Celebrating Healthy Holidays

By: Ann C. Meyers, RD LDN at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

86528357How wonderful is our list of holiday foods with all of the connotations of family, warmth, love, and anticipation! Our kids certainly look forward to these special foods, but we parents are often plagued by a nagging sense of guilt that we are serving unhealthy and / or fattening foods that we will come to regret in January. I hear this defeatist attitude from parents along with a plea to help them “make up” for all of this “unhealthy” holiday eating. Are healthy holidays even possible? Yes!

Repeat after me: My family and I will eat all of our traditional family favorite foods and we will enjoy them! We pledge to savor our nourishment when we share it with our loved ones while we keep balance in our lives through the holidays.

Balance between what we eat, what we do, and how we think is essential for healthy holidays. To begin, we should enjoy our favorite foods with some mindful eating. This means to relax and think about your food when you are eating, savor the flavors, avoid distractions, and listen to your appetite. With lots of family meals ahead, the holidays can be a great time for you and your family to practice this thoughtful approach to eating.

In addition, try scheduling some physical activities for the entire family. Take the kids for walks — it’s a great way to spend some peaceful time with your family. Or enjoy a physical activity that your kids like to do such as bowling, ice skating, building a snowman, or visiting a local park to play on the swings or shoot baskets. Your kids will really love the time you spend doing their favorite activities. You may even come up with a new family holiday tradition.

And finally, schedule plenty of time for sleep. This is not easy for us parents who feel obliged to stay up until all hours trying to make our holidays special. We all want to make the holidays a time that our kids will remember for years to come, but the best memories will come from the happy times you spend together — not whether your place looks like a movie set!

As you practice “mindful” eating, here are a few more tips that can work for the holidays and beyond:

– If you are planning a large dinner, make the other meals light and healthy. For example,135335380 switch out sugared breakfast cereal for slices of toast spread with peanut butter and topped with apple slices. For lunch, serve a warm soup such as chicken noodle, lentil, or vegetable — it will fill everybody up but not spoil appetites for the holiday dinner. Cut up fruit and veggies for snacks, and serve low-fat milk as the beverage.

– Encourage everyone to help in the kitchen. This provides “quality time” that you and the kids will enjoy and remember. Cooking can be an opportunity to teach some kitchen basics like measuring, food safety, and even a bit of food science, if you like.

– Resist using sweets as snacks or as bribes for eating other foods. Make it clear to your kids when the desserts are going to be served and when they are not. This will allow your kids to learn to enjoy all of the delicious foods being served. And speaking of sweets …

Here’s a favorite of my family with a healthy twist.

Lacey Chips and Dip

Yield 12 dozen.
Preheat the over to 325 degrees

2 cups of old fashioned or quick cook oats
1 tablespoon white flour
2 cups of white sugar
½ tsp salt
1 cup melted butter or margarine
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 pint of non-fat Greek yogurt

1. Put the oats, flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix well.
2. Melt the butter and immediately pour over the oat mixture and stir until the sugar has melted.
3. Add the beaten eggs and the vanilla.
4. Cover 2 cookie sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
5. Drop the mixture (it will be runny) by teaspoon
onto the foil, 2 inches apart.
6. Bake 10 – 12 minutes but watch carefully.
7. Remove from the oven and let cookies partially cool on the foil then peel away the foil carefully. When still warm, you can roll them into little sticks to make them less fragile for dipping.
8. Store in a tight container.

Serve with non-fat Greek yogurt as a dip.