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Traveling With Baby: Etiquette & Who Buys the Food?

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I love your blog and am hoping you can help me with a rather sensitive problem I’m having. I won 4 concert tickets on a radio give-away to see a band my brother and his wife love. My husband and I decided to invite them to stay with us for the weekend and accompany us to the concert. You should know that my husband and I are both elementary school teachers, have 2 kids ages 8 and 5, and live on a modest budget. We have everything we need to live comfortably and our kids get to do most everything their friends do, but we do not live above our means, if you know what I”m saying.

Anyway, my brother and his wife have an 8 month old daughter who will, naturally, be coming along for their visit. I have arranged for our favorite babysitter (a college student we know from church) to take care of all three kids while we are at the concert and I plan to pay her for all three kids. My sister in law emailed me last night with a list of foods I need to buy for her daughter. Now, I fully intend to make meals for my brother and his wife while they are guests in our home, but the baby still eats baby food, not table food. And the kicker? My sister in law will ONLY allow her daughter to eat 100% organic food.

(This includes juice, formula, water, EVERYTHING.)

I have a problem with this for two reasons. First, when my kids were eating baby food, I always brought the jars with me whenever we went somewhere. Second, I cannot afford her shopping list! I went to the store this morning and peeked at the baby aisle only to discover that this food is almost a dollar fifty per jar! They are staying for an extended weekend, 5 days, and I really don’t have the money to buy all this food, juice, and snack food for her daughter PLUS feed two extra adults and pay a sitter for what is surely to be a late night out.

I called my mom and she said my sister in law might be confused because my mom bought food for the baby last time they visited her, but it was intended to be a “present from Grandma.” I’m not sure what to do. Should I bite the bullet, move some money over from savings and buy expensive baby food or call my brother and his wife and ask them to bring food for their daughter (or buy it when they arrive)?

Thanks for any help you can offer,
The hostess without the mostess

Wow. Well. Your sister-in-law is indeed being a bit presumptuous, emailing a shopping list — expensive or not — like that. Like you, we’ve always packed food from home when visiting family, or (if we needed to travel light) made a trip to the grocery store once we arrived. My mother always ASKS if there’s anything special she can have on hand for our visits, but I still always limit these requests to things like a box of Cheerios or frozen waffles or some bananas. (And yeah, at home Noah gets organic whole grain waffles from Whole Foods, but I know Nana is going to buy blueberry Eggos and that’s totally JUST FINE.)

I always ASK guests who are traveling with a baby or toddler if there’s anything I can get for them, and I’m happy to pick up a few favorite foods. But considering I HAVE a baby and a toddler, chances are we are already pretty-well stocked, so it’s understood that it’s not much of an imposition. When traveling to a non-baby household, I never expect that jars of pureed pears and boxes of zwieback will be waiting for us. Because it’s expensive, even if you aren’t buying organic. And if you are, well…your hosts are not a restaurant or a hotel. Buy it yourself, unless they’ve asked and insisted. (Which I’m guessing you most certainly did not.)

Perhaps she IS confused about the Way Things Are Usually Done by your mother’s generosity, but still. Emailing an expensive and picky and specialty list unprompted like that? BALLS. BIG ONES. Yes, her daughter is as much a guest in your home as they are — and we don’t generally ask our guests to bring their own groceries, but still. She may simply not realize how extra-expensive her daughter’s food strikes someone who no longer shops in the baby-food aisle, but still.
So now that the presumption has been…uh…sumped upon you, what do you do? Well, like many of these etiquette dilemmas, it boils down to the same two choices: you either sack up and be direct, or you play passive-aggressive and address the problem via the back door.

