How do I encourage my future mother in law to not give into her kids' snack and junk food demands?

I turn to the Teeming Millions for advice on a sticky subject: the diet of my SO’s siblings, and the relationship with my future mother in law

This story needs a bit of backstory:

My SO was a vegetarian for 10 years when I met him. I encouraged him (after we’d been together quite awhile) to try some meat. Wow, fish is delightfully tasty. After awhile, he tries some marinated and grilled chicken a friends makes. Wow, chicken is delightfully tasty! And on and on with every concievable type of meat. Time goes on and, I come over to his mother’s house for dinner, where I discover why exactly my SO was a vegetarian. His mother - we’ll call her Lisa - while a wonderful person and an even better baker, boils or bakes the SHIT out of every piece of meat and vegetable that crosses her path.

While my SO managed to have good eating habits - since improved with me - his younger sisters are overweight. Lisa jokes that they’re in the 98% for their age, but I can see it’s going to be A Problem as time goes on. The pediatrician has told her that both girls are chubby (they’re 7 and 12). Kids are somewhat sedentary, but worse, they eat all the carbs they can get their hands on, because she miraculously doesn’t overcook rice or pasta. A typical plate will be a smattering of vegetables, a hunk of meat, and 2/3 of the plate filled with a starch. For snacks, the kids will have fruit rollups or chips and Gatorade. They’ll have fruits or vegetables at the end of meals, if they’re still hungry. Obviously this is a problem; they should be front, center, and the most important part of meal.

Here’s where the problem is: a few months ago, I and the SO watched the kids for a few days while she was away at a conference (she’s a professor). While I watched the kids, I made them whole wheat pasta (paid them $5 to try it, and they liked it), steamed their dinner veggies, and gave them options of prepared cut veggies and fruit as snacks, which they enjoyed (kids like stuff better raw, I’ve seen). I never offered them dessert, if they asked, I obliged. But both nights they ran off to play instead. It was a good experiment, and it shows how easily malleable they are to change.

I mentioned before that Lisa is a professor, so she knows fruits and vegetables are good for you, she’s no stranger to it. Lack of money isn’t an issue at all. The issue is, she lets the kids win at the grocery store and at home. She grew up fairly poor (sometimes hungry, working class) and so her way of “loving” the kids is allowing them the junk they want. That’s fine, but it’s a sure path to obesity.

I feel torn because I know the kids are going to be obese if I don’t intervene; their eating habits show the classic signs, and genetically, they’re predisposed - they’re both adopted (Guatemalan) and their parents were obese. The thing is, Lisa has been receptive to the changes I’ve made - and she’s maintained some as well, like she makes them whole wheat pasta still, but still allows them tons of junk food, before and after dinner, and when they eat out it’s always crap. She’s asked for my whole wheat banana bread recipe, and even went out and bought whole wheat flour to make stuf with, but then said “oh, the kids didn’t like it, they like the real stuff”. It’s like she’s personally torn as well.

Do I keep slowly intervening? I do worry about our relationship down the road; the SO and I are getting engaged after he graduates next year, so she’ll be in my life in a pretty big way in the future (we live 30 minutes away from her). By and large, she really really likes me; thinks I’m bright and a good influence on the SO. Occasionally she’ll get exasperated with me - we once watched the kids for a night, and ordered pizza (she left $), but I made the kids choose between water or milk. They complained to her later that they didn’t get soda - and Lisa said I should have let them have it- but they forgot about it the next day.

I don’t want to strain our relationship, but at the same time, I know it’s so much easier to grow up with a healthy diet. I do feel like I’d be doing the kids a huge disservice if I butted out completely. In other ways, she seeks out my help - like with the acne and hair of the 13 year old (who has similar skin and hair to mine).


Have yourself a big steaming mug of MYOB and stay out of it. They are her kids, not yours. As long as they are not being abused/neglected, it is not your place to intervene.

I agree with this. This is none of your business.

And, it will probably drive you crazy, but when you get married, you still have no say, and you can’t let it get in the way of your relationship. All you can do is continue to provide healthy options - and you can’t say anything about it, like “I brought this squash honey casserole - it’s still sweet, but way healthier for you.”

Also, this is not the type of thing you want to take a stand on, or you’ll be putting your spouse in a terrible position over something not that bad.

Wow. You changed your SO’s eating habits and now you’re ready to move on to his siblings? Why do you feel the need to alter the way someone else eats?

There’s a phrase that applies here: don’t borrow trouble.

Yes, your future brothers and/or sisters-in-law may have a diet you don’t approve of. It may not be the healthiest but they aren’t malnourished (I am assuming).

Stay out of it.

OR, you could just let her know that you don’t approve of her parenting decisions now so she and your future husband will know what they are getting into now.

Lead by example. When they come over serve what you would normally would and let them know that in your house you don’t have soda or whatever they are asking for at the moment. Otherwise just let it go. Not because you aren’t right and not because you don’t have their best interest at heart but because it will seriously strain your relationship with your MIL if you mention it and you don’t want to spend the next 40 years at odds with someone so close to you.

I think the kids - especially if they’re girls - will decide pretty soon that they want to lose weight and will start making better choices for themselves. You can encourage them when they eat at your place and be a good role model. You can even encourage them to be active and help them find a sport they like. But nobody likes to be told how to raise their kids. It’s not a battle you want to fight.

Mind your own business.

And the suggestion that a diet with meat is healthier than a vegetarian diet is laughable. Obviously if a person is only eating PB&J and you talk them into steamed fish and veg, you’ve made an improvement, but if they’re eating a balanced, well planned vegetarian diet and you convince them to eat more steak, all you’ve done is increase their risk of colon cancer, heart disease, etc. etc.

She who rules the house makes the rules.

