Navigating Family Meals with Different Nutrition Goals
FAQs - Did You Know?
June 11, 2021

family meals when dieting

Navigating family meals can often feel as though it requires an advanced degree.  That’s just on days when the only thing to contend with is the food preferences of everyone at the table.  When other factors, such as nutrition goals like weight loss, come into play, it can seem like the only way you’ll get through it all is by hiring a team of experts. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Navigating Family Meals Like a Pro

Navigating family meals feels like it rises to a whole new level when you have specific goals in mind. When you want to lose weight, serving meals to the entire group can take some strategy.  This is made all the more challenging when other family members aren’t supportive of your efforts.

With summer approaching, many people feel a sense of urgency when it comes to progressing toward their weight loss goals. Therefore, it’s important to start learning about navigating family meals as early as you can, so you can skip unnecessary hurdles, battles, setbacks, and hurt feelings.

Use the following information to make your way through everyday meals with your immediate household, as well as barbecues when the extended family arrives to eat as well. This will help you to feel confident in what you serve, what you choose to eat, and what to say when that passive-aggressive aunt decides that it’s time to make a comment.

Navigating Family Meals When Hurtful Comments Are Made

Criticism – in its subtle and blunt forms – can be very difficult to hear.  This is particularly true when you feel it is undeserved.  That said, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to manage, or that it will make it so that you can’t continue successfully navigating family meals.

Why Does Criticism Happen?

The key is in understanding that dietary criticism nearly always stems from a place of personal insecurity or envy.  Before you start shaking your head, keep reading.  If a family member – or many of them – is excessively critical of the steps you’ve taken to change your habits on behalf of your weight loss, it may mean that their own personal insecurities or envy have risen to the surface.

Even if you’ve laid out the same barbecue spread you always do, someone with an eye on your personal selections – food choices and portion sizes – may feel (no matter how wrongly) that as you improve your habits, you are judging theirs.  Alternately, they may feel envious of the healthy choices you’re making on your own behalf and of successes you’re seeing. These are very common, particularly in the case of feeling judged.

Navigating family meals involves a wealth of tradition and social expectations. When a family member does something that stands out from the usual, personal insecurities can cause people to feel threatened by it. They feel that they are at risk of being judged. Therefore, they criticize in order to compensate for that feeling of insecurity. It helps them to feel that they are justified in their own behaviors by cutting down those that challenge their sense of security.

How to Prevent or Respond to Criticism

Criticism is most likely to happen when turning down something someone else has offered you.  Indeed, it can happen when someone simply observes what you have added to your plate, but it is far more likely when someone has a big scoop of extra-creamy pasta salad aimed at your plate. What do you do?

Say something like: “That pasta salad looks delicious, but I just can’t right now. I’m trying very hard to stick to my plan. Thanks for understanding!” Use your own words but choose a similar format. Keep things positive, firm, and smiling. Compliments can go a long way to ensuring that it’s not a rejection of food that doesn’t live up to your standards. Ending it in gratitude for understanding can help to confirm that you’re not planning to change your mind and that your choice was based on your personal needs.

Avoid making a single judgmental comment about the food. Remember that the point is to state that it is not for you, while never suggesting that it isn’t right for someone else. Avoid all comments about a dish being “too high in fat” or “loaded with sugar”, even if you mean well.  Those comments can shame someone else who was looking forward to a big portion of that particular favorite.  Instead, vague statements about sticking to your plan are justification enough.

Put Veggies in the Way

This is particularly easy to get away with when you fill your plate, instead of leaving most of the real estate bare. If you have a few teaspoons of each dish on your plate, it could make anyone with a mountain of food on their own plate feel judged. Instead, place a decent amount of food on your plate. Just make sure you’ve made the right food choices. You can still have a small quantity of certain dishes. Fill the rest of the space with veggies, green salad, or another healthy side dish you love. If you’re eating at another family member’s home, bring a veggie tray or salad enough for everyone, so that it will be there when you need to fill up the space.

A great strategy can be to start with the veggies and salad, so that your plate begins with a limited amount of space. That way, there isn’t enough room to add everything else, and turning things down when you don’t want them will look more justified to a family member with personal insecurities.

Healthy Dishes to Serve and Share for Easily Navigating Family Meals

As you can see, whether you’re throwing a barbecue, heading to one at someone else’s home, or simply heading off on a group picnic, having the right healthy dishes available can make all the difference.

Even if there are tons of cheese-filled smoky sausages, creamy salads and other dishes that don’t suit your weight loss plan, these dishes can help with navigating family meals unscathed. They make it easier to dodge unwanted comments and still enjoy lots of food.

Serve or bring the following and add them to your plate first as a buffer before the rest of the dishes can play a role in what you eat.

  • Grilled chicken, fish, or kebabs can complement turkey dogs, veggie burgers alongside traditional beef burgers and hotdogs.
  • Creamy ranch dressing may be the family favorite but adding a light Italian or a simple balsamic vinaigrette can give people – including yourself – choices for keeping those green salads light.

Fruit and vegetable trays are fantastic for filling a plate but are also terrific finger foods for snacking throughout an afternoon without being concerned about overeating.


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