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Give Yourself the Gift of Health this Holiday Season

November 2010

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

The holidays are often stressful even though they are can be happy times with family and friends. Kids and adults feel the pressure of fitting many activities into too few hours. It can be easy to skip meals, eat too many treats, and not do much physical activity. It is easy to fill the days and evenings with shopping, entertaining, and removing yourself from your daily schedule. This change can add pounds on the waistline and break your normal activity cycle.

Focus on being with family, friends, and loved ones, rather than what's to eat. Parents need to model healthy eating behaviors and promote family activities to ensure a happy and healthy holiday environment for kids and their families. Skipping meals and eating lots of high calorie desserts, snacks, and holiday food often pushes the scale up ten to twenty pounds. Here are some tips for a healthier holiday season.

Model Healthy Eating
Healthy eating is a lifestyle. Kids who are taught from a young age to eat well and note their hunger level are much more prepared to make healthy choices later in life. Bring kids into the kitchen while preparing healthy holiday meals. Let them help in the preparation of meals and snacks. By watching adults prepare foods, kids can get some tips on healthy eating and engage in a family activity that is fun.

At the dinner table, adults should encourage small portions of a variety of foods and lots of fruits and vegetables. Encourage water as the beverage of choice at meals and between meals. Adults and older adolescents need 3 cups of 1% or fat free milk each day. Drinking low-fat or fat-free milk or using yogurt or low-fat cheeses help make sure that the family is getting sufficient calcium and vitamins A and D in their diet.

Eat Variety and Small Portions
It is important not to overemphasize healthy habits. Pressuring kids to eat things they do not like and prohibiting certain foods can be frustrating and stressful to kids. Talk with children ahead of time about taking small portions, eating single-servings and sharing desserts. The single most important thing that parents can do is lead by example. Listen twice as much as you talk and don't talk about food in the same breath as calories, guilt, or paying the price of overeating. Turn healthy eating into a positive experience by showing excitement about trying a variety of healthy foods in small portions.

Be Active
Cold weather doesn't have to limit family or individual activity during holiday season. There is plenty that families can do to get off the couch and enjoy one another's company. Taking a nice brisk walk, especially after eating a heavy meal, can be refreshing and relaxing, Play family games together, play music and dance. Engage in activities that do not center on food. Invite everyone in the family to be active and to suggest activities for the family to participate in. Staying active is a much healthier alternative to watching television or spending hours with video games and a bowl of chips. Make the holidays more about family and friends socializing and staying healthy rather than eating and gift-giving. Get creative and carve out fun activities and serve healthy food for the entire family for a fulfilling and memorable holiday season.