The direct approach would be to simply tell them that no, you are sorry, but this list is simply beyond your budget and you’d really, really appreciate it if they could provide at least some of the items their daughter will require. Definitely offer to provide some of it — bulky items like juice, or perishable items like yogurt or fresh fruit. Don’t mention things like “I’m making meals for you two and paying for the babysitter” because (even though it IS true) it might make you sound a little petty, like their visit is already a burden on you and that you don’t view their precious little snowflake as an equal guest in your home. Mention the holidays, household budgets stretched thin, make a joke about baby aisle inflation, and offer to take them to a grocery store first thing after they arrive to pick up anything and everything they need for their daughter if they don’t want to pack anything. Apologize for the inconvenience, the end.

(Keep in mind the possibility that your sister-in-law intends to pay you for the food once they arrive — I know that might sound like a Pollyanna-ish longshot, but at least HOPING that it’s the case will help you phrase an email that doesn’t offend them, you know? If you write that GAWD, you totally can’t afford this fancy-dancy diet, thanks for trying to bankrupt us, GUYS…and they were intending to write you a check the whole time…UGH, awkward.)

For the more passive-aggressive approach, which I do not really recommend (except that Pot, meet the confrontation-phobic Kettle), you could possibly think about buying SOME of the food — just a few jars, one box of biscuits and a bottle of juice. Not enough for the whole trip and not enough to break the bank. This would still be the polite thing to do, but would also necessitate a mid-visit trip to the grocery store where you can let your sister-in-law pick out whatever she needs…and then OH GEE, LOOK AT THOSE MANGOES and vanish right when it’s time to head to the cash register. Your sister-in-law should hopefully get the point.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Liz

    December 12, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I have an 18 m/o, and whenever we go to visit my parents (inlaws live in town), the only thing we have ever brought was formula, but that’s b/c they insist on a grocery list. Otherwise, we’ve just gone on vacations where of course we know we need to arrange for all family members’ food needs on our own. So maybe that’s just your SIL’s experience as well, and she did not mean to be presumptuous. Also, if they’re flying, I can see her not wanting to check a suitcase full of glass jars of Things That Stain Clothing.
    I would not respond directly to the email, and would simply send them to the grocery store upon their arrival saying that you thought it would be easier to just let them get exactly what the baby needs.

  • Linda_M

    December 12, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Can you speak directly to your brother? Not sure of the family dynamics, obviously, but it might be easier to discuss it with him vs. with your SIL.

  • Brooke

    December 12, 2008 at 11:45 am

    I would never expect anyone to buy anything for my 9 month old daughter. I always pack everything, even the fresh fruit. I think your SIL is being a bit over the top by sending a list and expecting you to pay for all the baby supplies (especially formula!). Any guest visiting with unusual or extraordinary dietary needs should always plan accordingly and not expect their host to spend extra time and money b/c of such issues and/or demands. If your brother had a dog, would she email you to go out and buy a big, expensive bag of Iams, too?

  • Krissy

    December 12, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I would tell them that their list seems complicated and you are afraid you won’t get it right and that it may be easier if they just go to the store when they get to your house or bring the food they want.

  • Elizabeth

    December 12, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Okay this is possibly passive aggressive and definitely non-confrontational, but maybe you could buy a few jars of what she asked for–just enough for when they first get there and then say you were a little unsure of what you were supposed to get and offer to drive her to the store? Because I bet she wasn’t really intending to have you spend a ton of cash, but if they were to get there and the baby is hungry it would be nice to have something on hand. I mean, of course, if the baby is going to be hungry then she should be carrying the food that she’ll need with her, but still.

  • Ginnie

    December 12, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Wow. Intentional or not, it is presumptuous to send an email with a grocery list! I think you do need to acknowledge her email. Maybe you could just ask what essential items the baby may need upon their arrival, until she or her husband can get to the grocery store.

  • Anonymous

    December 12, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    But.. what if when that food runs out she looks at her host and says expectantly.. “We need more baby food”

  • Rachel

    December 12, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Then you say “here are the car keys, the grocery store is ___________, see you when you get back!”

