December is finally here and the holiday season is in full swing. However, our excitement for festive activities is often mixed with uncertainty around the seemingly endless supply of festive treats. Classroom parties, family gatherings and cookies for Santa… the list goes on! As parents, it is normal for us to question “how much is too much?”. If this is you, here are a few Dietitian-approved tips to help you find a balance between indulgence and health this festive season.
Like grownups, children will gravitate towards what feels forbidden. When children are only allowed one mini Christmas cupcake or have to beg for a cookie after dinner, they can become fixated with treats. This only drives them to sneak treats and overindulge when you’re not around! Instead, serve holiday treats with regular meals and snacks, allowing them to go back for more if available. This takes treats off the pedestal and allows your child to learn how to self-regulate. Your child may surprise you by having a few and saving the rest, not having any at all or gorging on treats until they feel sick. Regardless of the outcome, they will learn what feels best and will have the chance to practice mindfulness and self-regulation.
If allowing unrestricted reign on festive treats feels overwhelming, teach your children how to enjoy moderation by enjoying both treats and healthy food yourself! When children see their parents enjoying a treat on occasion without guilt and then stopping, they can learn this behaviour themselves. Remember, food provides so much more than just nourishment, it should also be enjoyable, pleasurable and yummy. The holiday season is a great time to teach your child this to help them build a healthy relationship with food.
- Cook healthy versions of treats with your child
A great way to keep your child occupied over the holidays whilst learning moderation is to get them cooking in the kitchen. Whether it’s creating simple fruit kebabs or a homemade cookie with extra grated carrot, take some time to choose a healthy recipe together and ask your child to find the ingredients at the supermarket, read out the recipe, mix, stir or slice ingredients or set the table. This is also a fantastic opportunity to talk about the colours, textures, aromas and flavours and food. Doing so helps your child learn about different foods and fosters interest, curiosity and experimentation with new foods.
- Schedule holiday activities that don’t involve food
Planning family activities that are not centred around food is a great way to carve a break in the stream of festive treats. Some ideas include Christmas crafts, taking a family Santa photo, a day at the beach, going for a bush walk or bike riding around your neighbourhood. Bonus: the extra stimulation and activity will also tire them out, giving you a little extra time to recharge your own batteries!
Whilst the festive season may initially spark worry about your child going overboard with treats, practice a few of these tips over the next few weeks to find balance. Remember, it is possible to both enjoy festive foods and stay healthy over the holidays.