Ask Dr. Bell: Planning for a Healthy Holiday

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Children's View

Ask Dr. Bell Making sure your kids are eating healthy can be a daily challenge, especially for busy parents. But maintaining healthy food habits is even harder when sugary holiday treats pile up.

Parties, restaurant meals and vacations present more opportunities for indulging in sweets and overeating; however, if you keep in mind some of the following ideas, you can make sure those special treats stay special and your kids aren’t continuing bad eating habits into the new year.

Elizabeth Prout, MD, attending physician in the Healthy Weight Program at CHOP, explains that she and her colleagues look at eating as a big picture that includes many factors, such as diet, physical activity and screen time — that sedentary time spent watching videos, working on a computer or even texting.

Their daily recommendations are easily remembered as 5-2-1-0: five vegetables and fruits (three servings of vegetables and two fruits), no more than two hours of screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugared beverages. At holiday time, it’s easy to overdo sweet drinks like soda, punch and high-calorie eggnog.

It’s important to distinguish between snacks, which can keep children from getting hungry between meals,and treats, which is food that they typically don’t get every day.

In general, the best practice is to limit treats in frequency and portion, such as once a day and in a portion that’s appropriate for the child’s age; a 6-year-old, for example, shouldn’t be having the same size treat as an adult.

Planning ahead and being proactive can go a long way toward maintaining healthy eating habits. If your children are going to a party, don’t send them hungry — give them a healthy snack beforehand so they’ll be less inclined to go for too much junk food. You can also encourage them to always eat their vegetables first, to meet their basic daily requirements before filling up on other less healthy options.

Vacation time can be a great opportunity to increase your child’s physical activity. In the winter, outdoor activities like sledding provide good exercise because sledding down the hill always starts with walking up.

Family activities can be more enjoyable, so try walking outside with your kids before or after dinner to keep active.

If it’s too cold to spend a lot of time outdoors, there are plenty of indoor activities that kids of all ages can do with you or on their own. Many teens like playing Wii, dancing, hulahooping, jump-roping and weightlifting.

You can get creative with younger children, playing tennis with balloons instead of balls, playing hide-and-seek up and down stairs, having them do jumping and squatting games, or pretending to be different animals — exercising their imaginations as well as their bodies.

Parents are the biggest influence on a child’s healthy habits, and it’s always a challenge to discipline yourself to model the right behaviors. Setting boundaries and planning in advance, whether it be preparing for holiday parties or vacations, or getting dinners ready ahead of time for the night or the week, can keep your kids following the basics of healthy eating all year round.

And remember: Being healthy should be fun!