Holiday Tips for a Healthy Family

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, December 6, 2014

We have once again embarked into the tasty holiday minefield.  You have probably just had a chance to brush up on your holiday cooking and baking and are ready to restock your kitchen for round two in December, once you’ve recovered from after-Thanksgiving shopping madness.  Helping your family stay healthy can seem like a daunting challenge but making an effort can help prevent disease, reduce complications of existing ones, and help keep unwanted pounds off your list of holiday gifts.  Fortunately, we don’t have to add health to our list of to-dos.  Let it be a part of the ones you are doing already, including cooking, eating, and spending time with family.  Keep these tips in mind to help you make this holiday a healthy one for you and those you love.

One easy way to do this involves tweaking traditional dishes and holiday favorites, making the dishes much better for your heart while keeping their great taste.  These are changes you will know about, but those who are enjoying them won’t.

Choose 98% fat free versions of cream soups in casseroles, and use light sour cream or plain Greek yogurt instead of the full fat version.  Swap half the oil in baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, muffins, and brownies for a fruit puree such as applesauce.  Depending on the dish, pureed pumpkin can also be a delicious option.  Use low-fat milk or evaporated fat-free (skim) milk for cream in mashed potatoes, and choose reduced-fat (2%) cheese and light cream cheese for casseroles to keep all the flavor but reduce the calories and saturated fat.  Top sweet potatoes with toasted pecans instead of marshmallows.  Also, often up to 1/3 the sugar in the recipe can be taken out without affecting the flavor.  Adding cinnamon and vanilla can give dishes a sweet flavor without the calories, and cinnamon may help lower blood sugar.  These changes make a difference; for example, substituting evaporated fat-free milk for two tablespoons of heavy whipping cream saves ten grams of fat.

Try another vegetable to add to traditional favorites, such as roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or a festive pear, dried cranberry, and walnut lettuce salad.  When looking for something quick to bring to a dinner, fresh fruit is a great option. Pineapple and grapes are crowd and kid-pleasing favorites that pair well with the heavier dishes often on the menu.  Let your child utilize their creative minds to arrange a vegetable or fruit tray, and choose bean or salsa dips instead of cheesy, creamy options.

If making a pie, choose graham cracker crust over pastry, or use just one pie crust for the top.  Even better, skip the crust and make a cobbler, which can be faster, easier, and often made with only a small amount of butter, if any, 1/3 less sugar, and an oatmeal or whole wheat flour topping.  When baking with your family, make smaller batches, or package up goodies to share with others.  Cut pieces smaller and make smaller cookies, and store them in opaque versus clear containers.

If you find your house filled with goodies, make an effort to either keep nutritious snacks waiting for your kids in the car when you pick them up, such as nuts, whole grain crackers, dry cereal, or granola bars, or have a snack ready for them when they come home.  This will help satisfy them until dinner, and keep them from having a meal of treats.  When it comes to holiday parties, keep a routine with meals, and nibble on some fresh fruit, vegetables, or whole grain crackers with your kids before the event to control hunger.

Assess the foods available at meals with your kids, and help them identify a few favorites and also healthier choices that they enjoy.  Do the same yourself, and skip the ones that you don’t care that much about.   Fill the plate with half vegetable and fruit dishes, and help your child choose small amounts of their favorite treats.  Keep in mind that it takes 15 to 20 minutes for the brain to know that the stomach is full so encourage your kids to wait before getting seconds.

If you took your kids with you as you sprinted through the store during after-Thanksgiving shopping, you were on the right track.  Holiday shopping, such as walking the mall or powering through Wal-Mart in search of that perfect gift, is a great way to get your family moving.  Instead of circling the parking lot waiting for a prime spot, park far way to save time and add activity during busy days.  With your kids, turn this into a “short adventure hike” to the store, avoiding backing cars.  Have dance parties to holiday music, and incorporate a habitual before or after dinner family walk.  Setting out your families’ shoes and coats makes it much more likely that you will follow through with the plan.  Lastly, give gifts that encourage physical activity.  Ideas include anything from hula hoops and jump ropes to bikes, trampolines, and active video games.

Have a healthy and happy holiday!

Andrea Nikolai is a registered dietitian at Washington Pediatrics located at 1206 Brown Street in Washington and can be reached at 252-946-4134.