Being a grandparent is a lot different than it was being a parent. Parts of it are a lot more fun, some things are a lot more frustrating, but it is just as much an adventure as it was being a parent.
While I tell my daughter that being a grandma means I’m a mom with experience, rather than the mom who was winging it, it’s only half true. I haven’t seen a kid yet that comes with an owner’s manual, so it’s always a case of winging it.
There is one huge difference though.
As a grandparent, in general we aren’t responsible for the day to day routines or rules. We are allowed to take their side, be their buddies, forget discipline, and just have fun. That’s part of the reason that kids adore their grandparents too.
We can’t just spoil them with total abandon, however. As grandparents, just like kids, we’re stuck with parental rules about some things, and sometimes, that includes food. Sometimes, it’s for good reason, as when a child has a serious health problem or food allergies. Sometimes, it’s a case of “mom knows best” or whatever the latest food fad regarding childhood nutrition is. Then, it can get touchy. Parents are potentially very unhappy when their rules are blatantly ignored. That unhappiness can result in some serious family disputes, and even include exclusion of the grandparent from the child’s life.
Every grandparent wants their grandchildren to be healthy and happy. That’s a given, and that’s the whole point to spoiling a grandchild on the occasions we can do so. Sometimes, that means we can bend the rules a bit, or even push the limits on occasion. So what does the modern grandchild want or like?
As unique as our children are, our grandchildren are just as unique. What pleases one child may totally be refused by even their own sibling. So how do we know what to get at the grocery store for that all-snacks-included-movie-marathon-weekend?
If you don’t get to play the doting grandparent often, this can be a daunting goal with the approach of the coveted weekend with the grandchild or grandchildren. Even with our one-and-only living just over an hour away, we don’t often have the opportunity to have her come spend a few days with us. Everything from our own schedules, her schedule and her parents’ schedules can interfere with such lofty plans. That makes knowing what is going to please her a challenge.
Start with asking the parents what the food rules are. This is important if its a rare occasion and they may have food restrictions that you are not familiar with. In my case, our granddaughter is sensitive to cinnamon, and we have to be careful with anything containing that as an ingredient or flavoring.
Next, find out what the favorite drinks and foods are, along with any particular dislikes. We’re fortunate–our granddaughter loves broccoli and greens, and isn’t particularly picky about her foods overall. With that said, her day to day preferences are as whimsical as her tastes in movies can be. What pleases her today may be something she wants no part of tomorrow.
Then, there’s the packaging. As parents, we’re always much more focused on nutrition and value than we are on the packaging, at least officially. As grandparents, we are more interested in pleasing the child than using common sense. After all, we have them a handful of days, not every day. So, the cute packages of beverages may be a yes from a grandma, while mom may frown at the expense of purchasing that drink.
One clue as to what is apt to appeal is to find out what channel(s) they watch on television, then tune in on those channels yourself and watch some of their favorite programs. You don’t have to enjoy the characters & plots–you are there to watch the commercials! Those commercials are going to be the same ones that your beloved grandchild is getting day in and day out, and that’s usually going to show you what they are apt to want for snacks, treats, and beverages. It’s also going to show you what they are apt to have on their wish list for Santa or upcoming birthday.
Then, the most effective way with most children is to simply plan the grocery store as the first outing specifically to acquire the desired foods. Decide how much is reasonable, both in terms of cost and quantity, prior to going to the store. Keeping excess on hand after the child goes home is fine, if it is a product that you will use or if the child is coming back within the shelf life of the food item. Otherwise, any leftover items will need to be sent home with the child, and will surely advertise the spoil status with the parents!
Remember items that were a hit with your kids when they were young or even from your own youth too. Here is some that remain perennially popular because of their nature.
Jiffy Pop Popcorn–maybe it isn’t as amazing in 2014 as it was in 1970, but it is still going to thrill the younger crowd, and popcorn in general isn’t a totally unhealthy treat. They love seeing the foil expand as the popcorn pops, and this is also a treat that works well over the campfire or on the kitchen stove.
