Are your healthy eating choices causing conflict in your marriage? Is your spouse unwilling to eat better, or, even worse, sabotaging your efforts to get your family on track? If you are wondering what to do, read on.
OUR FAMILY’S TRANSITION
After I first began learning from the Weston A. Price Foundation about what I’d been unknowingly feeding our family, I immediately tossed out most of the food in the pantry—it was too disgusting even to give away. Next, I wanted to purchase a couple of expensive new kitchen gadgets; I discussed the intended purchases with my husband Kent, who said, “As long as you’ll use them.”
Early on, we tried some raw milk from a neighbor. When I exclaimed, “It tastes just like milk!”, Kent looked at me like I was nuts and said, “What did you think it was going to taste like?” He didn’t flinch when I started looking for a farmer who sold fresh raw milk—he would just tell everyone, “I grew up on a farm, and we drank this milk a lot.”
Kent’s great attitude continued when it came to our kids. It was priceless to have another person to help field the complaints about the lack of junk food in the house. We had a lot of good discussions about what was happening to the U.S. food supply. We agreed at a fundamental level that switching to a traditional, real-food diet was worth the time and expense to give our family a better shot at staying healthy over the long term.
NOT ALWAYS SO EASY
Sadly, not all spouses go along with changes in the kitchen as easily as Kent did. In addition to hearing things like “nobody likes the yogurt or the homemade bread I make,” I often get comments like these from my readers:
• “He drinks soda every day and eats candy and then shares these with the kids.”
• “I’m afraid this is going to drive a wedge between us in our marriage.”
• “The kids liked my cooking when they were younger, but now they’re complaining just like they’ve heard him do.”
• “They go get fast food when I’m not with them.”
• “He sees how my health has improved but thinks it can’t really be related to what I eat.”
• “He’s freaking out over how much our grocery bill is.”
When your spouse thinks you have gone off the deep end, it can help to acknowledge that life changes are never easy, especially when it comes to something as comforting as food. Then, encourage your spouse to hear you out. Hopefully, the lines of communication are open between you. (If not, then I’d say your issues go beyond food, and some counseling might be in order.) The following sections offer suggestions and talking points you can use to help generate some deeper thinking.
DECISIONS AND CHOICES
Spouses are adults who need to make their own decisions. You don’t need to give a long lecture, but a comment here and there can be helpful: “Did you know that . . .?” or “I read today that . . .” and then just drop it. It may also help to point out that when it comes to health, things are not going well in the world. You and your spouse may know many people who struggle with obesity, anxiety, diabetes, sleep issues, digestive troubles, infertility, cancer or other chronic diseases. Life expectancy in the U.S. is falling, and research suggests that many children will live shorter lives than their parents.
Explain to your spouse that it is difficult for children to learn how to live better and make conscious, healthy choices and be comfortable doing so, when they are watching a parent eat junk food. If your spouse does not have the motivation or self-control to cut out the junk and avoid fast food indulgences, then ask, for the sake of your kids’ health, that it be eaten only at work or somewhere away from the children’s eyes—being sure to ditch the evidence before getting home. Even that may not be wise advice, though, because kids are great detectives, and they will eventually find their parent out. If that happens, they will consider that parent a hypocrite and will think that it is okay to eat that way as long as it’s hidden. That’s certainly not a healthy attitude to cultivate about eating.
If your spouse still wants to eat out now and then, talk about making healthier choices at restaurants and watching out for foods that are typically loaded with unhealthy vegetable oils, like French fries. (Better yet, make your own French fries at home, frying them in beef tallow. That is what McDonald’s used to fry in before it decided that saturated fat was the enemy.)
SUPPORT, NOT SABOTAGE
When you were growing up, the food supply probably already wasn’t great (depending on how old you are), but it’s much worse now. In fact, things have changed drastically. You can’t blindly trust the government with what goes into your kids’ bodies—it’s your job to protect them!
Even if your spouse is not into healthy eating and is too stubborn to get on board anytime soon, ask him (or her) to at least consider making an effort to offer support in this area, rather than sabotaging your efforts. Remember, too, the power of example. A reader, married for thirty-seven years, shared this comment: “I realize that just because I decide I’m going to change, I shouldn’t try to make him. One thing to remember: when they see how well you’re doing, they will want to change. My husband noticed that I never got sick—even when he brought home the nastiest flu and colds. Just keep fixing healthy meals and providing healthy things around the house to snack on and give it time.”
It may also be helpful to point out that well-nourished kids are much easier to parent. Not only is their behavior better, making them a joy to be around, but school comes easier for them, too. This means less homework hassles for you and your spouse to deal with every evening—trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s not fun.
