issues seemed be tied to dairy, so I’ve had to cut out or modify some of our favorite family meals. And there are a grand total of two veggie sides that everyone likes. The rest are met with sighs and eye rolls by at least one person at the table. But, I still only make one meal and I do make it a rule that everyone still has to try everything.

    My kids are way less picky than most of their friends and I know it’s because they’ve always had to eat what I make and I’ve always put out a variety of foods. Getting to them young is the key. Then when they are teenagers, there is a foundation in place.

    Sam

    January 16, 2014

    This is a great post Roni! I have a 5yo who used to be great at eating veggies and trying new things before his brother (now 2yo) started eating solids. Then he wanted to eat all the food that his brother was eating…who unfortunately had a dislike for most veggies from the start. Now I am working hard to wean them from “kid dinners”, which are usually more picnic dinners, still healthy, but not always the meals that hubby and I are eating. You have a great philosophy on junk and meal planning and The Husband sounds alot like my husband, although I am still stuck in the “I can change him” phase.
    Thanks, as always, for some great advice!

    David Jarrison

    January 16, 2014

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    Dukebdc

    January 16, 2014

    What a great discussion. I am married, but no kids yet. I am a vegetarian and my husband is not. I realize just how lucky I am that he pretty much eats whatever I cook. There are some meat substitutes he will draw the line on (veggie bacon and mock meatballs come to mind) but he lets me know respectfully and that’s OK. I am fine with him cooking meat in our kitchen, but he rarely does. When we order takeout or go out to dinner, he’ll order meat maybe 60% of the time, but much to my surprise, he often orders vegetarian when he doesn’t have to.

    The one thing I have to pay attention to is the amount of food I make. He outweighs me by 75-80 pounds and needs more volume of food than I do (especially since the meals are meatless). So I try to make large batches of food when I can (8.5 x 11 casserole, for example, or extra potatoes) so I can portion out my one serving, and he can take more if he needs it.

    Kristine Beeson

    January 16, 2014

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately… I’m finding that at times, I feel like I’m eating MORE food than my husband. and then I have to remind myself that I’m not eating the same quantity of treats as he does at work. And my activity level is higher than his. what’s the saying, comparison is the theft of joy? I need to focus on what I need to serve my body’s needs and stop comparing :)

    IveliseDJ

    January 16, 2014

    I’ve always wanted to write this “Long time reader. First time commenter” This is perfect advice. I actually have been using many of your recipes for my diverse bunch of eaters (skinny yet bulk eating hubby, 15 mos old, 13 yr old, 16 yr old and WLS self). Since my teens are, well, teens, we allow them to have one dish or item that they are allowed to refuse (teen #1 is chili, teen #2 is rice). The caveat is that if that dish is served then they cook their own meal that night as I am a firm believer in only one dinner. So there may be a solution for when your kiddos are older. Thanks for a great read!

    Vicky

    January 16, 2014

    Great post. My husband and child also eat whatever I put I front of them.

    wife2abadge

    January 17, 2014

    You know, we’re all dying to know what your husband’s bad habit is, don’t you? ;-) My kids (11 & 16) have to have a “no thank you” bite of everything at the meal, but are welcome to fill up on the parts they like if they hate something. My husband (thankfully!) won’t ever complain about what I cook. He may not eat much and may be making a giant pan of popcorn later in the evening, but he doesn’t cook and has no interest in learning, so he keeps it zipped.

    LG

    January 17, 2014

    This is an excellent post! Very well written and I’m sure I’ll be using some of these ideas when we have kiddos. :0)

    Kristen

    January 23, 2014

    In our house, both my DH and I would be happy as vegetarians, but my 9 year olds, not so much…
    Other than feeling like a well-rounded vegetarian diet is the most