During the holiday season, children look forward to the special foods that come along with each party, celebration, or get-together, but parents are often plagued by a nagging sense of guilt that they are serving unhealthy foods.
Although it may seem difficult to set reasonable limits on all these treats while preserving the spirit of the holidays, managing your family’s nutrition in a festive environment is an attainable goal, says Ann Meyers, RD, LDN, from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
“Go ahead and enjoy some holiday foods with your children, but just make sure these foods are not the main focus of the day,” she says. “It is the act of your family gathering together to share an event that makes a holiday special, not what particular foods were served that day.”
Ann recommends five simple suggestions to make holidays healthier for both your children and you:
- If you are planning a large dinner, make the other meals light and healthy. For example, replace sugared breakfast cereal with slices of toast topped with peanut butter and apple slices. For lunch, serve chicken noodle, lentil, or vegetable soup — it will fill everybody up without spoiling appetites for the holiday dinner. Cut up fruits and veggies for snacks, and serve low-fat milk as the beverage.
- Encourage everyone to help in the kitchen. This provides “quality time” that you and the kids will enjoy and remember. Cooking can be an opportunity to teach some kitchen basics like measuring, food safety, and even a bit of food science, if you like.
- Resist using sweets as snacks or bribes for eating other foods. Make it clear to your kids when the desserts are going to be served and when they are not. This will help your kids learn to enjoy all the delicious foods being served.
- Enjoy your favorite foods with some mindful eating. Relax and think about your food, savor the flavors, avoid distractions, and listen to your appetite. With lots of family meals ahead, the holidays can be a great time for you and your family to practice this thoughtful approach to eating.
- In addition, try scheduling some physical activities for the entire family. Take the kids for walks, build a snowman, or go bowling or ice skating.
Ann stresses that balance is the most important aspect of a healthier holiday season. “Balancing what we eat, what we do, and how we think is essential for healthy holidays,” she says.
This year, make a commitment to both appreciate the festive treats and maintain a healthful balance when sharing time with loved ones throughout the holidays.