H is for Healthy Holidays

Tis’ the season for rich and delicious meals, decadent cookies and cupcakes, pumpkin pie and flavorful beverages. With all of the family gatherings, celebrations and excitement of the season, it is very easy to say “yes” to extra servings and extra desserts. In the United States, the average person gains between 1 to 5 pounds during the holiday season.

As adults, we often set the tone for children in our lives – including in our early childhood programs. Is it possible to model healthy eating and still have a good time during the holiday season? The answer is YES! Creative meal planning, limiting screen time and incorporating physical activities are just a few ways the holidays can become healthy and still be fun for everyone.

In most cultures, food plays an important part in family traditions. Because each early childhood program can serve as a “home away from home,” those traditions carry into children’s daily rhythms. By focusing on great food and activity strategies, child care staff and teachers can make a big difference in creating health-boosting holiday practices.

Keep food choices healthy.

Consider using smaller plates, serving smaller portion sizes and using “less fat” or “no fat” products when cooking meals. Adding fruits and vegetables to meals is a great way to add flavor – and festive colors — without the extra calories. For example, a fruit pizza can be made with strawberries and kiwi. The red and green fruit add to the colors of the season and makes a nice presentation on the table. Vegetables can be arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree by using broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes.

Get moving, in good and bad weather!

Incorporating physical activity into the holiday season is another great way to keep adults and children from gaining weight during the holidays. For example, going for a walk after a big meal is a good way to burn off calories, instead of sitting in front of the television set. If the weather is bad, encourage children to compete in an indoor Scavenger Hunt. Music is also a great way to encourage physical activity. Check out that idea and many more in this guide on healthy school celebrations. For example children can play musical chairs. Parents and children can also sing and dance to holiday songs, which is another way to build memories and stay active as well.

During this holiday season, ask yourself, “What healthy changes am I willing to make and model for children?” and “How can I create a culture of joyful wellness in my program?” Your lead can make a huge difference for the children in your care!