You will be hard-pressed to find a magazine, blog, day-time talk show, or advice column that does not take on the topic of avoiding excess calories and weight gain during the annual winter holiday season. Well, we’re no exception. But today I’d like to direct your attention from your own waist line to your children’s growing bodies.
Between school, church, friends, and family our little ones are just as inundated and overwhelmed by a spirit and environment of special treats, more-is-better, and just-one-more-bite as we adults are. It is tempting to let them indulge without limits; after all, they are just kids. Their metabolism is higher than yours, they’re almost certainly more active than mom & dad, and grandma loves sharing treats with her little ones.
Unfortunately, they can still gain extra pounds their little bodies don’t need. They can also develop unhealthy attitudes toward holiday-over-indulgence that can follow them to adulthood, when the calories aren’t run off so easily. Before you find yourself in the middle of a food fight, develop your strategy to have a happy, treat-filled holiday season your family can all enjoy without any hurt feelings, whining, or (most importantly) spare pounds.
1. Plan and require activity. The holiday season, for many parts of the country, comes with the catch-22 of bad weather keeping us all inside more. (Up close and personal with the plate of cookies). Unless the weather is truly bad, bundle your kids up and send them outside anyway. Children in northern climates head outside whether there’s snow on the ground or not. As long as the temps remain above 32°, hats, gloves, layers and coats will keep your kids plenty warm while they run around creating body heat.
The idea that the cold weather brings colds has been repeatedly disproven, so go ahead and turn off the TV and send them out the door for the next hour. If the weather truly is too nasty to go out, be sure to keep activity-based video games on hand for your kids game-consoles. Even if you don’t play video games in your house, turn on the radio for an impromptu dance party. Set a firm (but fun!) rule that your kids must find a way to be active for at least an hour each day. A chance for creativity is as good for their minds as it is for their bodies.
2. Teach your kids how to plan for treats and special occasions. If you know the school holiday party was today, but your kids are asking for ice cream after dinner tonight, talk with them about the treats they already had today and help come to their own conclusions about how much is too much (even if you still veto the ice cream in the end). This also works in advance: if you know the big family dinner is tomorrow and you will have to taste a little bit of everything to avoid hurt feelings, talk to your kids about making light and healthy choices today, and why maybe there won’t be dessert at home tonight.
Likewise, talk to them in advance about how to fill their plates with small servings—maybe a tablespoon—so they don’t have to miss out on any of the special foods that have been so lovingly prepared. By the time you’ve put a tablespoon-size serving of eight different casseroles on your plate, you have a lot of food to taste. Even very young children can understand these basic concepts, and if they’re old enough to understand what you’re saying, they’re old enough to start learning how to make smart choices for themselves.
3. Teach your kids how to choose quality. This is a lesson they can be learning and practicing all year long, but it can be especially crucial when mountains of good food are impossible to escape. Help your kids choose between some cookies from the box now…or grandma’s special treats tonight.
4. Practice what you preach and don’t sweat it too much. Let the cleaning go for a bit and head outside to run around with your kids for an hour. Let them see you actively turn down a not-so-special treat now for something better a little later. Fill your plate consciously as you move down the family buffet. Emphasize the many other sources of joy and pleasure of the holiday season. But most importantly, enjoy your kids and your family and the special memories you create together.
By Mandi Irwin, RD, LDN