The holidays are a special time for families to partake in traditional family recipes. Although many menus may include some healthy options, like vegetables or starches, most foods contain extra condiments, gravies, and special treats to create a truly “festive” dish. It is important to encourage children to try new foods and to enjoy eating traditional recipes. At the same time, it is still important to uphold year-long teachings about nutritional moderation and portion control. Just like with adults, there is no reason to allow children to fill up on empty calories with pies and cookies. It’s more important to maintain a balance with holiday foods and nutrition basics.
The best tip of all is preemptive: establish eating rules before the big holiday feasts.
Letting children know ahead of time what is on the menu and what is and is not expected of them on the holiday is the best way to set the stage for healthy eating. Christmas food may consist of one main beef or poultry dish surrounded by plentiful side dishes. Letting the children know what they “must” eat first prevents two things from happening. One, the child will whine less about having to eat Grandma’s stuffing if it is a non-bargaining item for the night. This limits redirection of the children at the dinner table, too. Two, the child will be more full after eating the “must foods,” and this allows for some control when it comes to dessert and after-dinner treats since bellies will already be stuffed with the nutritious meal.
In some cases, nutrition tips for children are individualistic. Some people love relatives’ meals while others dread digesting a yearly digestive torture. Using some tact, children can be made aware to not eat, for example, Aunt Beth’s chicken, because she has a history of not cooking it thoroughly. Food allergies are also a great conversation requirement, and there is nothing wrong with letting a child know that they cannot have the peanut butter cookies or pie. Some food consumption decisions are absolutely necessary while many are just preferences. Parents must choose wisely and also allow for children to enjoy the holiday season.
Above all, do not limit the child from enjoying the holiday and family traditions.
This is important for those parents who follow very organic, vegetarian, and vegan lifestyles. Although these are wonderful lifestyle habits, the odds are that most holidays with inter-family gatherings will not present a tofu turkey at the table. In some cases, exceptions must be made where the “family” tradition is not consistent with the “parent” decision to eat differently than how he or she was raised. This avoids conflicts with grandparents and siblings who may find parental restrictions on children to be offensive and restrictive to the spirit and fun of the holidays. If healthy eating is an important priority, parents need to make efforts to provide family feasts with the appropriate meals themselves in order to not seem ungrateful for the family’s beef roast, let’s say. Telling children to “just have the salad” is not appropriate and it is not healthy either. Bringing appropriate entrees for all to share is. It does not teach children good manners to reject a host’s effort-cooked meal. In these special circumstances, it is important to have conversations with family members and plan ahead of time.
Lastly, where manners exist, good eating habits follow.
At the most fundamental level, children with good manners will know not to pile a plate full of food that will not be finished. They will avoid “seconds.” In general, good manners dictate small portions and open-mindedness to eat a variety of the food offered as a guest. “Try it” and discreetly leaving some food on the plate becomes a skill well-suited to healthy eating in children. Informing children about the possible manners behind healthy eating is a great way to promote that they actually do eat healthy.