Am I the only one who is sick of reading about how to “healthify” the holidays?

I know this is an unpopular position to take, but I think it’s OK to eat unhealthily over the holidays.  It is kind of what holidays are for.

Of course, I’m not advocating you allow your lovelies to dive face first into the pumpkin pie—a more mannerly approach is warranted; give them forks!— but I don’t think you should worry about the nutritional quality of the food.  There are more important issues at stake here:

The skills and habits you teach your children about how to handle holiday eating will last a lifetime.  So, what are you going to teach them?

I’d like to suggest:

  • Have fun.
  • Enjoy the food.
  • Don’t throw up.

I’m only partially joking.  An incredibly important holiday survival strategy is learning to indulge without grossly overeating, i.e. without throwing up.

So much attention is placed on one or two celebratory days.  When really, if you have developed the right eating habits, you should be able to go wild—if that’s what you want—for each and every holiday of the year.

Here are some ways to make this happen:

Strategy 1: Eat What You Want

Give up on getting your kids to eat the healthy stuff first.  It might make you feel better, but it won’t teach your kids the healthy eating habits you’re shooting for. Instead, it will teach your kids to overeat.

Let’s be honest here.  Nobody passes up the pie—even kids who’ve filled up on healthy foods—unless they don’t really like pie (in which case they’ll go for the ice cream, or the cookies…) And if you trade peas for pie (you know…make your kids eat the peas as a condition for getting to the pie) you’ll make the sweet reward even more valuable.

Instead, teach your children to browse the buffet and to fill up on their favorites.

  1. Tell your children that you want them to eat only the items they really like.
  2. Then, to help your kids figure out what they really want to eat—assuming that some of the food is unfamiliar to your young children—give them a plate with one bite of everything on offer.
  3. Finally, tell your kids that after the taste test they can help themselves to anything they want.

For more on teaching kids to be browsers read But What Are You Going to Do with All That Halloween Candy?

Strategy 2: Pace Yourself

One reason that Thanksgiving is a challenging eating environment is that the meal is frequently served at an odd hour, often in the middle of the afternoon.  Families gather earlier in the day and then…eat.  (It’s important not to starve before feasting!) Your kids are going to be tempted by the endless supply of snacks (pretzels, nuts, chips, cheese) and you’ve got to let them eat.

However, you can help your children pace themselves.

  1. Offer your children a small meal at an appropriate time (breakfast, lunch and/or dinner if Thanksgiving is late by your children’s standards).
  2. Tell your children what kinds of foods are coming and when. You know this but your kids probably don’t.
  3. Encourage your kids to save room for favorites that won’t show up until later.
  4. Remind your kids to pay attention to their tummies.

Strategy 3: Bookend the Holidays with Healthy Eating

Eating right is a big picture mission. What matters more than how your kids eat on Thanksgiving is how they eat in general. Teach your kids to bookend Thanksgiving with a couple of no-treat days before and after their holiday feast.  Even if Thanksgiving is outrageous, this strategy will even things out.

Don’t think your kids will put up with a couple of no-treat days without a fuss? Stick to your guns. Remember that teaching kids to delay gratification is a good thing.  It’s been shown to lead to healthy eating habits.  Read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.

Still want to healthify the holiday?

Here are two articles worth reading:

  • This Huffington Post piece that tells you how to cut calories in your Thanksgiving feast.
  • This USA Today article tells you how to cut sodium.

The skills and habits your children need for a lifetime of healthy holiday eating are the same ones they need to survive the holidays today.

Become your children’s ally, not their food monitor, by teaching your tots a routine for handling the holidays they can use forever.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~