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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.


Published December 12, 2008. Last updated April 18, 2018.
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 [email protected].

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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