Handling Holidays

Getting through holidays requires a special blend of flexibility, creative thinking, and resolve. It's difficult to deny your child special treats on special days, especially those holidays in which food plays a prominent role. Rethinking the holiday menu to cut the fat while keeping the flavor will benefit everyone, so don't be afraid to experiment with old favorites.

Traditional dishes can often be cooked in healthier ways. For example, the egg- and cholesterol-heavy foods of Passover, like kugel and matzo balls, can be lightened up by using egg substitutes or egg whites only. The fat content in your Thanksgiving turkey can be trimmed down by roasting it on a rack and separating the fat from the juices before making the gravy (or skipping the gravy altogether, if you dare).

The key to enjoying your holidays together is making sure the rules don't completely fly out the window for the day. Allowing or encouraging a binge will make it that much harder to get back on track once the celebration is over. Keep healthy eating and activity a priority, but allow your child to indulge in seasonal treats in moderation.

And let your child know it's okay to say no to a host or another guest who is pushing seconds. It's important that he doesn't feel impolite or guilty for turning down food he isn't hungry for from well-intentioned but misguided relatives.

Discourage grandparents and other relatives from giving candy to your child for holidays like Easter and Halloween. A soft stuffed bunny or a scary book make wonderful seasonal gifts and don't place extra temptations in front of your child.

When You're the Host

Hosting a holiday gathering has its ups and downs. You can control your child's menu options and ensure she isn't overdoing it on inappropriate food, but you also have the often-tricky task of meeting the culinary expectations of your guests.

Sometimes the nature of the holiday and the guests will dictate or limit your menu options. If your great-great-grandma's fudge cake is a longstanding family tradition at Christmas, jettisoning it is probably not a wise choice. However, you can provide some additional healthier dessert options that your child can enjoy more of.

Some more serving tips to help your child through the day include these:

  • Snack smart. If you're serving appetizers or other predinner munchies, make sure you have some nutrient-dense choices such as raw veggies and low-fat dip to take the edge of your child's hunger once the more decadent meal items are available.

  • Keep it under wraps. To avoid clandestine munching, don't leave plates of Christmas cookies and dishes of candy out everywhere. One platter of treats that can be refilled as necessary is all you need.

  • Serve centrally. Keep everything in a central buffet location for the same reason.

  • Offer alternatives. If old holiday standards are a must for your menu, make sure there's fruit salad to offset the fruitcake, and steamed veggies to counter the candied yams.

  • Clean up quick. Remove the food as soon as the last diner is finished to prevent grazing.

Having the holiday at your place also gives you the opportunity to create some new and fit traditions of your own. Add an active element to your celebration that you think your child will enjoy. A Christmas caroling expedition can be a great way to get kids and adults off the couch and outside moving.

Other holiday-themed activities to work off a big meal include Easter egg hunts and egg rolls, an evening walk to view holiday light displays, a Fourth of July parade through the neighborhood, a Thanksgiving game of flag football (or a jump in those fresh fall leaves), and a New Year's “resolution” walk to start off the year actively.

Am I being too harsh if I set limits on my four-year-old's dessert intake at Christmas?

All children — especially those in the preschool set — need boundaries to feel safe as they learn and grow. Letting your child go hog wild at the dessert table just because it's Christmas isn't giving him a gift, it's creating confusion and inconsistency in his knowledge of you and his world. Ignore in-laws who try to make you feel like a bad parent, and stick with the rules you've already established.

Keeping on Track Away from Home

For those holidays spent with family and friends, a few precautions will make the day both fun and fit for your child. Make sure he has a healthy and balanced breakfast the morning of the big day. Skipping a meal is the surest way to overeat all the wrong things once you get there.

If the holiday meal is served buffet style, putting together a plate for your 12-or-under child can ensure appropriate choices. Offer to bring along a low-fat, nutrient-rich food your child likes so you can be assured that there will be something on the menu he can enjoy freely.

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