  • Marnie

    December 12, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I agree with Krissy and Elizabeth – and I think it’s OK to say upfront, or maybe when they get there, that, gosh, the baby food aisle had so many choices and goodness it was so expensive, so you bought the few things you were able to find easily, and then offer to drive them to the store so they can get the rest of what they need. It allows them to have a little time to get settled, but doesn’t break your checkbook.

  • Liza

    December 12, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I never say this, but i think this is a case for being a bit passive… no need to get into an argument if its a misunderstanding anyway..
    i would totally buy a very small amount of supplies- just for when they get there, and say, “oh, i just got so overwhelmed i didnt want to buy the wrong thing, i’ll drive you to the store and you can buy what you need tomorrow”
    and then, totally, OH LOOK AT THOSE MANGOS….

  • Qwyneth

    December 12, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I would actually call your brother directly about this–family interactions are usually best when the actual blood relations work out the kinks. Simply tell him you are happy to pick up a few items–maybe some juice and crackers, preferably things that your family can consume the leftovers of–but you simply cannot afford to stock your house for baby. You’re happy to take them to the store and sorry for the inconvenience, but they’ll have to purchase baby’s food themselves. You are most certainly NOT being a bad hostess here, your guests are being bad guests. I’m certain Miss Manners would agree.
    I would definitely recommend that you address this though. When I was in high school my mom’s cousins came to visit for Thanksgiving. It was a disaster. They were constantly sending us up to the store because we didn’t have the correct (and expensive) tea or jam or what have you, and were complete pains in the ass the entire time. My mom never addressed the issue with them or offered to take them to the store so they could buy their necessities, just bought everything they demanded and fumed internally. As a result, the holiday was miserable and my mom has never invited them back. It’s sad, but the issue has definitely harmed my mom’s relationship with them. If you don’t address this directly now, you might find yourself loathe to invite your brother back to your home in the future.

  • Beth C

    December 12, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    This is another passive aggressive idea but… you could buy a few items, just enough to get through a day or so and then send her an email saying that you weren’t certain what brands or kinds to buy but that you bought a few and really needed her expert opinion (and its been a while since you have shopped for baby food etc) and suggest that you will take her to pick up more when she arrives.

  • Lisa M

    December 12, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I think Ginnie’s approach is pretty sound. It’s confronting the problem, in a non-confrontational way (sorry, I really couldn’t think if a better way to phrase it…stupid Friday).
    Because of the email ahead of time, your SIL won’t be surprised by the lack of a week’s worth of groceries, but it’s also clear that you’re not fronting the whole cost.

  • Heather

    December 12, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Family is always extra complicated eh, cuz you’re stuck with ’em and would rather not have an “issue” for the next ten years haha! I like what most people have said – buy a couple things that’ll get them through til they can go through the store, and no way should they expect you to front all that cost. I’d be pretty PO’d at my family if they tried anything like that 😛 I’m all for being honest and direct, with a dose of diplomacy. Best of luck! Let us all know how it turns out?

  • hostess

    December 12, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks, everybody. (I wrote this letter) I think I will talk with my brother. His wife has always been a little “different.” She’s quite materialistic, so this request isn’t totally out of the blue for her. I’m going to offer to buy a few things to get them through the first day, but let them go to the store for the rest of their visit. (They are driving by the way. I know, you all hate her more now!) Thanks Amy and commenters for helping me out with this one!

  • matter

    December 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Ha! That IS way worse! I laughed so hard after reading that they are driving that I had to recap the saga for my husband and read him hostess’s comment. I can’t believe your SIL is too good to back a darn box full of baby food. Good luck talking to your brother; hopefully he’ll realize you’re right!

  • kim

    December 20, 2008 at 2:23 am

    i agree. SIL is being downright rude! i would never dream of telling someone to buy my kid’s food! you could forward her this column- that wouldn’t be passive aggressive at all, HA!

  • Liz

    November 19, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Organic water?