Sarah Tankersley, RD, LD, an outpatient pediatric dietitian at Children’s Hospital of Georgia, offers seven tips to help you and your family enjoy the holidays without sacrificing good health.
1. Don’t skip breakfast. Over winter break, kids may sleep in and miss breakfast, which is an important meal of the day. Skipping meals, however, can lead to extra snacking and consuming bigger meals later in the day. Additionally, research has shown that missing meals may also have a negative effect on our energy levels, moods and ability to focus.
2. Eat your fruits and vegetables. Rather than counting calories at your next holiday party, Tankersley recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, preferably nonstarchy vegetables like green beans, broccoli, salad greens, carrots and peppers, because they are packed with water.
“In the south, we often prepare dishes we think are healthy, such as casseroles, but they do not offer much nutritional value,” Tankersley said. “Fruits and vegetables tend to be forgotten during the holiday season, but they actually make great side dishes. They can be served raw or prepared in a way that brings out their flavor without sacrificing freshness or nutritional value.”
3. Get active. Children should get no less than 60 minutes of exercise every day. Adults should strive for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day, four to five times per week. Tankersley recommends heading outdoors when the weather permits. On those cold, rainy days, however, a number of indoor activities are available to families. These include playing at an indoor trampoline park, walking around the mall, and following along with a child-friendly dance or exercise video on Youtube or GoNoodle (a website and smartphone application designed to encourage children to exercise).
“The best way to be successful with exercise is to make sure it is a family change,” Tankersley said. “Do not just tell your kids to exercise on their own. Join in and make it a family activity.”
4. Hydrate. Make sure you and your family are drinking plenty of water throughout the day — at least 64 ounces a day for adults and children ages 10 and older — and limiting your consumption of sugary beverages, such as sweet tea, soda, sugary sports drinks, lemonade and fruit juices.
5. Practice moderation. “The holidays only come once a year, and they are meant to be enjoyed,” Tankersley said. “It is OK to have a little extra food or to eat a special treat you would normally avoid. In fact, denying yourself may cause you to want those foods more.” However, Tankersley noted, if you have a holiday party scheduled every night of the week, then you may need to prioritize. Save bigger indulgences for a specific party, and be more mindful about eating your vegetables and limiting your consumption of higher-calorie foods at other events.
6. Make it a lifestyle. “Make healthy eating and exercising part of your daily routine,” Tankersley said. “The goal, particularly when it comes to families, is not to diet or hit a certain weight by a specific day. Instead, aim to establish a healthy lifestyle. If you can do that, the habits you form should naturally carry over into the holidays.”
7. Start small. Rather than trying to adopt a variety of lifestyle changes at once, start by focusing on one or two changes you feel would have the greatest impact. If your family is drinking a lot of sugary beverages, for instance, you could begin by cutting back on soda or sweet tea. If your family tends to sit around the house watching TV all day, try adding a few days of exercise. Once those habits become second nature, you can reassess your goals.