If asked you may venture your opinion, but you can not force change in another’s household. The only household you can control is yours.

When the girls come to your house it’s your rules. Serve them the food you think healthy. (Clearly, they are willing to try it). You are, of course, welcome to invite them frequently. You will at least let them know there are choices and alternatives out there.

But do not interfere with another household - unless you don’t mind the same in return.

The entitlement mentality (assuming it’s her place at 23 years old to tell a full grown adult woman how to raise children) is strong with ol’ lindsaybluth…

I suppose the fact that she has named herself after a spoiled, insipid, narcissistic fictional TV character says it all…

I can offer the suggestion that leading by example can be effective.

My sister is working on portion control with her kids and having more nutritious meals. When we returned from a week at her house, my wife and I discussed which of her methods we could borrow. It’s worked out OK for our family.

There’s no way on God’s little green Earth, though, that I would’ve tolerated her coming into my house and offering the same suggestions.

Ahh, where tact and politeness come to die, the SDMB.

And to think that I felt bad that you were gone for a week.

I’m confused about the first part - should I provide healthy options but don’t say something about it? Or do you mean say the part before the dash, but not the part after it.

Uh, wait what? Where did I say that a diet with meat was better than a vegetarian diet? Incidentally, peanut butter and jelly is good if it’s low sugar jelly and the bread is whole grain. If you’re referring to my SO being a vegetarian, the anecdote was to explain that he was one largely his mother’s treatment of meat was so awful.

Mmm, this is probably the best advice yet. I never comment on what other people eat, like friends and such - they’re adults, I don’t care what they do with themselves. But I do have the girls’ best interest at heart, and I sometimes work myself into knots worrying about how they eat. But I don’t want to spend the next 40 or 60 years at odds with Lisa.

A lot of people seem to be getting very indignant with the “my house, my goddamn RULES!”

I do a lot of favors for the future MIL - watch the kids when she has a night meeting, watching them on overnights, watching one while she takes another to an appointment, all for free etc. In turn, she encourages me to do my laundry at her place, borrow the odd shovel or tool, etc. We have a really great relationship - sometimes the SO and I joke that she likes me better than him (and that my parents like him better than they like me). She’s a great mother, and she’s smart and very funny, but like I’ve said, she’s not doing the kids any favors with their diet.

Does anyone else have advice like pbbth? Even perhaps, specific choice or words or phrasing? Sometimes the kids ask what I order if we’re out to eat, like "Why did you order that? Why did you say this? (eg, no rice and double veggies, or oil instead of butter, etc). How do I phrase a good response?

Irony cat is ironic.

But hey, congrats on starting a thread where the first 10 posters all agree you should MYOB. It’s hard to get 10 dopers to agree on anything.

Don’t ask for advice if you don’t want to hear it.

I agree that you need to stay out of it and simply lead by example. If they ask why you order such and such, tell them the truth. Not sure what else you could say, really. “I ordered brown rice instead of white because it has more fiber and is better for your body.” “I ordered double veggies with no butter because veggies are good for you and they make me feel healthy, and I don’t need butter to enjoy delicious veggies!”

lolwut? Because I disagree with you wanting to impose your view of eating on others? For real?

Also, don’t feel sorry for anyone for a week off from here. It’s just a messageboard and not even the best one I visit, at that.

Mind your own business and butt out.

My sister’s kids are going to be very overweight, genetically predisposed and my sister doesn’t even try to control what they eat. Guess what? I would never even dream of so much as breathing a word about it to her. And I’m her sister, if anything I have a lot more right than you to stick my nose in, as traditionally older sisters are supposed to be bossy and interfering. As a future daughter-in-law, you have absolutely no say, and stand a good chance to ruin your relationship should you keep going on like this.

How many people now? 12? are all saying the same thing. Pay attention.

This…PLUS…the other side of the weight equation…exercise. Every day they come to your house, schedule a walk to the park, city pool, hiking, etc. Do something with them outside and away from the TV and the snacks.

Lindsay…Each home has property lines…i.e. boundaries. Therefore, make your boundaries known, and at the same time, observe the boundaries of others. If she asks for your advice, give it. If she doesn’t ask, then keep it to yourself. If you give unwanted advice over the years, it will just morph into resentment on her side of the ledger. So…don’t start something that will bubble over years down the road and even more years to correct. I was in that spot a few years ago (the Son) and my mom and wife grated on each others nerves until I had enough. Things are better, but still far from ideal, ATM.

TRUE. This can easily be a family divider, even if “You meant well”.

Your house…your rules. Her house, her rules.

It sounds like you are already leading by example. If the girls are over enough, and they like what you give them, they may ask their mom to fix them the same. I do also believe that this should come from them and not from you.

I so understand the desire for your family to eat better: I’m in that stage myself. But I can only control what my immediate family buys and eats. It helps a lot that my MIL studied nutrition. But, for example, I would never tell my SIL what to cook for her kids.

Keep on doing what you’re doing: they’ll come around!

Did you really want advice or did you just post this to try to get people to pat you on the back for being concerned? Butt out.

I agree with the others on what’s going on when the children aren’t with you not being your business. When you do have the kids though, let them cook with you, if they’re interested. If they aren’t, don’t force it, but keep the rules on food for your your home. Take them to the store to get ingredients for what you’re making and talk about why you’re choosing what you’re choosing, without criticizing what they eat when their mom shops, and don’t go overboard with the health food and scare them off. You mentioned pizza, so introduce them to homemade vegetable pizza. Or teach them new different dishes that are simple enough that the older child could try and make on her own for the family. You shouldn’t be pushing or lecturing any of these people, but if you enjoy healthy cooking, you can share your hobby with the kids, and possibly teach them something along the way.