69

This is about a friend's family and what would often happen during dinners (mom in her 50's, dad in his 60's).

Examples

  • One time, the mom had cooked 1 packet of ravioli for 5 people, and she urged me to get the right amount (we all had to count how many pieces we got).
  • Some other time, she had made some kind of soup and asked me to leave some for later in the original container after serving myself (last). There were exactly two tablespoons left but she insisted on having leftovers!

Comment while serving myself or right as I was about to put a bite of food in my mouth

You don't have to finish it all/eat it all up if you don't want to

(and other variations)

Holidays

The family was even "tighter" about offering seconds of dessert (usually pies) or sending with me and my friend some for later though they would send leftover turkey.

At restaurants, while deciding what to order (they were paying)

We can share a meal...

or

Would you like to split [name of dish] with me?

To clarify

I'm not overweight (I was actually quite thin back then), so I don't think they were trying to hint I needed to lose weight. Except for my friend who was overweight at the time, the rest of the family was normal weight. The mom did worry a little about gaining weight but she didn't need to.

Money wasn't an issue (upper-middle class family). There was plenty of food in the fridges and freezers just they were reluctant to use it or use it all up (?).

During my stay, I never felt comfortable enough to use their kitchen to make food other than sandwiches but I would always help with the dishes and cleaning.

When I told my friend about this, the response was,

That's how my parents are

or

My mom is just weird

and so on.

Long story short, the majority of times I would be invited for dinner (and during my stay), I'd be feeling hungry, unsatisfied and I'd end up ordering takeout a bit later.

It felt really awkward to say that I was not full, I needed to eat more etc., so instead I mentally prepared myself that I was just not going to enjoy eating during dinner. So when my patience was exhausted, I decided to eat at home prior to visiting so I didn't feel as hungry while waiting to eat.

More often than not, having dinner with my friend's parents felt like a chore and was draining when it should have been fun.

I'm actually used to having the opposite problem (politely rejecting more food) with certain relatives at dinners or holidays (Mediterranean background).

Question

How could I have politely told the mom that I'd like to have been able to eat as much as I wanted to OR that I was still hungry because I didn't have enough food OR that I couldn't enjoy food if I had to worry so much about portions, without coming off as unappreciative?

  • 7
    @Tycho'sNose Have you treated them to a full-blown mediterranean dinner and observed how they reacted? That might tell us a lot. – AllTheKingsHorses Nov 23 '17 at 9:42
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    @AllTheKingsHorses Yes, my mom and I did a few times. My grandmother has survived a few wars and even though she didn't like wasting food, the portions were always generous. I have experience with both cultures and I consider both ways a bit extreme...Another time, my mom and I were both invited for dinner and my mom had to split a meal with someone else so that there is seconds for the husband. Stuff like that made me wonder if this was cultural (English-American) or if this is the specific family's "microculture". – Tycho's Nose Nov 23 '17 at 16:27

11 Answers 11

45

How could I have politely told the mom that I'd like to have been able to eat as much as I wanted to OR that I was still hungry because I didn't have enough food OR that I couldn't enjoy food if I had to worry so much about portions, without coming off as unappreciative?

There isn't really a good way of doing this. The fundamental problem here is that all of their family equally eat the same portions as they are offering you. This evidently comes down to a principle issue that they have.

What I mean by principle issue is that we cannot assume just because they have money now that they have always had money. What if the mother grew up in a household where food was scarce and is used to portioning it so that it lasts longer? That sort of experience doesn't really fade with time. Some people stick to it for years and years after their initial circumstances change for the better.

If you really want to change the situation, perhaps try to find out the actual reason that the mother serves portions of that size. You could politely and inquisitively ask in conversation:

So I've always been curious [Insert mothers name], how do you figure out what the right portion sizes are, is it something you've always done?

This may help you discover if there's a hidden reason. This will then allow you to tackle the situation from the proper angle. Otherwise anything you could say will likely come across as unappreciative.

Irrespective of portion size, they have invited you into their home and offered food. It's a gesture, one that you do not need to agree to. So dig a little deeper first, then go from there.

