I’m about to become one– voluntarily– because of a multitude of factors. The equation of financial stability, quality of life, and vocational satifaction has shifted enough to favor moving and living with my parents. Okay, and there are goats and a dog (honorary goat). How can I not go hang out with the goats?

I’m generally pleased about the decision, but it’s started a line of thought about food habits and families. Obviously, I was raised in that household and theoretically my cooking and eating habits are expected to be similar to my family’s habits. It’s been 10 years, one diet-related disease diagnosis, and quite a few wanders through non-American foodways since I regularly shared a kitchen and table with Mom and Dad. I have my own habits and some no longer overlap with what I ate as a child. Some do (broccoli and cauliflower are AWESOME and breakfast is essential to civilized life), but I expect there will be surprises. I eat fewer grains, partly out of convinience, partly out of finance, and partly from inclination; I eat more beans and lentils; and, oddly enough, I think I often eat less fruit. I lean toward dishes with fewer ingredients, where my mother’s style is more on the everything in the vegetables drawer plus the kitchen sink end of the spectrum. Integration will be interesting.

Mostly, I hear about issues of family gatherings rather than merging households. “My brother/sister/parents don’t understand what I need to eat for diabetes” or “I’m trying to stick to my diet for my blood pressure, but everyone pressures me to join them in eating food I shouldn’t” or “My mother-in-law doesn’t understand my baby (allergic baby) can’t eat ANYTHING that has dairy or butter in it!” Occasionally, parents and grandparents have different philosohpies on feeding kids, whether it’s about vegetables, dessert, or the acceptance or rejection of “kid food.” It’s tricky, especially when it’s just for a weekend. Here’s one procedure to follow:

1) Describe any health concerns beforehand and attempt to shoulder the burden. Offer to bring suitable food, especially if you’re concerned about allergies/celiac, or contact the caterer/restaurant beforehand. Ignore Miss Manners here: safety first. Volunteer to cook, or be the sous chef.

2) Describe, in somewhat dire terms, the consequences if you don’t follow your diet if you meet continued resistance. You can also do the “not in polite company” expression and attitude if your audience might be responsive to that and you’d rather not go into details. Or pull in the “this is what my MD wants me to do” card. (It’s like the teenager’s “my mother would KILL me if I did xyz stupid thing” card). Keep a pleasant tone, whatever your approach, and add in a dark joke about looking forward to a long life with both your kidneys functioning.

3) Calm everyone down. (Well, you just made them anxious and stressed.) Fair’s fair. Don’t dismiss your concerns too much, though, you still want them to respect your dietary issues.

4) Carry granola bars, epi pens, benadryl, your own jar of peanut butter, or whatever other supplies will make you be (and feel) like you have a back-up plan. When it doubt, make sure you have access to transport and groceries.

That’s should get you through most of it on short trips, I think. Long-term stays require more delicate, constant negotiation of culinary philosophies throughout your time together as you merge households. Whether you are one of us twenty-somethings moving in with our boomer parents, or a boomer becoming a caretaker of a parent, crossing generations in the kitchen is territory to approach carefully. What have have your experiences been?