BETTER WITH BUTTER
Take it from someone who used to be a fast food junkie: after you start eating real food that nourishes your body, you won’t even want the junk anymore. Eventually, it all tastes fake. Of course, until spouses find out for themselves, it may be hard for them to believe how much better real food tastes. Consider it your mission to prove to your spouse that real food is tastier. It’s not that your spouse will love everything, but if your spouse approaches this with an open mind, my bet is that he will like a lot of it. The bottom line is that eating well isn’t a sacrifice at all.
To help get them on board, you can start by adapting their favorite meals to healthier versions. You may feel like this puts pressure on you to make your food taste really good, but this isn’t difficult. Hello, butter! Butter is real food and that’s a great place to start—put it on everything! How about a nice big grassfed steak fried in butter? Or some sourdough or other fresh-baked bread (with more butter)? Or pastured roast chicken with comfort foods like mashed potatoes and gravy? Or pastured bacon and eggs for breakfast? (Because “guess what, honey, those are good for you!”) It’s not that tricky to win someone over with traditional tasty foods like those. Real food doesn’t mean eating only kale and lentils.
Readers of my blog have had helpful strategies to share. One reader wrote: “I try to get his input when I am planning meals for the week. So now he knows if he is craving tacos he doesn’t have to go through a drive-thru; he can write it on the meal board, and it will show up in the next few days. Plus, I like the fact he is offering meal suggestions; it makes my job a little easier.” Another reader stated: “There are some recipes that I make that his mom shared with me, and I substitute the best ingredients that I can and plan them occasionally because it means a lot to him. Sometimes they aren’t the best thing I could make, but it keeps him happy enough that for the most part he has adopted a healthier diet.”
If you’re struggling to find recipes, remember that there are now many great options online for tried and true traditional dishes—it’s getting easier and easier to pull this off. The Nourishing Traditions cookbook is loaded with delicious recipes and is a great place to start.
Let your spouse know that changing to a healthier diet does not mean never being able to enjoy treats or other favorite foods. Healthier homemade treats actually taste so much better! There are many healthy ingredients that are just as delicious as the rotten ones you are working to replace. Try not to be a food Nazi about sweets; have them together as a family now and then, but as much as possible, make them yourself. Once in a while, you may want to buy “organic junk food” as a treat (something that is much easier to find nowadays at local grocery stores), but buyer beware; “organic” does not necessarily mean “healthy,” and these items can be budget-busters.
A reader shared the following exchange with her husband about desserts:
We sat down and had a long conversation about why we were doing this in the first place and what was important to each of us. It was really a matter of deciding what we could compromise on. My husband really loves having dessert. He thought I was getting rid of all his treats. The compromise was that if we can get rid of the junk, that I would be willing to make desserts a little more often, but I make them with real ingredients. He’s happy that I’m baking and has decided that he doesn’t even miss those snack cakes.
PAY NOW OR PAY LATER
Boxed, processed and packaged foods and fast foods are a pretty horrible investment, particularly when you know how few nutrients they actually contain. Do a little digging online to learn what’s in all of that toxic food you are transitioning away from. You’ll see that a fast food burger is cheap for a reason—because it’s factory-farmed meat from sick animals raised quickly and inhumanely.
Some people can get away with eating the Standard American Diet for a while, but not many, and not for long. I always wonder what chronic health issues our family dodged by switching our diet over to real food when we did. Getting sick is not a fun way to find out that what Joel Salatin, an author and Virginia farmer, says is true: “You can pay now or pay later.” Or as Salatin also says, “Have you priced cancer lately?”
There are many ways to make a Wise Traditions lifestyle more budget-friendly. Buying in bulk and eating more local, seasonal foods are just two examples.
KEEPING THE PEACE
Not everyone will go “all out” as I did. For most, it may be a slower process of changing things gradually, and that’s probably better, especially when it comes to maintaining marital peace. As one reader has reported, “He preferred that we make changes slower than what I tried in the beginning. He was more resistant when I tried to do it all at once.”
As difficult as it may seem, try to nag your spouse less and just “live it” more. You can’t do better until you know better—and hopefully, your spouse will “know better” soon. In the meantime, preserve the relationship. Continue being loving and compromise where you can, because that will give you more respect and credibility in your spouse’s eyes.
Getting your spouse on board doesn’t have to be a battle. The advice in this article can help smooth things out and help your spouse become more open and supportive toward your efforts to keep your family healthy, well-nourished and happy.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2019