The holidays are full of traditions, which include special, not-so-healthy foods. My foodie side loves the anticipation of making and then sharing and eating sweet treats and rich dishes that we indulge in once a year. But the dietitian and mom side of me used to struggle when it came to my kids’ sugar intake. This wasn’t because I didn’t want my kids to enjoy holiday treats at a class party or a family gathering; special foods are part of what add to the excitement and anticipation of the season. Instead, it was because the overabundance of sugar everywhere we went made it really hard to limit sugar intake at all.
Limiting your child’s sugar intake this time of year doesn’t have to feel like a lost cause. You can let your kids have a few holiday treats while also keeping tabs on their overall sugar intake, and I’m sharing six tricks for how to do this.
1. Start the Day Right
Start the day by serving your child a healthy breakfast that includes protein and fiber and that avoids refined grains and added sugars. Breakfasts such as steel-cut oats with milk, scrambled eggs and whole grain toast, or Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit will fill their stomachs to keep them satisfied and content. Eating a healthy breakfast also starts the day on the right food when it comes to glycemic control, which keeps cravings and appetite at bay and may prevent hangry meltdowns later in the day.
2. Define the Day
Kids love routine, and the holidays are when we tend to deviate from our normal schedules. Consequently, a lack of a routine often leaves kids unsettled and temperamental. This may lead your kids to be more vocal in asking (or whining) for treats, while parents may be more likely to cave to get a little peace. To lessen this, I try to give my kids an overview at breakfast of what we’re doing that day, including who we’ll see and when and where we’ll eat meals or snacks. This gives them a sense of routine and stability, as well as sets expectations for the day.
3. Keep Beverages Sugar Free
One of the easiest ways to minimize holiday sugar intake for kids, as well as the whole family, is to avoid drinks with added sugar like sweet tea, soda, lemonade, and punch. Instead, make water the staple beverage, and serve milk or another nutrient-dense beverage with a meal or two. Limit drinks with added sugars to ones that kids have only on occasion.
4. Create Healthier Treats Together
Don’t love the options served at class parties? Sign up to bring a snack that’s a little healthier. Then, get your child involved to help find and prepare the recipe. Involving kids gives them a feeling of ownership and pride. It also makes them more apt to eat it and increases their excitement about sharing it with peers, ensuring the new snack is a hit.
Need some inspiration? Scroll through KIWI’s healthy dessert recipes for ideas!
5. Plan Non-Food Traditions and Activities
Holiday activities often seem to revolve around food, and if you feel like this is the case, look for some non-food activities to incorporate. Things like wrapping presents, making homemade cards, dancing to holiday music, or driving to look at lights are fun activities for all ages that don’t have to include any food.
6. Allow for Choice Within Parameters
Set realistic expectations for your family’s sugar intake during the holidays, and then parameters for kids as to what this looks like, something that will be unique to each family. For example, while added sugar isn’t something that we usually incorporate on a daily basis, I allow them to choose one treat to enjoy each day during the holidays. This allows a feeling of control and choice to enjoy holiday goodies. It also teaches moderation which lays the groundwork for having a healthy relationship with food and a balanced approach to healthy living as an adult.
Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017James Beard Journalism award, and her work is regularly featured in or on respective websites for Cooking Light, RealSimple, Parents, Health, EatingWell, Allrecipes, My Fitness Pal, eMeals, Rally Health, and the American Heart Association. Carolyn was a speaker at KIWI’s inaugural Beyond the Lunchbox Digital Conference. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.