A child lighting up at the sight of a batch of holiday cookies is endearing; A child wreaking havoc during a sugar high, less so. The holiday season is full of treats, and they're hard to avoid for anyone. Instead of going through the holiday season without a plan, make it an opportunity to teach your child how to approach food. Beth Thayer, director of programs and strategies for the American Dietetic Association and Henry Ford Health Systems, offers these eight ways to reinforce proper nutrition and moderation at every delicious dinner party.
- Make a Plan. Before attending an event, talk to your child about who will be there and what to expect. Discuss the event, what it’s for, and the food that your child is excited about. If you’re going to Grandma’s house for a holiday party and Aunt Sue is bringing her famous pumpkin pie, make that the dessert of the evening. That way when you get there, you'll remember to save your stomach for pie instead of filling up on sugar cookies.
- Walk the Table. Thayer suggests walking the length of the dessert or food table before you start filling your plate. This way, you’ll know the options before you filling your plate with things you might not like. On the other hand, if your child is a picky eater, help him select one new thing to try.
- Create a Plate. When your child fills his plate, remind him that half should be filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter should have protein and the last quarter should have whole grains. For a young child who doesn’t like to mix food, separate each portion and explain the different nutrients he's eating.
- Plan the School Party. If you’re worried about the amount of sugar your child eats at school, ask his teacher if you can help plan the classroom holiday party. Bring a combination of healthy and unhealthy treats so kids have an option. Sometimes apples and yogurt dip are just as popular as candy canes.
- At Home for the Holidays. This year, reevaluate your holiday food traditions and focus in on the most important ones. Which foods do you and your child love making and eating? Which recipes can be made healthier?
- Practice Fine Dining. Prepare your child for family dinners by practicing good manners. Lisa Gache, founder and CEO of Beverly Hills Manners, suggests unpacking the cloth napkins and fancy silverware for a family meal. "When you set the table nicely, it encourages kids to follow suit.”
- Plan a Menu. If you're hosting, consider all your guests when you're deciding what to serve. If you have relatives with health conditions or who follow specific diets, involve your child in planning a healthy menu. Check out Education.com's collection of delicious and healthy recipes here.
- Make a Healthier Version. If there's a traditional dish your family must have each year. Thayer suggests tweaking a few ingredients to make a healthier version. Discuss with your child where you can substitute skim milk for whole milk, or lean meats for greasier meats.
- Wait for Seconds. At the dinner table, have your child wait a few minutes before loading his plate with a second helping. “It gets kids to listen to their bodies and helps them realize that it doesn’t feel good when you stuff yourself," says Thayer.
- Re-Visit Family Traditions. Think about your family’s favorite foods and eating habits. Are the foods part of important traditions, or out of habit? Are there ways to practice healthier habits? For example, if you love baking and decorating holiday cookies, share them with your coworkers and neighbors this year instead of keeping them all in the cookie jar. If it’s family time you enjoy, start a new tradition away from food, like ice skating, decorating ornaments or playing touch-football.
The holidays are a time to enjoy food, but no one wants to go through three months of feeling stuffed and unhealthy. Keep your child involved and conscious of the holidays, including his food choices, and the whole family will follow suit.