The season of eating your way from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day or even Easter is coming upon us with maddening speed. So many celebrations, with delicious treats everywhere you look! It’s easy to lose track of your family’s health goals.
Healthy habits can be quickly set aside when a child sees a plastic pumpkin full of candy. To help them, you need to set limits, balance small amounts of sweets with healthy offerings and set a good example. Consider talking with your children and donating half of their candy to our military service members abroad. Check out www.operationgratitude.com
As tempting as all these holiday treats are for adults, for children it is even more so. According to the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, cookies, cakes and other low-nutrient, energy-dense foods and beverages eaten during classroom celebrations contribute to 20 percent or more of daily caloric need for children. Now remember that these celebrations are happening constantly – birthdays, holidays, rewards for good behavior, etc. It adds up very quickly!
Obesity most commonly begins in childhood between the ages of five and six, and during adolescence. Less than one percent of obesity is caused by medical issues. The large majority of children become overweight because of habits that include eating processed, calorie rich foods, eating out of the home frequently, drinking sugary beverages like soda and juice, and not moving their bodies and getting adequate exercise.
While you are planning and shopping for your Thanksgiving feast or holiday baking, it is a good time to have a conversation about healthy eating year round.
Holiday gatherings for Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza are ripe with temptations for adults and children. Many of us crave certain foods during the holiday season as we recapture warm memories of previous celebrations.
Why not make some new (non-food) memories?
Make decorating a family activity
Get crafty as a family and make presents or decorations for family and friends
Select a new book to read as a family or write a book as a family
Plan games to be played at a holiday party
Prepare a food basket for a family and have children help to select healthy foods
Pick a name from a Giving Tree and let your children help to choose a present
Make a calendar with family photos from the past year together
Enjoy making healthy foods together than you can share with family and friends
For Valentine’s Day, skip the chocolates and encourage loved ones to find creative ways to show their affection. Remind your children that Valentine’s Day is about your heart and exercise is key to keeping it healthy.
Create handmade Valentine’s for family and friends
Plan a favorite activity like a winter hike, sledding or indoor rock climbing
Spend family time together at the library, a local museum, or another favorite location
Share your heart! Volunteer together at a local food kitchen, animal shelter, or other organization that will value your time and talents!
Don’t let the holidays become an excuse for overindulging on foods full of sugar and/or fats. Make some new family memories that focus on more activity and less food.
Jennifer Bram, MD, UMass Memorial Medical Center
Dr. Bram, mother of two young daughters, is Board Certified in General Pediatrics with a clinical interest in pediatric obesity.