  • 49
    how do you figure out what the right portion sizes are, is it something you've always done? IMO this will come across as a compliment and she will think that the portions that she makes are and have always been exactly right for you. If you will tell her later that this is actually not the case, then I think it is mean to mislead her like that. – Kaspar Scherrer Nov 22 '17 at 12:18
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    @Cashbee I do agree to the issue, but the question still may be the best way to START the conversation. Eating cultures and portion sizes can be more tricky than one would think, especially across generations. – Layna Nov 22 '17 at 13:53
  • @Layna how is it better than asking for seconds, like Vylix suggests? It also starts a conversation, but without letting her think that you are content with the portion size. It is also more open to any kind of explanation why OP cannot have seconds (which will be the case, else this question would not have been asked). – Kaspar Scherrer Nov 22 '17 at 14:05
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    @Cashbee at it's core they have no obligation to offer/provide additional portions, or seconds, so asking for such out right can come accross rude. But then it depends on the tone. Asking for seconds doesn't necessarily mean they will offer an explanation for their portion sizes in the first place, wheras just asking does. – Digitalsa1nt Nov 22 '17 at 14:18
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    @Digitalsa1nt It is relevant because to me it seems to colour your answer in a more negative framing, as if you doubted it was actually the mother. – Weckar E. Nov 23 '17 at 13:02
69

My mom has a habit to cook for two meal times: breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, or even dinner and tomorrow's breakfast. Because of this, usually we only eat exactly half (or maybe even less) of what she has cooked for each meal. We were raised to not waste food, at all. I've gone as extreme as eating every bit of rice on my plate, literally. (My relatives still leave bits of food, and consider my habit extreme)

If your friend's mom was raised like this (to not waste anything), then you should indicate that you are willing and able to eat more. Since you regularly visit them, start asking for more.

I really love your cooking. Can I have seconds?

At first, you'll most likely get only a sorry, but this will make her prepare more food when they invite you for dinner.


I need to add that this might be a cultural thing. As a Chinese descent, my great-family is taught to not waste food. I think this is true for most Asian culture. You might want to research a bit on their culture, especially what is their attitude to food.

  • 56
    Asking for seconds, especially after complimenting her cooking, should not come across as impolite. It is in fact the politest way (that I can think of) of letting her know that you are still hungry. Since the reason for the small portion sizes is not lack of money, she will start to prepare more food next time. Maybe you need to ask for seconds a second or third time before she will notice though. – Kaspar Scherrer Nov 22 '17 at 12:31
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    Funny: I have stayed in China for about a year and in most settings there have been a lot of leftovers. These has been true especially in restaurants. And when I say "a lot" I mean a ridiculously large amount: Basically only half of the food will be eaten. From my research on the cultural aspect I found out that in China you do not eat everything on your plate as it would show you are poor. How does this reconcile with what you are writing? – Make42 Nov 23 '17 at 9:10
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    @Make42 I've read that's actually seen as disrespectful to the chef, as by finishing your plate you're suggesting that the chef didn't cook enough for you. One story I remember is someone eating in a cafe while on a business trip, and this cafe served noodles by presenting a large bowl in the center everyone took from. He finished his plate, and left nothing on it. The person he was with looked upset and motioned at the noodles, so he took a chopstick full and put it on his plate without eating any of them. His companion then looked happy – SGR Nov 23 '17 at 13:32
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    "I've gone as extreme as eating every bit of rice on my plate, literally." Is that "extreme", really? I do that as a matter of course. Why would you leave food on the plate for no reason? – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 23 '17 at 19:44
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    "great family" Woah, I mean, I'm proud of my family too but... (I'm kidding, I guess its a term used to encompass relatives of your great grandfather's generation?) – Lio Elbammalf Nov 23 '17 at 20:27
34

There are times that it may be impossible to do something politely, and this might be one of them. If by chance you were truly malnourished and actually required more food for health, then by all means I'd delve into how to address it. That is highly unlikely and as such, seems more like a quirk you need to adjust to.

There is really no time where we have to have dinner at someone's home unless we have no money at all and are staying with them. Otherwise your fixes seem appropriate, like eating before you arrived or eating more after you leave.

People can be quirky and they can have odd reasons that are deeply ingrained for how they operate. My mother grew up very differently than I did. She was poor in a way you really rarely see today in the USA, dirt floor poor, outdoor plumbing, that sort of thing. As such, she can have a tendency to not see where whatever she is offering is less than what others see as standard. To her, her whole life now is a luxury. If you invited her to dinner and offered her one chicken wing, she would eat it, proclaim how amazing it was and how stuffed she is. She is just pleased to receive any kindness, and someone offering to feed you is a kindness, not a requirement.

