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Healthy Family Eating During the Holidays

holiday-mealWe are a contributor to a wellness e-zine from Check out our December article, "Christmas Nutrition."

In most families, the holidays are filled with the three F’s - fun, family, and plenty of FOOD! Warm sugar cookies, candy canes, ginger bread houses, hot apple cider, eggnog, and pumpkin pie. With all of these accessible goodies, it’s not hard to believe that most people gain 5 to 10 pounds during the holidays. This means a family of five will gain an average of 25 to 50 pounds!

You probably remember the sugar rush of eating a dozen holiday cookies in one sitting or feeling stuffed to the brim after a big family dinner. Do you remember your feelings of regret? You don’t have to give up your favorite treats to set a good example for your kids. Minimize weight gain for your family this season with some healthy eating tips and tasty good-for-you treat ideas.

Don’t Skip Meals
One way to help your family eat healthy during the holidays is to eat regular meals. By filling up during meal times, your children will be less likely to snack on unhealthy treats during the day. The first and most important meal of the day is breakfast.

Breakfast Thwarts Impulsive Snacking and Weight Gain
Breakfast gives our minds and bodies the fuel they need for the day. On average, people who don’t eat breakfast weigh five pounds more than people who do eat breakfast. This happens because when you get hungry, you are more likely to eat anything – and eat more than you normally do (including that fresh apple pie on the table). This results in weight gain.

But we shouldn’t eat just anything for breakfast. Our bodies and brains don’t do well in the morning with a high-sugar, high-fat breakfast. Sugary breakfast cereals and other foods such as jelly, syrup, juice, candy, soda and high sugared coffee beverages burn quickly in the body and leave us sleepy. Make sure to choose a breakfast that contains protein, whole grains, nutrients and complex carbohydrates.

Here are some ideas to incorporate these into your family’s breakfast:
Whole grains. If you like cereal, choose low-sugared, high-fiber cereal. Try a bowl of oatmeal or a piece of whole grain toast. Look for words like whole wheat and whole oats on bread or cereal labels. Read the label – if sugar is the first, second or third ingredient, it’s not the best choice for breakfast.

Fruits. Fruits are nature’s treats. Choose whole fruit like an apple or a pear over juice because whole fruit contains fiber. Fruits also contain an array of nutrients and plant chemicals that help fight chronic diseases in the body.
Dairy. Dairy products contain vitamin D and calcium which helps maintain our bones, blood pressure and overall mineral balance. Incorporate nonfat or low fat dairy products into your morning meal like cheese, milk, and yogurt. If you can’t eat dairy products, choose calcium-fortified juices, cereals, or soy milk.
Protein. Protein helps maintain and repair our bodies. Add protein to your breakfast with peanut butter, eggs, nuts, and lean meats.

For lunch and dinner, try these tips to keep portion sizes in check:

Eat your meals on smaller plates – this makes it easier to eat smaller portion sizes.

Be mindful of serving sizes by taking just “one scoop” of main dishes and sides and keep meat portions to the size of your palm.

Fill up on fruits and vegetables. Eat lettuce and fruit salads with low-fat dressings or dips.
Only take second helpings of fruits and vegetables.

Color your plate. Be sure to eat a variety of colors at each meal. This will help you get the nutrients you need for the day.

Drink plenty of water. When you are well hydrated, you’ll feel full and eat less.

Don’t drink your calories away. Choose low-fat milk or water rather than sugary sodas, eggnog, cider, or holiday punch.

Eat slowly. It will be easier to listen to your body when it tells you it’s full.

Eat the foods you enjoy – in moderation.

After the meal, put the desserts away.

Snacking Smart with a Game Plan

The number of snacking triggers during the holidays is endless! These cravings and urges are often impulsive. The smell of freshly baked cookies or seeing a plateful of treats can trigger the need to start snacking. We all know that once we start, it can be very difficult to stop. Without a plan, snacking triggers may result in eating whatever is in front of us. Here’s a plan of attack that can help you eat less of the high-sugar, high-fat foods and more nutrient-rich foods:

Put the sweets away. Offer treats during designated times – for dessert for example – and limit yourself and your kids to one or two treats.

With the desserts put away, offer healthy options on the table like a bunch of bananas or a bowl of grapes or pistachios.

If you’re at a party or family get-together, put the treats you’d like to eat on your plate and don’t go back for seconds. When you see the food on your plate, it helps you see how much you are eating.

Before you start snacking, drink a glass of water. This helps to fill you up so you don’t end up eating as much.

When you are hungry, choose smart snacks. These are nutrient dense snacks (rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber) and low to moderate sources of calories, sodium, fat and sugar. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and dairy. They also include healthy beverages like water, milk and 100% juice. Try crackers and cheese, fresh fruit dipped in low-fat yogurt, or a nut and dried fruit trail mix.

Brush your teeth after you eat a snack or chew gum to prevent grazing all day long.

Treats for You to Try

Snacking is an important part of the holiday fun. Take an active role in healthy eating by making your own healthy versions of holiday treats:

Cut down the sugar and fat in your favorite family cookie recipes without influencing the taste. Replace half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour and/or use applesauce instead of oil.

Use holiday cookie cutters on whole grain bread and top with peanut butter and bananas. You can also use the cookie cutters to cut slices of low-fat cheese or rice crispy bars.

Make a festive red and green fruit salad with your children using strawberries, red and green grapes, green apples, and kiwi.

Make fruit kabobs and dip them in low-fat yogurt.

Create holiday characters using fruits and vegetables and toothpicks.

Make mini sandwiches with crackers and thin slices of meat and cheese.

There’s no “secret” for preventing weight gain during the holidays. It takes intentional steps like eating regular meals, limiting portion sizes and choosing healthy snacks. With these tips, you are on your way to celebrating a happy holiday season – and a healthy family!

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