The holiday season is upon us. Temptations are setting in and good habits are going out the window. For kids it’s a time of excitement and joy, and we all tend to get caught up in the festivities and forget about the long-lasting effects these impulsive unhealthy choices can have.
That’s not to say that eating healthy during the holidays would be like going to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and not taking a bite of chocolate. Rather, it’s about not succumbing to too many of the tasty temptations that the holiday season serves up.
How do we keep our waistline in check and keep our kids from overindulging? Here are a few ideas to get you and your family through the holiday season with a healthy, happy body.
As family get-togethers and holiday parties take over your calendar, have a meal plan in mind. Decide in advance what indulgence you will and won’t allow yourself and your child.
You don’t always need to forgo your favorite holiday foods to stay fit, but you can make a healthy substitution. Instead of frying those potato latkes, put them in the oven. Instead of white rice and beans with the pork, try brown rice and beans cooked in olive oil instead of canola oil. Make jalapeno black-eyed peas using the spicy jalapeno as a flavor substitute for bacon. Boil some fresh cranberries with a dash of stevia instead of canned cranberries loaded with sugar.
How about having the kids help you make a cake out of watermelon? With all the craziness of the holidays, sometimes our little ones don’t get as much attention as they’d like. What better way to spend time together than by making a healthy dessert to bring to grandma’s house?
Keep in mind our kids watch and do everything we do. If we reach for that second serving of gingerbread, they won’t be too far behind. You can be a healthy role model by showing your children the self-control you have at the table — and away from it.
While the food is tempting, holidays are also about traditions. Make a new family tradition that incorporates physical activity. Why not take a walk after lighting a Hanukkah candle? For each night of Hanukkah make the walk longer until the eighth night you reach one mile, or maybe three. For Christmas, walk or ride your bikes through the neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights.
Let your kids help plan ways to move as a family. Children should be active at least 60 minutes a day. With everyone off from work and school, the holidays are a great time to make exercise a family event. Physical activity helps everyone feel good about themselves and happier in general. It also counteracts the extra treat you or your children might sneak in the next few weeks.
Remember, for every piece of pie you eat (420 calories), it takes 1½ hours to walk it off. Unless you want to spend one month on the treadmill, choose wisely. It is much easier to walk away from the buffet table than it is to walk on the treadmill.
To encourage physical fitness, consider giving your child a present that encourages movement. Gifts like pogo sticks, jump ropes, sports equipment and bicycles will entertain kids while improving their cardiovascular health. Just make sure that you also provide appropriate protective gear, like helmets.
Another gift idea is one that can promote good nutrition. If your child has expressed an interest in organic produce, let them unwrap all of the materials to plant a vegetable garden. Kids who are older and enjoy experimenting in the kitchen might like a healthy living cookbook or appliance for making smoothies or fresh juice.
Now is the time to guide your child into a healthier lifestyle. This year, give the gift of a healthy body, peaceful mind and nourished spirit. In the long run, it will also benefit you!
Ruby Natale, Ph.D., is a pediatric psychologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Mailman Center for Child Development specializing in obesity prevention for young children. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.