According to a 2010 study, children with obesity are more likely to put on a few extra pounds than children of normal weight during the holiday season. But watching what you eat – and monitoring how many cookies your kids are having – can create added stress during an already-stressful holiday season.
to curb overeating, opt for one or two types of holiday cookies instead of five
That’s why pediatrician Steve Cook and pediatric nutrition specialist Donna Quinzi say not to go overboard worrying about your holiday diet. Instead, establish some healthy ground rules that are in place in your house all year round.
Cook and Quinzi, of UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital, spoke to us about ways that parents can encourage healthy eating in their children. With a solid set of household rules in place, it’s OK to say “yes” when your kid asks for that second slice of pumpkin pie.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, do you have any tips about how families can try to have a healthier diet?
Cook: Well, first of all, we’ve always had holidays and they’ve almost always included food in some way. Since they’ll always be part of our lives, I actually don’t think it’s good to be super-focused on what’s happening with your diet during these times. Holidays can be stressful, and if you’re being hyper-vigilant about what you’re eating, that will create more stress.
But a bigger reason not to place too much emphasis on holiday diet is that the eating habits you have in place the other 350 days a year are far more important in terms of maintaining a healthier weight. If your family is following habits that are already in place, those habits will carry over into the holidays without any extra effort.
Quinzi: If there’s something to remember that’s holiday-specific, it’s that it’s best to just not go overboard. I mean that in terms of eating, of course, but also in menu and/or dessert preparation, because I often see people do too much. Two types of cookies might be plenty, but if you make five different kinds, well, a lot of people are going to want to try all five. Having access to all that variety can sometimes result in overeating, so instead of going over the top, just pick a couple favorites and go with those.
How does a family create healthy, year-round habits?
Cook: “Family” is the operative word there. When I talk to parents, I tell them that if you’re going to start adjusting your family’s eating habits, you have to do it for everyone – all of the kids and the parents, too. You may only have one child struggling with his weight, but don’t tell him that he can’t have potato chips while allowing your other kids to eat them. Instead, get rid of the potato chips entirely. It’s important that you don’t restrict food or create stigmas around it, because research is showing us that children in those environments end up more likely to develop eating disorders or over-eating behaviors. That’s why removing the potato chips from the house entirely is a better route. Then you’re not restricting them because there’s nothing there to restrict, and you can still buy a bag once in a while as an occasional treat.
Also, if you’re distracted while you’re eating, you’re going to mindlessly eat more – much more than you would have eaten if you had been paying attention to every bite. So I use a system of five ONLYs to make things easier.
- ONLY eat in the kitchen or the dining room. This way you’re not distracted by a television or computer, which can cause you to mindlessly overconsume. Eating in front of the TV is where a lot of extra servings can creep into your diet.
- ONLY eat sitting down. Don’t stand and walk around with food, because you’ll inevitably be distracted by something.
- ONLY eat out of a cup or off a plate, not directly from the package. This makes it easier to measure portions and you won’t find yourself accidentally polishing off an entire sleeve of cookies.
- ONLY be eating while you’re eating. Don’t be doing something else. You can sit at a table and eat while talking to someone, but don’t flip open your tablet and start flipping through Facebook, because that’s the same as sitting in front of a television. You’re going to get distracted and overeat.
- ONLY eat when you’re hungry. Ask yourself “Am I really hungry? Or does there just happen to be food here in front of me?” This can go a long way in preventing mindless eating.
When you have these rules in place year-round, they are much easier to enforce during holiday time. You won’t have to worry about the family sitting down in front of the football game with a big spread of food on the coffee table, because, “Oh, we don’t eat in the living room – we only eat in the kitchen.” And people can go have their meals and snacks in there and then come back.
That makes sense, but food and eating together is still such a big part of the holiday tradition for so many families.
Cook: Trust me, I’m not out to ruin holidays for people. Everyone should be able to share a big meal – or that special holiday dessert – with their family. But if eating together is a big part of your family tradition, then go a step further and bring the family together beforehand to focus on the preparation of the food. That way, everyone is pitching in, and the joy comes from making the cookies all together, rather than just wolfing them down when grandma pulls them out of the oven.
Quinzi: Yes, this is definitely the right approach. The focus should not be on the food, but rather family traditions that encourage activity. Treats should be a normal part of one’s everyday life – in moderation, of course – and not the center of the holidays. So prepare meals and desserts together, go run in a Turkey Trot as a family, walk together to find the perfect Christmas tree, go caroling, take a walk around the neighborhood to see the different lights – these are all great family-fun alternatives to focusing on food. Also, here are a few healthy recipes you can make together as a family!
Whole Wheat Ginger Snaps
(25 min., 60 servings)
- 1 cup butter or tub-style margarine
- 1 ½ cups white sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup molasses
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 cup white sugar for decoration
(Prep – 10 min., Cook – 15 min., Ready in – 25 min.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter or tub-style margarine and 1 ½ cups of sugar until smooth. Mix in the eggs, and then the molasses. Combine the whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Stir the dry ingredients into the molasses mixture just until blended.
- Roll the dough into small balls, and dip the top of each ball into the remaining white sugar. Place the cookies about two inches apart on the cookie sheets.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops are cracked. Cool on wire racks.
Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Applesauce Muffins
(40 min., 12 servings)
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- ¼ cup canola oil
- ½ cup applesauce
- ½ cup canned pumpkin
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- ¼ cup golden raisins (optional)
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
(Prep – 20 min., Cook – 15 min., Ready in – 40 min.):
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease 12 muffin cups, or line the cups with paper muffin liners.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice; set aside. Combine the brown sugar, white sugar, oil, applesauce, pumpkin, buttermilk, and beaten eggs and mix until well blended. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the raisins and walnuts, if desired.
- Divide the batter evenly in the prepared muffin pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes until the tops bounce back when lightly pressed or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the muffin pan on a wire rack for five minutes before removing the muffins from the pan.