Eat Healthy, Even During the Holidays

by Beverly Pressey, MS, RD, Mom

The holidays are filled with opportunities to indulge…so how do we help kids eat healthy when it is especially difficult?
Children love to bake, especially cookies that they can decorate and I encourage cooking and baking with your child.  Once the cookies are made, also encouraging sharing so there are fewer cookies left at your house.  Children take pride in taking a cookie or two that they made to a neighbor or to a friend’s home.  If you bake a large batch of cookies, freeze some for another day. 
If you would like to offer cookies or candy to your child feel free to limit the amount and offer a healthy food with the snack.  Sit your child down and put the sweet and some fruit on their plate.  If they only eat the sweet and say they are still hungry, point out that the fruit is available.  Let them eat as much fruit as they want.  This way a child does not have to leave a snack hungry.
Holidays can be celebrated in many ways, not just through foods.  Our children are more than happy to provide holiday decorations if you provide a little guidance and materials.  There are many books available to help with holiday projects for any age child.  Try not to decorate with food.  Don’t leave sweets on display around the home. 
This encourages constant snacking and children will quickly figure out that they can exist on these treat.  We want our children to come to the table a little hungry so they are interested in eating and more likely to try new foods.  If you want to leave foods out as part of your holiday tradition, try leaving out seedless grapes, satsumas or pears.  Unsalted nuts are healthy snacks but beware that like grapes, they may be choking hazards for children under the age of 3.   
Think of all the times when you give sweets as a small gift.  Try and come up with non-food alternative.  Children love small balls, stickers, pencils, markers, crayons, small decorative boxes, hair ribbons, decorative shiny rocks, small stuffed animals, tiny pads of paper, and even recycled objects such as old check books, broken TV clickers or cell phones, old costume jewelry, scarves or ties, unused calendars or ribbons from presents you received years ago.  Be creative, what’s old for you is new and adult-like for them.  Be careful that you give age appropriate toys; small toys, jewelry and other small objects can be choking hazards for children under age 4.
Managing the sweets given to your child outside of your home is a bigger challenge.  It seems that everyone wants to give your child some sweet food, and even if it is a small amount, over the days and weeks it adds up.  It is your job to limit the consumption of these treats, maybe one a day or one a week.  Be clear about the rules and enforce them.  Another suggestion is to collect the candies at home and leave them out for Santa.  If Santa doesn’t visit your home, you can use the candies to build a gingerbread house with canned frosting as the glue.  Let your children know that these houses are not for eating, as the candy becomes stale.  Some children will collect their sweets and “trade” them in for something else.  The trade can be a small toy or book, or a visit to the movies or a favorite museum, it’s up to you.
Enjoy the holidays, keep some of your traditions fun food free, and celebrate with the people you love.  All will be well.
child nutrition bookAbout the author:
Beverly Pressey is a Registered Dietician with Master’s degrees in Education and Nutrition and specializes in working with caregivers of babies and children.  Beverly has worked with individuals, presented at conferences, consulted with childcare centers, taught continuing education and college classes, and presented at numerous parent groups.  As an experienced counselor, cook, teacher, speaker and a mother of 2, she has a realistic understanding of infant/child eating patterns plus the perspective of a busy parent.  Beverly lives in Seattle, Washington, find out more about her and her book at

More articles by Beverly Pressey:
Ending Dinnertime Battles
Healthy Eating is Not a Discipline Issue
Nutrition Happens