When I first met my husband, Chris, I was a 26-year-old single woman who tried to eat her lean protein and lots of veggies! When we began dating, we had our own lives and independence, and I ate however the heck I wanted to keep my body healthy. As the timeline progressed, and I started to spend more and more time at Chris’s house where his mother lived in his basement and where every other week his children resided, the clashing of food preferences and habits quickly became a prevalent factor in our lives. It is hard to eat healthy in a stepfamily!
Chris, his daughters, and his mother had/have completely different eating habits and values than I do. One of the big reasons is their ridiculous genetics in the form of speedy metabolisms that keep them very lean. I have always had to work a little bit harder to maintain my weight. (My step daughter’s’ birth mother is also extremely thin and also has different ideas about food than I). My husband’s shelves and refrigerator were stocked with Hamburger Helpers, canned Hormel Chili, frozen pizzas, and GIGANTIC bags of cheese. I preferred lots and lots of produce, organic health foods, and hardly any dairy at all. When I started to make some meals and participate in the cooking a lot more, I’d receive snarky comments and laughs from his mom, complete disgust and shock from the children, and Chris still to this day jokes how I cooked him a salad for the first meal I ever made him.
Three years later, Chris and I are in a new house with his mom living in his old house. With this new change, it has been a lot easier for my husband and me to hold a united front in setting standards for our house, including the food we buy and eat. However, this does not mean any less push-back from the girls. A month into enjoying our new house we saw the documentary, “What the Health” on Netflix (http://www.whatthehealthfilm.com/). The film impacted both of us and we chose to follow a vegan lifestyle (or mostly follow in his case). This lifestyle change has created even more challenges in the food department when the children are with us.
Whatever your healthy eating preference is, these tips can be applied to your scenario. Here is how I have learned to maintain my needs for healthy vegan eating within a blended family where my needs sometimes clash with the already established family food culture that I married into:
First of all, do not feel guilty or that you need to sacrifice your health and wellness needs for anyone else.
I have heard it told over and again that you are the most important person in your life. This is so true! If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be your best self to take care of anybody else in the world. And, if you’re not looking out for you and your health, who will? No matter what, know that your body and what you put into it is your decision and your priority that you do not need to sacrifice. With that being said…
Understand that you cannot control others eating habits, only your own.
It is not your job to force someone to eat the way that you think is best, even if it may be a better, healthier way of living. I have certainly tried to influence people with my views without fruition. The best thing to do is to be an example for people. Live and eat the way you think is best for your body, and when those around you see positive results without you being too pushy about it, they may likely follow suit. However, as kids living under yours and your spouse’s roof, you must make clear to your stepchildren/children that you and your husband are the ones who pay for and cook the food. They are welcome to contribute their preferences, but ultimately it is the adult’s’ decision as to the food that is served in the house.
While it is yours and your spouse’s decision, it would do you well to be a little flexible, especially when first introducing change. Your stepchildren, and even your spouse, may never agree fully with you on your choice of eating habits. Therefore, do listen to their preferences and occasionally buy things that may not fit into your diet, such as snacks, deli meat, whatever it is that they enjoy and is easy for them to make meals out of. This will make your life a little easier when you make breakfasts and dinners that are new and different, and paiinnfully healthy!
I am constantly looking for recipes online or buying recipe books with ideas for vegan versions of popular foods my stepchildren and husband like. One of my family’s favorites right now is an extremely authentic version of lasagna using tofu and roasted garlic hummus as the ricotta (http://www.hummusapien.com/easy-vegan-lasagna/). My favorite brand for quick, prepared meals right now is Amy’s Kitchen for their delicious vegan options. Amy’s has vegan pizzas, burritos, macaroni and cheese, and more which the whole family loves (https://www.amys.com/our-foods?vegan=1). In the frozen section there are so many vegan versions of favorite foods such as burgers, “chicken” nuggets, corn dogs, and meatballs. We also buy lots and lots of nut-milk ice creams. Ben and Jerry’s has some amazingly delicious non-dairy versions of their popular flavors such as Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. So Delicious is another of the better tasting ice cream brands, while Coconut Bliss has some very tasty ice cream bar choices. You can find most of these brands and vegan options in most groceries stores, health food stores, and Walmart.
It can be frustrating and lonely to come into a ready-made family and try to integrate each other’s habits and culture when it comes to food. However, new habits can and will be created in the new culture you and your spouse create for your family if you remain patient, optimistic, and consistent. Now go out there and be an unapologetically healthy you!