This is the time of year to give thanks, but also a time of year to survive (in terms of food and health that is). There are so many temptations this time of year, and so one thing I am thankful for is my profession! It is much easier to handle the Thanksgiving meal with knowledge of proper portions and the calorie content of foods that comes with my nutrition degree.
However, you definitely don’t have to have a nutrition degree to be healthy during the holidays. One key tip is to plan ahead for the OTHER meals you and your kids will eat during this time. Young kids don’t understand how much food is going to be available later, and they are still going to be just as hungry earlier in the day. Unless you help them maintain a close to normal meal/snack schedule and content, they can also end up over- (or under-)eating.
Think chips and dips and pre-prepared desserts that are easily accessible before the meal, or not eating at all until the big event at which point they are completely melting down. Make sure that your whole family (including you!) has a light and healthy breakfast. Try to include something from the fruit, low-fat dairy and/or whole grain groups. If your event is at night, make sure they also have a light and healthy lunch and snacks as well.
If you have a picky eater, remember this time can be stressful for them; there are new food, combinations of foods and lots of people pressuring them to try new things. You don’t have to change a plan that is already in place, but try to keep the eating stress as low as possible. It also may be a good idea to ask in advance that relatives don’t comment about the picky eating or try to “help,” especially if you are just starting to try and address making changes with your child. I would recommend taking your child with you to look at the different food options. Let them know their plate is going to include at least 3-4 different foods.
Ask if any of the foods LOOK good to them? Do any SMELL good? Ask that they help you choose the foods that will go on their plate, but if they refuse, do not argue and choose for them. Try to include at least one food that is familiar to them and you know that they like; you may need to bring this dish to your event to assure it is there. Then I would suggest sitting them at a table and letting them be! After all, you want to spend time enjoying your family, not arguing over eating.
You may even consider putting dessert on their plate right away. That’s not something I normally necessarily encourage, but for these events when it is basically inevitable they will have some, if it is available sooner, it may free up your child’s focus to eat the other foods.
And as one last note, another thing I feel strongly about during this time of year is exercise. It gets harder to keep up with the change in temperature, but is even more important with all the extra calorie temptations AND extra stress!
Kelly Fisher is an outpatient dietitian at Cook Children’s Medical Center