Pigs in a blanket–yes, the hot dogs wrapped in dough and baked. We called them wiener winks when they were wrapped in bread dough, or pigs in a blanket when crescent roll dough was used. My kids loved them just as much, and for the hot dog crowd, they are always a sure bet.
Smoothies–frozen fruit, ice cold milk, a little sweetener, and your blender turns it into an almost-milkshake that pleases the kids, tastes good to adults too, and isn’t going to alienate the parents. It’s also amazingly easy. One of our favorites is blueberry or blueberry-banana, but ice cold pumpkin puree (from a can) along with some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, a dash of allspice and a touch of vanilla) and brown sugar makes a delicious pumpkin pie flavored smoothie. If cow’s milk is on the no-no list, choose an alternative such as soy, almond, or rice milk. If its vanilla flavored, be careful about adding more. Sweeteners may also need adjusting, as some of the non-dairy milk alternatives taste sweeter.
Pie Irons–whether it’s just a grilled cheese or something fancier, anything made in a pie iron is going to be a hit. In my own childhood, we made fruit pies with buttered bread and any fruit pie filling from a can, and I was as delighted as if my grandmother had spent all day making a real pie from scratch, but it was much easier & quicker with the pie iron. They also work well on the campfire, and I used them with my own children for grilled cheese sandwiches as well as the fruit pies. If you are buying a pie iron, they are not all made from cast iron these days, so read reviews for the brand–some pie irons are prone to becoming heat damaged. Cast iron ones, while a bit more expensive, are much more durable. These irons also usually come with a small recipe book to enable you to quickly become a pie iron expert (at least in the grandchildren’s eyes.)
Pasta–it’s cheap, easy, and comes in a large variety of sizes and shapes. It also can be combined with other things to become pasta-and-cheese, as well as a long list of other favored foods. Most children prefer foods on the bland side, so opt for less seasoning and fewer ingredients to stay kid-friendly. For some strange reason, they also really like the boxed mac & cheese, which is usually simple to make as well. If it isn’t favored by the grandparents themselves, make the boxed mac & cheese, and serve it alongside something more appealing to the adults, letting the child sample the adult friendly food while appeasing their desire for the familiar with the mac & cheese. Who knows, they may soon discover that they love your balsamic roasted veggies or your rosemary chicken recipe!
Fried stuff–okay, I know that almost everyone over the age of 50 has been told to stay away from this type of food, but I’m not advocating eating it regularly. The truth is, kids love fried foods, and most of us grandparents secretly do too. Why not have a simultaneous satisfying experience as we all ignore the rules once in a while? Vegetables, such as summer squash, onion rings or wedges, cauliflower, etc. are delicious when dipped in fritter batter and fried, typically served with ranch dressing as a dip. Even fritters made with cubed chunks of pork, beef, or chicken becomes delicious when fried. Many vegetables are available pre-breaded and ready to fry, including okra and summer squash. French fries are also an option, but don’t forget the sweet potato fries! We also like batter dipped potato wedges, eggplant, peppers, etc. It’s a fun way to experiment too, and often children will sample vegetables this way that they would normally resist eating.
Fast food–this is something else that kids adore and parents typically don’t. It also means easy meal prep for the grandparents as we opt for the kid’s meal or fast food. It’s also appealing to the most difficult ages of all to please–the preteens and teens. Let them choose the restaurant and either dine in or take it home to eat.
Pizza, whether homemade, frozen or delivered, is a sure fire hit if you get the right flavor. Consult with the kid to find out what they want, whether it is pepperoni and extra cheese, plain cheese, spinach alfredo, or pineapple and Canadian bacon. Cold pizza can also be reheated or eaten cold, so buying a whole pizza of a flavor that does not appeal to the adults is not a ridiculous waste. It was also a favored breakfast food when I was a child, as well as with my own children.
