Christmas is coming up, and many parents and children are enjoying all of the preparations- wrapping gifts, trimming the tree, and making grocery lists a mile long with all of the necessary ingredients to make the perfect turkey dinner. The kids are likely adding their favorites onto the list too- homemade cookies, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake, a gingerbread house, and candy and, more candy. Unlike times gone by, when children longed for a couple of peppermint candy canes in their stockings, today’s candy selection extends to three aisles in Target on Bradley Park. Publix in Phenix City alone carries at least 15 different varieties of candy canes, including favored brands like Starburst, Sour Patch Kids, and Sweet tarts.
As a parent, I too, am faced with my three-year old asking me for the chocolates and cookies and other sweet treats that are so accessible during the holiday season. It can be hard to say “no” because I love my daughter and wish to give her all that her heart desires. However, I also inevitably scrutinize her diet with the trained eye of a pediatrician and the knowledge that too much sugar can be unhealthy. We want the kids to enjoy the holidays but in a healthy way. December is not a license to eat. Maintaining a balanced diet is essential for parents and children, especially during the holiday season.
“It’s important for both children and adults to be sensible and enjoy all the foods and beverages, but not to overdo it on any one type of food. Sweets and higher-fat snack foods are OK in moderation,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
70 percent of foods aimed at children — even those advertised as nutritious — are filled with added sugar. No specific sugar-consumption recommendations exist for kids, but adults on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet shouldn’t eat more than 40 grams of added sugar. Giving children too much sugar can lead to weight gain, behavior problems and tooth decay, in addition to other issues. What can parents do to have a happy and healthy holiday? Check out my 7 tips for limiting sugar intake:
Dr. Chandra’s 7 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating for Kids (And Adults)!:
1. Start the day with a healthy breakfast.
Mom’s old adage “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” remains true. Eating a protein-rich breakfast will greatly reduce unhealthy snacking in the evening. “The consumption of the high-protein breakfast led to increased fullness or ‘satiety’ along with reductions in brain activity that is responsible for controlling food cravings,” said lead researcher Heather Leidy. If your kids are used to grabbing a Pop Tart on the go or – arguably worse — not eating, Leidy explained that it will only take about three days for them to adjust to eating a well-balanced morning meal. Suggested breakfasts include: egg and beef-based foods such as burritos or egg-based waffles with applesauce and a beef sausage patty, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or ground pork loin to reach 35 grams of protein.
2. Offer fruits to children whenever sugar cravings arise.
Keep the kitchen stocked with fruits. Eating fruits decreases sugar cravings, and the fruits are a great source of fiber. The brighter the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients it contains. Parents can even build excitement with children as you periodically try a new fruit together.
3. Choose wisely when you fill your child’s plate; preferably fill the plate with fruits and vegetables rather than load up on cookies and candies.
So, you made Grandma’s homemade snickerdoodles this year and your kids are dying to try one? Insist they eat dinner first. Fill their plate with each of the food groups- bread, vegetables, fruit, and protein- and top it off with a glass of milk for dairy. Encourage children to finish their dinner in order to get one of those famous cookies for dessert. This way, the cookie becomes a special treat. (See our blog on Positive Reinforcement strategies from last week.) As an added bonus, the kids should be too full from dinner to bug you for more than one cookie.
4. Limit intake of sugary beverages, which add empty calories to the diet and produce a great breeding ground for cavities.
Go with the glass of milk with dinner (suggested in #4) or a glass of water. Make sweet tea, Coke and other sugary drinks into special, occasional drinks for your children if you do not eliminate them from their diets all together. Also, ensure that children are brushing their teeth and flossing at least twice a day, no matter what they are eating and drinking to reduce and eliminate tooth decay and cavities.
5. Eat 4-5 small meals all day long, and avoid grazing on processed sugary treats or fried food.
Skip the McDonald’s drive thru during Christmas shopping. Instead, bring along some carrots or another healthy snack for children to eat in the car. By eating smaller, healthier portions throughout the day, kids will be less hungry and hopefully less likely to stick their hands into the cookie jar as soon as you arrive home.
6. Consider making healthier desserts during the holidays.
Websites like www.eatingwell.com, www.health.com and even Pinterest have reduced- sugar recipes for everything from dark chocolate meringue drops to whole-wheat sugar cookies to almond-honey butter cookies, where organic honey is the only sweetener. By creating healthier desserts, you won’t feel as guilty when you – or your kids – indulge. Fresh, natural ingredients are always better than processed or artificial sweeteners.
7. Ensure children physically exert themselves more than usual during Winter Break in order to counter extra calories from increased sugar consumption.
Daily exercise is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even in the days leading up to Christmas. Parents can model this behavior for their children by going for a walk as a family after a big meal or by playing interactive games together which require physical activity. Just Dance for the Wii will get the whole family up and moving! Whatever you do, make sure that kids are not watching TV or playing video games for no more than a total of 2 hours of screen time each day.
Next week, we will give suggestions for getting children away from the smart phone or Ipad and getting them engrossed in the world around them during Winter Break.
Dr. Ritu Chandra is the founder of Preferred Medical Group, with locations at Phenix City Children’s and Fort Mitchell Clinic. She is a board-certified pediatrician and specializes in ADHD, asthma, and school-related problems.
This blog was first published on Muscogee Moms.com.