Holidays are the best time to teach your children healthy eating habits.

It’s counterintuitive. After all, most experts agree that the best way to get through the Eating Season is limit your children’s access to sweets and treats either by giving the stuff away, by buying the stuff away, or by simply keeping your children away. But holidays happen every year. Kids have to learn to cope. And the sooner they do, the better off they’ll be. And the happier your home life will be. So here’s your guide to Healthy Holiday Eating — The Child Edition.

This isn’t so much a strategy as a philosophy. It takes a mindshift to go from nutrition to habits and from feeding to teaching. Nonetheless, you’ll find specific strategies at the end of this post.

There’s really only one rule: Talk to your children about how eating decisions are made so they can start making decisions themselves. Healthy Holiday Eating on their own? You bet!

No, I’m not crazy. Talking is the key. No matter how old your kids are. You have to let your kids in on the game plan. Structure + shared control = healthy eating and happy kids. Talk is cheap but it’s effective…especially if you want your kids to practice healthy holiday eating on their own (or at least with only a minor assist from you).

Yes, children can self-regulate. They can practice self-control. And yes, they can do this in the presence of candy-corn, pumpkin pie and all the other holiday treats. True, it’s hard for young children to delay gratification—they often choose now over later— but they can make choices and begin learning the concepts needed to handle sweets and treats.

Talk to your children often. Talk to them as specifically as you can. But… don’t talk to your toddlers about nutrition, health or how much they ought to eat.

Do talk to your kids about the three habits that translate nutrition into behavior. These principles translate everything anyone needs to know about nutrition into behavior even (or maybe especially) during the Holiday Eating Season.

Proportion, variety and moderation create the structure—a set of stable rules—you need for eating/feeding success. And they’re easy concepts for young children to understand.

Teaching Proportion, Variety and Moderation during the Healthy Holiday Eating – The Child’s Edition.

  1. Proportion Talk to your children about proportion and then let them decide which days ought to be treat-free and which days and times they’ll have sweets leading up to and throughout the holidays. Consider a chart for youngsters to mark when they have had or will have their treats. For this to work, however, you have to disclose which kinds of treats are coming their way. You also have to disclose when.
  2. Variety Continue using the Rotation Rule—don’t serve the same food two days in a row— to reinforce the message the “regular” rules apply(even when it comes to variety) and that the Eating Season isn’t a free-for-all.
  3. Moderation Talk about hunger and satiety but also talk about what to do when there is “food”—I use the term lightly, let’s just say junk—but you’re already full. One idea: Offer to bring that amazing cake home, to mark it so no one else eats it and to serve it tomorrow.

If you’re new to this site or if you need a refresher: Proportion, Variety and Moderation translate everything anyone needs to know about nutrition into behavior.

  • Proportion: We eat more fresh, natural foods than anything else (including crackers, hot dogs, sugary yogurts, candy, cookies…)
  • Variety: We eat different things on different days.
  • Moderation: We only eat when we’re hungry. We stop eating when we’re full.

Talk may be cheap…

But when it comes to teaching kids to eat right, what you say can really influence what your kids do. And doing (not knowing) is the key to teaching kids to eat right.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~