Cold cereal can also be a delicious treat for dinner or even dessert. There is no set in stone rule that says you can only eat it before noon! If that’s what the kids like, why not? It’s easy, not expensive, and only dirties up a bowl & spoon too. Some people also like it with ice cream as a dessert.
Frozen dinners come in a variety of types, and there are some that are marketed specifically to children. Letting them choose their own meal is easy, and most are designed for heating in the microwave. This is a great choice if your own meal is going to be something that isn’t necessarily favored by your grandchildren, as well as when you are going to opt for a frozen dinner as well.
Cold cuts-sandwiches are easy, most kids like them, and there are even pre-assembled kits designed for kids with immense appeal. Often, these kits are not purchased by parents, and that makes them highly coveted treats. Their purchase can make you the hero of the hour and qualify you as a cool grandparent.
Getting your “cool grandparent” badge isn’t hard. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t mean giving in to every little whim either. Most kids desire just a short list of things, such as:
Listen to them. Whether its their complaints, their hopes, their dreams, or even just a wild story, kids want someone who honestly is paying full attention to them, not just giving attention as lip service. Listen to what they have to say and interact with them without passing judgement on everything. That’s the cool part–you are not responsible for rule enforcement!
Treat them like they are intelligent and what they want does matter to you. It may sound like it’s a silly thing to NOT do, but most kids don’t feel as though their opinions and desires are not taken seriously. This was something that meant a lot to me as a child, to have grandparents that actually listened and thought I was intelligent. Don’t treat them like they are silly or stupid or immature. Treat them like their thoughts are just as important as anyone else’s are.
Be there for them, physically and emotionally. That does not mean giving in to every demand and acting as their servants. It means engaging them, getting them to participate and help in daily activities as well as special ones, and paying attention to them rather than your social network page or the soap opera or whatever. They are important to you, so act like it! Play with them, as in actually getting the toys in your hands and playing, not merely supervising the play. Have tea parties, even if it’s fruit flavored drink instead of tea, and imaginary cookies. Have grand expeditions in your backyard to some exotic land where there are cannibals and magical creatures. Be a pirate, then a pirate princess. Dress up with them. Go fishing. Have a picnic. Lay on your back and find shapes in the clouds. Make pancakes with smiley faces in them. Have some mud pie fun.
Set boundaries and expect them to abide by those boundaries. None of us like having to have rules or be a disciplinarian. We’ve done that already, but all children need to know that certain things are not allowed. Whether it is certain objects or areas are off limits or that certain words are off limits, knowing what is and what isn’t allowed when with the grandparents is important to kids too. These rules have nothing to do with home or their parents either–they are strictly to make your interaction with your grandchild pleasant for both of you. These might include things like leaving tools alone, not getting into Grandma’s jewelry box, no hitting, and no calling anyone names. Be clear about what the punishment will be for violating rules as well, whether or not warnings are issued before punishment is inflicted, etc.
What happens at your house, stays at your house. That means not snitching on minor misbehavior to the parents, keeping conversations confidential, and in general inspiring the child to believe that you are a safety valve for them. It’s all about trust, and just like any other relationship built on trust, it may be easily given but not so easily regained if that trust is ever violated. Treat it like a treasured gift, because it is.
Be honest with your grandchild. If you can’t afford a desired item, just say so! Don’t make plans that you can’t carry out, and when the occasions happen that do put a damper on plans, explain the situation honestly, whether its health related, budget related, or job related. Many children feel as though adults hide things from them, making them uneasy and suspicious, as well as prone to imagining things as worse than they really are. Stick to the truth, even if you don’t tell all!
Above all, enjoy the grandkids. We only have them for short periods of time, usually, and then they go home to school, childcare, and parental rules. We’re not part of the daily loop, and as such, we’re like a treat in itself to the child and we should look on time with them the same way–it’s a treat.