by Jamie Hernandez, M.A. – Co-Educator,
If your family is like mine, the holidays can sometimes mean falling into unhealthy eating habits and sugar overload! While some traditions include sugary treats and can be fun and memorable, you also don’t want kids who are bounding off the walls when school is out and it’s just you and them! It is possible to allow your children to enjoy the special traditions of the holidays, and also emphasize healthy eating.
In general, I feed my kids a somewhat healthy diet. Is it always easy? No. It’s something I choose to make a priority in my life, because I believe that what kids eat directly affects their mood, sleep, energy, ability to learn, and of course their physical and mental health. But it’s not always easy. One child is a vegetarian, one is gluten-free (which means we are all pretty much gluten-free). Yes, some people look at me like I’m crazy!
Although it can certainly seem overwhelming at times (mostly when I’m trying to meal and snack-plan for the week), over the years I have come up with strategies to minimize the pressure and make it relatively simplistic. The best strategy I have come up with is to overload them with fresh fruits and veggies and plant-based protein at all times of the day, and to minimize sugar. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and all snacks in include fruits and veggies and protein in the form of nuts, seeds, and nut butters. That way, if they don’t like part of the fantastic (or at least I think its is) new dinner I make, or they go to a birthday or holiday party and have the usual junk food staples, I know they have gotten their main nutrients for the day.
Every time my kids ask for a snack, they know to expect a bowl of berries or a banana, apple or a clementine; as well as some carrots, celery, raw green beans or broccoli. If they finish this snack and are still hungry, then they can have another snack, such as gluten-free pretzels or crackers. I lead by example and make sure they see me eating the same way. My kids have acquired a taste for raw fruits and veggies, but it’s not always easy at first. I am an advocate of doing what you need to do to get your kids to this point, whether it be allowing them to dip in dressing, nutella, nut butter, etc, then eventually eliminating the dip when they easily agree to eat it.
This strategy is also how I get through the holidays. My philosophy has always been to feed them a nutrient-dense diet at home, so that when they go out or have special events or outings with relatives, I feel okay with them eating special treats, and they enjoy it that much more! I never wanted to be the mom chasing them around a party, watching everything they eat to make sure they don’t eat too much sugar. That’s not fun for anyone! If I know they are getting quality sources of nutrients from their home base, I don’t have to be this mom. I can be the fun mom that lets them eat what they want when we are out.
I also know that because of the palate they have developed at home, they are often prone to making healthier choices when left to make decisions for themselves.
This is how I simplify it. Instead of planning elaborate meals, I give my kids fruits and veggies with every meal, and for snacks, which takes the pressure off at mealtime. If the kids have pizza or mac and cheese for dinner because there is no time to make anything else, I know they have gotten lots of nutrients throughout the day. I will also add some fresh fruits or veggies on the side.
Don’t ever think it’s too late to make this change. With determination and persistence, you move towards a more nutrient-rich diet for any child, even a picky eater!
Don’t feel too bad for my kids, they get to eat cookies for breakfast Christmas morning!