She also then fears ending up ever in that situation again, so she is frugal to a true fault, scrimping and saving. So she could offer someone a small meal without any idea that it might be seen as awkward or rude. I haven't seen her do it to guests, but she did it to us as kids. There were times where she would worry about money (my dad got laid off sometimes) so she would go into a mode where she would start cutting back on everything, food, showers, electricity, you name it. I never went hungry, it wasn't like that. I did however get a clear message that I should only eat until I was no longer hungry, not stuffed, even if it was delicious and I would have enjoyed more.

So my advice would be say nothing. You likely won't change someone who is old enough to be making you dinner. What she does likely was started by something in her life long before you met her and there is no easy way to say "Hey you are being stingy with the food lady". There really isn't. MANY things surrounding shared meals is fraught with cultural norms, pressure and a little stress. My own Dh is a very picky eater and any invitation for dinner stresses him out terribly as he doesn't want to hear about how picky he is, he doesn't want to be trouble for the host and he doesn't want to have the host feel insulted if he doesn't like the food. It's stressful. No way around it really other than treading as carefully as you can and avoiding it when possible.

  • 1
    Pardon, but what's a Dh ? – Vylix Nov 22 '17 at 21:49
  • 2
    @Vylix: probably "dear husband" – sumelic Nov 23 '17 at 1:11
  • @sumelic i've heard "darling husband." This is a term that seem to be more common on tumblr or lifestyle blogs. – Carl Walsh Nov 25 '17 at 15:55
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    It is dear or darling, and for me it's a term that was common in forums at least as much as 15 yrs now. I do realize that it's not common everywhere. It also has counterparts for other family members. There is DW for wife, DS for son, DD for daughter, and then for step children another S is added like DSS. If # is used it shows birth order such as DS#2 is your second son. But when typed DS2 it often indicates age versus order. – threetimes Nov 25 '17 at 17:37
  • Great answer. I loved this line "You likely won't change someone who is old enough to be making you dinner. " – Basya Nov 26 '17 at 8:14
30

1 pack of ravioli for 5 people? Sharing meals at restaurants? No seconds of dessert? Sounds a lot like my family growing up. Thing is we never thought of ourselves as tight and never went hungry. To me it sounds like the problem here is that you are used to much larger portions than they are and what they consider normal is much less than what you do. If this is the case it is likely that they don't realise you are going hungry because they aren't. I know that I was amazed the first time I was invited out to a 3 course meal with another family, I barely finished the starter and I'm certainly not thin!

Perhaps you should try inviting them out to eat with you, that way they will get a better idea of your normal diet. Alternatively (or if this fails), why not have a smaller meal before eating with them? It isn't uncommon for people to eat 5 smaller meals rather than 2/3 large ones, or graze on light food all day and not really bother with meals at all.

It's impolite to ask them to spend more money than they want to on feeding you, even if they have it to spare.

  • 6
    haha, yeah, my parents were in a similar situation eating a single pancake for breakfast when they stayed at friends. Later same friends invited home and were surprised of the amount of pancakes prepared and then eaten. The friends raised the question how many pancakes they prepared earlier and got a good laugh that it was obviously not enough. Later on they started to prepare more food. Sorry, trying to be short. – akostadinov Nov 22 '17 at 17:01
  • @akostadinov - a perfect example. My mum always feels guilty visiting her aunt, they eat more in one meal than we do in a day so no matter how much my mum eats there's always loads left. They took us out for a Chinese takeaway one time, I had no idea people bought one meal per person as we have always shared 3 meals with rice between the seven of us! They even bought spare meals so there would be more choices as well as sides and dessert. I've never seen so much food in one place! – Lord Jebus VII Nov 22 '17 at 17:21
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    @LordJebusVII I ended up doing what you are suggesting, having a smaller meal before eating with them. It's because of your last paragraph that I never said anything to them but I thought I ask here about how I could approach this. Thanks. – Tycho's Nose Nov 22 '17 at 20:24
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    This answer hits the crux--they are acclimated to small portions. Friend family of mine is the same. I went to their house for Thanksgiving, they made big happy drama about how much they were going to eat (it was my everyday portion), then none of them finished their plate, and then they sat around the rest of the day moaning about how stuffed they were. – Paulb Nov 25 '17 at 13:03
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    Not only are they not hungry, if they have genetic tendency towards slow metabolism (sounds like they might--friend was overweight and friend's mom was constantly watching her weight) it might be the nutritionally correct amount for them. If it was a large package of ravioli, it might even be the serving size suggested on the package! – user3067860 Nov 26 '17 at 19:06
21

Sometimes when I'm given a really good home cooked meal, I'll end it with saying

Wow, that was a great meal, thank you. I could eat that all over again!

