November officially kicks off the holiday season, that time of year for gathering with loved ones, spreading good cheer, and sharing delicious meals. If you’re a parent of little ones, this time of year is especially exciting as you share old traditions with your children and maybe even create new ones, helping to form your children’s own most precious holiday memories. Food memories are particularly powerful, and the holidays are an important time to help your kids build a foundation for healthy eating habits. Why wait until 2019 to commit your family to healthy eating practices? From tackling your grocery list to sitting down for a family-style meal, use this opportunity to share and enjoy the season while still providing the basis of healthy habits to last throughout the year.
The holidays are a great time to teach children about food because many celebrations revolve around sharing a meal. Take your kids with you when you do your holiday grocery shopping, and let them explore the produce aisles or farmer’s market stands. Help them name different fruits, vegetables, and herbs and use descriptive language when talking about their appearance, smell, and texture. Teach your kids about seasonality – when certain foods grow and when they’re harvested. You might ask them how or where they think they grow. On a tree? Underground? On a vine? Your children will enjoy this interactive way of food shopping and it may even renew your perspective on this once-mundane task, awakening your curiosity about different foods as well. You can also captivate your children’s interest by stopping by your local library and looking for children’s books about fruits and vegetables before or after grocery trips. Giving your children many opportunities to get to know unfamiliar foods will help to diminish fear of new things and create enthusiasm for nutritious festive foods.
Holiday parties often have us indulging in the foods reserved for these special occasions, but you can still enjoy while keeping moderation in mind. Strive to serve wholesome meals with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. When children eat from a wide variety of foods, they get a wide range of nutrients. Make new food experiences a part of what makes the holidays special, instead of shying away from certain items or flavors you think your child might not like. Serving a new food alongside a familiar favorite can help with your kids’ receptiveness. At dinnertime, cook one meal for the entire family rather than catering to different tastes, especially if your kids tend to be selective. Remember, picky eaters are made, not born. Include your children in the menu planning process, guide them toward healthy selections, and let them help out as much as possible!
Routines and Boundaries
Although the holidays can get a bit hectic, do your best to set regular meal and snack times for your kiddos, with no grazing in between. Take an empathically authoritative (instead of authoritarian) approach to mealtimes to avoid power struggles. Keep in mind that if you force your kids to eat certain foods, they will likely grow to dislike those foods, but if you restrict your kids from eating certain foods or food groups, they’re likely to overeat these foods when making their own decisions. If you introduce a new food and your child rejects it, try, try again.
Make it a point to sit at the table for meals and snacks this holiday season. When you provide your children with a consistent meal environment, such as sitting at the table whenever they’re eating and removing distractions such as tv shows, tablets, and toys, they can focus on their meal or snack and eat with intention. Creating a pleasant and relaxed dining environment will remind you and your family what the holidays are all about. Have your children help you set the table, placing empty plates at each setting and all the food in the middle of the table, “family style”. Allow your kids to serve themselves, letting them choose what to eat (or not) and how much. Model positive eating behaviors by serving yourself a balanced plate and talking positively about each food item. Describe the colors, shapes, and flavors to get your kids excited. Enthusiastically encourage your kids to try everything.
When your children announce they are done eating but there’s still food left over on their plates, avoid asking them to finish it and instead remind them to take a smaller portion next time. Kids have an innate ability to know when they’ve eaten enough, and you can help them listen to their bodies by allowing them to stop eating when they let you know they’re satisfied. Sharing meals in this way – emphasizing enjoyment and not putting pressure on kids to eat specific foods or a certain amount, gives children a sense of autonomy that leads to self-regulation. It also makes meal time much more delightful for the entire family.
Before eating, take a deep breath as a reminder to slow down and be in the moment. Eating mindfully means you’re fully engaged in the sensory experience of eating, which maximizes enjoyment and allows you to listen to your body’s cues for satiety – or being satisfied. Practice mindful eating with your children each day. Mindfulness will also allow your family to truly relish in the festivity of the season.
When you’re a parent, this time of year can be equal parts excitement and exhaustion. Give yourself and your family plenty of opportunities to savor what’s special about the season – sitting down, breaking bread, laughing together, and being merry. Here’s to making new memories of meaningful eating experiences that add to your family’s joy and cheer!
Noelle Payomo is a child nutrition enthusiast and lover of food. She works as Director of Nutrition for Kidango, an early education non-profit agency that serves thousands of children throughout the Bay Area. To find out more about Kidango’s nutrition program, click here!
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