By Camille Chandler, D.O., family medicine physician, Providence Medical Group-Battle Ground Family Medicine
Now that the holiday celebrations and pumpkin pies are behind us, it's time to return our families to some semblance of healthy eating. Most of us have a pretty good idea what that is – and isn't. But those holiday eating habits are awfully hard to give up cold turkey. Going from months of feasting with abandon to total deprivation could spark rebellion around the table. So I suggest a gentler and more fun approach.
Here are several ideas to help ease your family out of three common holiday habits and back into healthy – but still fun and flavorful – ways of eating.
Holiday habit No. 1: Overeating
The beautifully laid tables, the loaded buffets, the heaping plates – after weeks of holiday feasting, your kids may now see overindulging as the new normal. You're going to need some new tricks if you want to return them to healthful portions without protest.
One fun and effective way to teach kids about balanced portions is to give them a plate and have them draw or imagine a clock on it. You can give younger children carrot and celery sticks to use as hands. When the hands are at 12 and 3, they form a wedge that takes up a quarter of the plate: That's where meats and proteins go. The space between 3 and 6 is for grains and other starches. And the other half of the plate – from 6 to 12 – is for vegetables and fruits. This is the part of the plate where everyone can truly eat as much as they want; no one ever has to say, “Oh, man, I ate way too many carrots.”
For the protein part of the clock, leaner is always better; offer chicken, tofu and turkey (without the gravy) more often than pork chops and fatty red meat. When choosing grains and starches, go with whole grains and high-fiber foods like brown rice, quinoa, lentils and whole-grain bread. In the vegetable section, minimize starchy veggies like potatoes and corn and focus instead on dark leafy greens and colorful produce like broccoli, peppers, berries and melons.
For more ideas about what to put on – and leave off of – your family's plate, see 10 Tips to a Great Plate.
Holiday habit No. 2: Neglecting our veggies
When the holiday spotlight is on the beautifully bronzed turkey, the huge holiday ham, the velvety whipped potatoes and perfectly crusted pies, it's hard to get excited about vegetables and fruits – the one food group that is supposed to make up fully half of our diet. Well, it's January. Time to make fruits and veggies exciting again.
Many of us were raised not to play with our food, but a little playfulness can make some foods – especially those that kids aren't necessarily crazy about – a lot more palatable. So get creative. Roast some carrots and Brussels sprouts – roasting brings out the sweetness in vegetables – and arrange them in a smiley face on the plate. Cut up different fruits and invite your kids to join you in making caterpillar kabobs. Start each dinner with an “appetizer course” of colorful, cut-up veggie sticks arranged beautifully on a platter and served with a flavorful low-fat dip.
Let your kids in on the fun, too – the more involved they are in choosing and preparing fruits and vegetables, the more likely they'll be to eat them. Here are 10 ways to start: Kid-friendly veggies and fruits: 10 tips for making healthy foods more fun for children.
Holiday habit No. 3: Overdoing sweets and treats
Healthy snack choices don't stand a chance when fudge, candy canes and sugar cookies are just as readily available. Now that the tempting treats are nearly gone, it's time to put healthy snacks front and center.
If tossing out the leftover sweets is too heartbreaking, stash them in the freezer and dole them out in moderation. Explain to your kids that when we eat healthy most of the time, we can enjoy a little treat like that every once in a while without going to excess. After switching to healthier snacks, your family may eventually forget about that freezer stash altogether.
With temptation out of sight, replace the cookie platters with a bowl of fresh fruit – the world's best no-prep, easy-to-grab, portable snack.
To satisfy a sweet tooth, offer sweeter fruits, like strawberries and blueberries. Instead of ice cream, enlist your kids in creating yogurt parfaits layered with their favorite fresh fruit. If they've developed a taste for sweet drinks, offer a “party punch” of sparkling water with a little fruit juice (no sugar added) blended in.
For after-school snacks, kids love to dip things – hence the popularity of French fries and ketchup, and chips and dips. But you can do better than that. Offer them healthier dips and dippers, such as carrot sticks and a low-fat dressing, or whole-wheat pita bread and hummus. For 10 more healthy snack ideas, see MyPlate tips for Kids: 10 tips for making great-tasting snacks.
As you introduce these changes, make sure that everyone in your family understands the intentions behind them. Healthy eating isn't just for kids, and it's not just for the parent who wants to shed five holiday pounds. This is about a renewed, family-wide commitment to enjoying a healthy, happy life together by feeding your bodies well.
If you fall off track and splurge on burgers and shakes every once in a while, don't sweat it – you're human. People who make healthy choices most of the time can splurge every now and then without dire consequences. By making mostly healthy choices throughout the year, you can approach the next holiday season with a little less stress, stay on track a little more, and greet the next new year feeling a little bit better about your family's health. And that's worth celebrating.