Healthy Holiday Eating for Kids

It’s that time of year again: With the kids home from school and holiday goodies at every turn, you might feel like you’re constantly telling your children to get out of the cookie jar or the candy bowl. They’ll likely be plied with cookies, pies, cakes and other sweets by well-meaning relatives and family friends who might not get to see them very often. You know how the kids behave after eating too much junk food, and no wonder: When children get out of their eating routines, it can make them feel full, lethargic and uncomfortable.

Luckily, there are ways to avoid sugar crashes and crankiness this holiday season. Follow these tips to help your kids make better choices when it comes to what they’re eating during the holidays and beyond.

Image courtesy Dan McKay CC 2.0


Feed Them Before You Go Anywhere

Hunger in a young child is enough to trigger a tantrum, but even older kids get out of sorts when they’re not eating regularly. In addition, being hungry can cause anyone, adults included, to overindulge in junk when given the opportunity. If you are headed out to a holiday gathering or even just a long day of shopping or caroling, be sure to give them something healthy to eat first. Some suggestions might include nuts, fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cheese cubes or whole-grain crackers. Cut everything into bite-sized pieces and arrange it on a kid-friendly tray to encourage them to eat. You can also bring along packages of fruit (try raisins or pre-sliced apples sprinkled with lemon juice to keep them from browning) or crackers to stave off hunger later.

Teach Them to Fill Half Their Plate With Fruits or Veggies

When attending holiday buffets, it’s tempting to fill up plates with carbs and desserts. Start training your children to fill half of their plates with produce. Let them pick what they like: If a little one avoids anything green, let him or her choose a banana, raw carrots or even canned oranges. (You can bring these types of snacks along with you if they are not likely to be present at the gathering.) This is a good strategy for adults to follow, too, and may help you if your New Year’s resolution involves getting into shape, eating healthier or losing weight.

Let Them Indulge in Moderation

The holidays would not be the holidays without special foods that differ from family to family. Whether your child’s favorites are pumpkin pie and cheesecake or mashed potatoes drowning in butter, letting them indulge a bit this time of year is completely appropriate! Talk to your kids ahead of time, though, and encourage them to pick one or two unhealthy favorites rather than stuffing themselves with all of the junk food they can hold. If they can’t pick, allow them to have just two bites of everything that appeals to them. Try not to make an issue out of the foods that they’re eating, but keep an eye on their consumption. Remember that if they overindulge one day, you can push veggies and limit sweets on other days for a more balanced week.

Balancing holiday expectations and healthy eating can be a challenge. You can find more tips that your child might appreciate on kids.gov. Sometimes if a child reads it him- or herself, that has a greater impact than it would to hear the same healthy eating tips from mom and dad.

Have a happy holiday season!