Eating Through the Holidays

family crafting togetherGuest Blogger: Jennifer Bram, MD, Pediatric Primary Care, UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center

The season of eating your way through Halloween to Valentine’s Day or even Easter is coming upon us with maddening speed. So many celebrations with delicious treats everywhere you look! It’s easy to lose track of your family’s health goals. How can you stay in control?

Healthy habits can be quickly set aside when a child sees a plastic pumpkin full of candy. To help them, you need to set limits, balance small amounts of sweets with healthy offerings and set a good example. Consider talking with your children and donating half of their candy to our military service members abroad. Check out

As tempting as all these holiday treats are for adults, for children it’s even more so. According to the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, cookies, cakes, and other low-nutrient, energy-dense foods and beverages eaten during classroom celebrations contribute to 20 percent or more of daily caloric need for children. Now remember that these celebrations are happening constantly – birthdays, holidays, rewards for good behavior, etc. It adds up very quickly!

Obesity most commonly begins in childhood between the ages of five and six, and during adolescence. Less than one percent of obesity is caused by physical problems. The large majority of children become overweight because of habits that include eating processed, calorie rich foods, eating out of the home frequently, drinking sugary beverages like soda and juice, and not moving their bodies or getting adequate exercise.

Let’s look at Halloween

As you purchase items to give trick-or-treaters who come to your home, let your children help you choose healthier alternatives like:

  • Sugar-free gum
  • Smarties – fat free
  • Sugar-free Life Savers®
  • Prepackaged fruit snacks, nuts, raisins, pretzels or crackers
  • Plastic spiders, jewelry, glow sticks
  • Temporary tattoos/stickers
  • Bubbles or small Play-Doh®

While you’re planning and shopping for your Halloween treats, it’s a good time to have a conversation about healthy eating year ’round.

Winter Holidays

Holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza are ripe with temptations for adults and children. Many of us crave certain foods during the holiday season as we recapture warm memories of previous celebrations.

Why not make some new (non-food) memories?

  • Make decorating a family activity.
  • Get crafty as a family, and make presents or decorations for family and friends.
  • Select a new book to read as a family, or write a book together.
  • Plan on playing games at a holiday party.
  • Prepare a food basket for a family, and have children help select healthy foods.
  • Pick a name from a Giving Tree, and let your children help choose a present.
  • Make a calendar with family photos from the past year together.
  • Enjoy making healthy foods together that you can share with family and friends.

Valentine’s Day … and Even Easter

For Valentine’s Day, skip the chocolates, and encourage loved ones to find creative ways to show their affection. Remind your children that Valentine’s Day is about your heart, and exercise is key to keeping it healthy. Try some of these ideas for Easter too.

  • Create handmade Valentines for family and friends.
  • Plan a favorite activity like a winter hike, sledding or indoor rock climbing.
  • Spend family time together at the library, a local museum or another favorite location.
  • Share your heart! Volunteer together at a local food kitchen, animal shelter, or other organization that will value your time and talents!
  • Instead of chocolate candy for Easter, try hiding coins.

Don’t let the holidays become an excuse for overindulging on foods full of sugar and/or fats. Make some new family memories that focus on more activity and less food.

Join the conversation. How do you avoid overindulging through the holidays? What fun traditions do you do with your family?

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