This sends the compliment to your hosts and also gives them the opportunity to ask if you wanted any more (without you having to ask directly).

If I'm hungry, I'd gladly take a little more if offered. If none is offered, I'd be happy that I've complimented my hosts regardless.

14

Offer to bring something

Offer to bring part of the meal. Maybe not the “main course” but just a salad, soup or dessert. This way you can make sure that there is enough food and if they can’t afford food you are helping them as well.

  • 2
    That's a great suggestion, except for one little thing -- what if the mom decides to save all or part of it for another day? It seems like she would do that and then you'd all have the same portion sizes as before. But I agree with the idea of eating something beforehand -- or bringing a sandwich (possibly left in your car) to munch on on your way home. – Jennifer 442 Nov 23 '17 at 22:24
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    I'm sorry, but the OP is asking for a way to 'tell' the family that they are still hungry. Offering to bring something isn't telling them that. It may be seen as politeness, or rude, or not liking the cooking or whatever. It does in no way make sure the family gets the message of 'I'm still hungry'. It solves the hunger, not the IPS problem here. – Tinkeringbell Nov 24 '17 at 9:40
  • Could you explain how this would get the message across? – Tinkeringbell Nov 24 '17 at 10:44
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    @Tinkeringbell: I agree, it doesn’t really tell the host (unless of course they get the hint when your dessert is twice the size of the main dish ;) ). But it does solve OP’s problem without hurting anyone’s feelings. – Michael Nov 24 '17 at 15:53
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    @Jennifer442 If you brought something like dessert, it's safe to remind the host to bring it out, on the pretense that you want to offer it to others (if you want to be extra polite). Something like "Sue, can we get some of that pie I brought, I'm sure John would love it". It would be rude for a host to refuse or bring out only part of it, since it's not a personal gift to the host, but your contribution to the common meal. – dbkk Dec 9 '17 at 21:57
9

Keep in mind that since they were kids, America has become a very distorted place in terms of food.

Portion sizes have been creeping up for decades. Theaters used to offer one size of popcorn: now the kid's size. McDonald's Big Breakfast is 1,350 calories which is completely deranged. McDonalds soda sizes were 8/12/16 oz, now the large is the small: 16/20/32. Mind you, that's conservative for fast-food, most of their larges are 44oz. And free refills "became a thing" since your parents' age.

I ate meals regularly with my father in medical rehab. The science-based, doctor-supervised portions seem quaint. They say "Taco-Bell-run later." Here now I sip a 16oz drink at a pizza place, and it seems parsimonious. And that's the problem. The culture has shifted to where super-size is expected, and like the medical rehab, no restaurant dare serve a healthy portion, or the customer perception will be that they are cheap and chintzy. Some foodstuffs (e.g. fries) have very close to zero manufacturing cost, so businesswise it makes sense to load you up.

Splitting a meal in a restaurant? You're crazy not to. It is literally unhealthy to fail to do so.

So I don't know. The family's home-cooked portions seem small the way you tell it, but your distress at having to share a restaurant meal suggests you have the modern expectation of crazy-large portions. And seconds on dessert seems like an unusual expectation.

So here's how I'd sanity check myself. Healthy caloric intakes are a matter of science, typically 1500-2000 calories a day, less for seniors. So 500-ish calories per meal. Google the menus of the restaurants they wanted to split dishes at.... Don't forget drink and dessert. Would splitting have yielded 500-ish calories? I bet more than that. Next time you eat there, sneak peeks at the packaging and figure out the calories per serving for the entire dinner.

One more sanity check: are they wasting away? No? Do you have a lifestyle which is much more active than them? Would anything explain a significant difference in need for calories? I for one lived the supersize lifestyle, but I also had gastric problems - my body jettisoned the excess food.

Another factor is how they size meals relative to each other. One American tradition is a light breakfast and an enormous dinner, that being the signature meal of the day. Nutritionists tell us that's wrong, and breakfast should be the big meal, because late eating just goes to fat.

