There’s a lot of talk this time of year about healthifying the holidays. And I get it. The average American is likely to gain weight during the eating season.
How much weight? The estimates vary from 1 -10 pounds. But it doesn’t really matter how much, because the research also shows that those extra pounds are likely to stick around. Cumulatively speaking, then, the holidays are one reason most of us put on weight as, dare I say, age. Of course, kids are a little different. Even with all the extra calories, kids are still growing. Assuming they return to sane eating after the holidays, the Growth Gods will take care of any extra weight. That’s the good news. The bad news is that focusing on healthifying the food doesn’t really solve anything in the long run for your kids. In fact, healthifying the holidays could even make things worse.
Think about the habits kids learn from healthifying the holidays. It’s not what you expect. That’s the bad news. But kids are primed to have great holiday eating habits. That’s the good news. Keep reading.
Bad News: People reward themselves for eating “healthy” food by consuming higher calorie/more indulgent side dishes. This is called the health halo effect.
Here’s a study which was conducted by Brian Wansink of Cornell University on fast food restaurants, but you can easily see how this applies to Thanksgiving. The sweet potato casserole has half the calories. I can have even more pie!
Bad News: A little bit healthier doesn’t make it healthy.
One internet tidbit suggests opting for:
- Pie with a graham cracker crust rather than one with a rolled pie crust because the graham crackers are lower in fat and calories and because they also contain more fiber.
- Dinner rolls rather than biscuits because dinner rolls have less fat, less sodium and fewer calories.
- Whole cranberry sauce rather than cranberry jelly because the jelly, essentially just juice and sugar has no real nutrients whereas real cranberries are loaded with antioxidants and fiber.
Please. Let’s just say teaching kids that any of these foods are healthy is a mistake.
Bad News: Kids will eat dessert even if they’re full. Insisting kids eat the healthy meal first may simply teach them to overeat.
Nobody passes up the pie, no matter how full they are (unless your kids don’t actually like pie). This study, and others, have shown that it’s practically impossible for kids to pass up enticing sweets and treats, even when they’re full.
Good News: Children want to wait for their favorite foods.
Exploit your children’s tendency not to want to eat foods they don’t really like but to save room for their favorites.
- Tell children what will be on the menu — and when. Don’t assume they know.
- Help your children figure out what they really want to eat. Assuming some of the food is unfamiliar, fill a plate with one bite of everything on offer.
- Tell your children that after the taste test they can help themselves to anything they want.
Good New: Most children pick at their food.
Nibbling, rather than gorging, is a healthy holiday habits. Resist the urge to tell your kids to eat up.
Good New: Most children would rather play than schmooze by the appetizer table.
The mindless eating that parents do is easily avoided for kids who would rather run around than sit around.
Good News: Happy holiday memories are more important than healthy holiday eating.
Teach your kids to bookend Thanksgiving with a couple of no-treat days before and after their holiday feast. Even if Thanksgiving is outrageous, this strategy will even things out. Then, let them figure out their own holiday favorites.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~