Food Expectations Cause Potentially Vexing Play Date Issue

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Dear Miriam,

We have some family friends who are a fair bit more Jewishly observant than we are. Our kids are similar ages and play together nicely, so we often meet up at parks, especially now that school is over. We have a group outing planned to the zoo in a few days, and there are some treats there that my kids look forward to but that definitely aren’t kosher. Can I buy it for them anyway, or do we have to adhere to our friends’ standards when we’re with them?

Signed,

Kosher Play Date

Dear Play Date,

Whenever you spend time with another family, there is the potential for tension around each family’s expectations of food. Some families expect their kids to sit at the table while eating, some offer food rewards as incentives, some have snacks constantly accessible, while others limit snacking between meals.

Most of these differences result in the adults having sidebar conversations like, “If Lucy has a granola bar, can I offer one to Jake, too?” or, “Now is when my kids usually have a treat. Would it be better for us to wait until after you leave?” Occasionally, such inconsistencies can result in an uncomfortable parent or a tantruming child, but food isn’t necessarily more likely to cause such issues than any other parenting differences.

You are already being thoughtful and considerate by realizing this is a potential issue, and you should talk to your friends in advance. Say, “Usually when we go to the zoo, my kids look forward to picking out extra-long gummy worms from the gift shop, but I know these aren’t kosher. I’d like to know in advance what treats would work for both of our families, so I can get my kids excited about that instead.”

That way, you can plan something special together, and no one will feel left out.

If you think your kids are really going to have a hard time deviating from their expectations, talk to them before the get together about what’s going to happen and also, perhaps, discuss a time in the future when just your family will be at the zoo and they can pick out the treats of their choice. It’s worth being prepared for any follow up questions your kids may have about keeping kosher and why the Weinsteins practice Judaism differently from your family, but those are also valuable conversations to have, especially if you spend time together regularly.

As for adhering to your friends’ standards more broadly, you need to gauge how important it is to minimize tensions (most especially between the kids) compared to your own ease of just eating what your family is used to eating. After the zoo trip, you can talk to your friends in a more general sense about their expectations.

If eating non-kosher food in front of them is some sort of friendship deal breaker, you would want to know that, but knowing that may also change the nature of your friendship if you feel judged by them for your practices. For now, try to enjoy some ice cream (or whatever) together at the zoo, and realize that if food is the only source of tension with these friends, you’re lucky to have their company.

Be well,

Miriam