If the numbers show they are doing medically normal sized meals, then I would suggest you pay close attention to the nature of this "distortion of perceptions" in this country, and rethink your own mindset in that light.

I know that's a bold suggestion, since food beliefs are held so personally.

Otherwise you are in a pickle: it is difficult to talk about their medical issues since they're not your parents. You also don't know how they are eating alone. It's possible they are doing something dumb like making the same amount of food for company as for themselves, but again - no way to raise this without committing a huge social gaffe that would get you rightly not invited back.

The simple fact is, they do not owe you a large meal, the end. The social answer is "Taco Bell run". Not to their faces :)

  • 1
    Thanks for the wildly different perspective. On the other hand, my book from the 1960s it talking about a 2500-2900 calorie diet to maintain weight. And then it talks about needing a 4000+ calorie diet to climb mountains. – Joshua Nov 27 '17 at 16:30
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    @Joshua not knowing the context of that messaging, I can't speculate. Did it also mention 4-4-3-2 and the importance of dairy? A lot of that 60s era messaging was "highly influenced" by the food industry. Here's a modern view, which points out how dramatically it shifts for people of different genders, ages and lifestyles. What's more, so many Americans are overweight, and if so, the general advice is to reduce calories by another 500. – Harper Nov 27 '17 at 18:20
  • Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. It included office job calorie consumption as a baseline. It does not include the nutrition source spread in that case. – Joshua Nov 27 '17 at 20:05
  • From a British perspective, our National Health Service guidelines say 2,500 / 2000 calories. But that seems to assume a moderately active lifestyle. Which of course is not the case for most people. I too have read about and noticed portion sizes increasing, as well as sugar content of foods, which has caused the rapid increase in obesity and diabetes. But if you go to a culture where they don't have that; anywhere in Scandinavia, Poland, etc... you really notice the absence of obese people. Portion sizes in restaurants are smaller too. – inappropriateCode Nov 28 '17 at 11:58
4

My idea: invite them out to a buffet-style restaurant where you can eat as much as you want for a fixed price. Then you can fill up, and show them what you consider a full meal to be.

At the very least, you can get a better idea of THEIR attitude -- if they could eat more without paying more, will they? If so, then money is their main issue. If not, then they consider that food, above a certain level is not good (too fattening or whatever).

Maybe they grew up with an "eat, eat, eat" attitude they resented, always having more food pushed on them than they wanted. They could be reacting to this by going too far the other way.

  • 1
    I have this bad habit of stuffing myself at buffets and skipping the following meals. – Joshua Nov 26 '17 at 19:54
  • @Joshua i relate to that – Christopher Nov 26 '17 at 21:30
  • They may consider buffet-style restaurants like Golden Corral to be not a very good value for the money. – Harper Nov 26 '17 at 22:03
4

You ask how to politely ask for seconds, that's not a question that can be answered by anyone but the person you are talking to. Do they consider your asking an imposition, or do they see it as a sign of appreciation.

And the best way to discover whether they would consider it impolite is to ask if they would consider it impolite. Make it a hypothetical, talk about the diffrences customs people have -- is a burp an insult or is it praise or just something that happens because you have acid reflex? Is it insulting to have a clean plate (finish all food) or insulting to leave food on the plate? Does the guest take the dishes to the kitchen (or even do the dishes) or are they left for the host?

You are eating at someone else's house, inquiring about their meal customs is polite.

2

I think it would be difficult to go into their home and convince them to give you more food than they would eat themselves.

Perhaps you could invite them over to your home to eat a few times, and allow them to eat as much as they would like. Make a point to give them hearty portions, perhaps more than even you would eat and allow them to take home the left overs.

I'm actually used to having the opposite problem (politely rejecting more food) with certain relatives at dinners or holidays (Mediterranean background).

Maybe even have a big dinner like that, if they experience a meal like that it may give them a different perspective.

  • 2
    Yes. OP's question also invokes restaurant etiquette: when your host is paying, watch what he orders, and order something equal in cost or more modest. – Harper Nov 27 '17 at 18:44
0

If you change your perspective a little, you may be able to resolve the problem entirely.

Consider their "meals" a gesture of hospitality. Don't use them for their nutritional value, but for their interpersonal value - strengthening your relationship with them and your friend.

As such, prepare when you plan to attend such a meal by eating beforehand, or planning on eating afterward.

Then you will not need to approach them with the intent of having them meet your nutritional needs.

protected by Community Nov 22 '17 at 15:56

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