This article originally appeared in the Nov. 12, 2009 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
If your home is like most, the Halloween treats from two weeks ago have long been polished off by your little ghosts and goblins. But Halloween marks just the beginning of a six-month holiday eating odyssey that includes Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Throw in a birthday party here and there, and there are plenty of chances to throw a healthy diet out of balance.
“As a society, many of our celebrations center around food and eating. It may go back to the time when, if there was a good harvest, you celebrated by preparing a feast with foods from the harvest,” explains Rita Chrivia, a registered dietitian at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “Children should absolutely be allowed to have treats during the holidays, but moderation is important.”
Chrivia says parents can take the emphasis off of eating by giving their children “the gift of time” and physical activity.
“If you’re going to have that big bowl of popcorn with the family and watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ why not string the popcorn and some cranberries on a garland to be hung on the Christmas tree or outside for the animals?” Chrivia says. “That way, you still have some food to share, but you’re incorporating a family activity that is fun and will keep everyone from over-eating.”
Knowledge is key to helping parents control their children’s cravings for unhealthy sweets, particularly with the holidays upon us. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has plenty of helpful tips for parents and children, including:
- Moderation is key. Denying yourself sweets during the holidays will only tempt you more. Instead, take one cookie or a small slice of pie to keep you satisfied.
- Don't graze at the buffet table. Take a small plate of food when you want to eat something and then walk away. Come back if you're still hungry but wait a while if you can to help that urge to munch to go away.
- Keep water or diet soda with you to keep you hydrated and full.
- At parties, eat in phases. First fill your plate with fruits, veggies, and lean meats. Then go for the crackers and starches. Last, take your pick of one dessert (not one of each!).
- If you overeat at one meal, get back on track at your next meal with healthier fare, like fruits, veggies and whole grains.
- Remember that most holiday drinks, like punch, mixers, or eggnog, can have a lot of sugar, which will raise your blood sugar and expand the waistline. Balance things out by drinking water (add flavor packs for some kick if you don't like plain water) or a diet soda.
- Don't make all your holiday gatherings about food. Take a look at your newspaper's calendar to see what kind of fun, festive local events like caroling, concerts, or holiday plays are happening.
Exercise is another great holiday idea. It’s healthy and can also help take your mind off those munchies. Enjoy the crisp air while caroling door-to-door or crunching through the leaves on a long walk before or after your holiday meal. Both are a great way to build fitness and family togetherness.
With the holidays here, have fun and enjoy the sweets of the season. Just be sure that you and your children do so in moderation.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.