Thursday, November 10, 2011

Healthy Eating, Healthy Kids – Even During the Holidays

As a parent, there’s almost nothing harder than watching your kids get sick during the holiday months, yet it happens all too frequently. There are so many factors working against them, not the least of which, certainly, is a weather environment that’s cold and dry and perfectly ideal for the flu virus to remain stable and airborne longer than normal.

However, one of the largest factors that we don’t even often consider is our children’s eating habits during these months. While we may be on top our game for 10 months out of the year in ensuring that our children are eating healthy nutritious meals and snacks, when November and December hit, (immediately following the October 31st candy overload), we tend to dramatically slacken our tabs on healthy eating. Between the lack of time available on our own part to the school parties, extra baking at home and general overload of sweets, we can unknowingly sabotage our own children’s’ healthy eating. And, really, just how much can we resist those big eyes light up at the site of a giant candy cane anyway?


We can resist for lots of reasons! Most importantly: poor eating can lead to a compromised immune system by leaving our children lacking essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals that their bodies need to fight off incoming diseases. Combine that with a season that has more activity and more excitement than normal, both of which can wipe kids out and leave them already lacking normal energy, and you get a recipe for disaster. A healthy diet rather suddenly replaced by one focused on more “fast-prep” foods likely lacking in nutritional value and topped with regular high doses of sugar can mean sugar crashes, irritability and even poor focus at school. (Sometimes poor report card results during the holidays can be attributed more to poor nutrition and lacking sleep schedules than “too excited.”)

What to Do?

There are many things you can do to help you help your children during the holiday season when it comes to their eating and the connection to their health. Here are some easy tips to give you some starting points for inspiration!

Prepare Yourself

Probably the biggest step in all of this is to prepare yourself physically and mentally. You’re likely going to need to be prepared that it’s going to take extra effort to make normal healthy meals and snacks happen during these chaotic months With all the extra flurry of activity during your normal day-to-day hours, you may need to get up earlier, stay up later or cut a few extra activities in order to do the shopping and take care of the preparation that you need to. You’ll also need to prepare yourself for your children’s reactions which are likely not going to be particularly happy in the beginning. Depending upon the age of your kids, I’d say it’s safe to assume they’re going to want to partake of all the extra cookies and candy and mugs of hot cocoa that their friends are or that is normal at your house during the holiday season. And, while you by no means, have to cut it all out, even cutting some can seem like the world’s end to a child who can’t understand the big picture quite yet.

Create a Game Plan, Now

Once you’re prepared mentally and physically for a little extra work and a little extra convincing, go one step further and put a plan into place. This might involve back up treats you can whip out when you’d rather your kids did not eat that bag of Christmas candy that just came home from school. Have these already on hand! It’ll smooth out the switch instantly. Know what your explanation is going to be. If your kids are going to question why there won’t be Christmas cookies every day like last year, have your reason(s) ready. Never blow them off with a “because I said so,” or they’ll be likely to feel as though they’re being disciplined, rather than understanding you’re trying to help them. Before the madness of the season hits, make some good solid nutritious dinners and lunch options you can toss in the freezer now to pull out on late nights packed full of Christmas ballet performances and school band recitals.

Become the Creative Substitute Queen!

Treats during the holiday seasons may typically involve high levels of butter and sugar, but you just have to remember that that is not the definition of “treats.” That’s the definition of “sweets.” You can find ways to “treat” your children to extra fun snacks or after dinner delights or party favors at the kindergarten Christmas party that are not simply sugar. This is where you get to become the queen of what I like to call “creative substitution!” Make cookies, but use honey instead of sugar, use applesauce instead of butter, use raisins instead of chocolate chips. Come up with festive fruit snacks. Dip bananas in semi-sweet chocolate and then sprinkle with peppermint sprinkles for dessert instead of a bowl of peppermint ice cream. For a sweet splurge, make rice crispy treats, but use the brown rice option from your local health food store, skip the butter and instead just use marshmallows and vanilla. Make them festive with red and green food coloring. The options are limitless and your creativity can take you and your holiday treats as far as you can imagine!

Stay Strong!

It likely won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! While you may have a momentarily upset child on your hands in those moments when it’s a “no” to a Christmas cookie and “yes” to a bowl of oranges, you will also be much more likely to have a happy, healthy, focused child all the rest of the time. So stick to your plan, carry it out and reap the benefits of not only knowing you’re doing everything in your power to keep your children happy and healthy now, you’re also preparing them for navigating healthy holiday eating as an adult with all the right tools and habits that will last a lifetime!

Freelancer Jocelyn writes most frequently about green living and healthy family life. If she’s not writing about healthy practical eating tips, you’ll find her at work writing about saving energy with energy efficient infra red heaters.

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