It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but when it comes to getting your child to eat his fruits and veggies during the holidays, you feel more like The Grinch than Santa Claus. All those festive get-togethers—from cookie swaps and gingerbread house-making parties, to latke parties and New Year countdowns—can practically wipe out any strides you’ve made in getting your preschooler to eat her broccoli before dessert.
But fear not: the experts say that by changing up your kid’s meals with some creative additions to their regular diet, you’ll be able to survive holiday dining without going rogue—and with some healthy habits to take into the New Year.
Holiday Good Eats…Not Just Sweets
No holiday party is complete without some tasty treats, but don’t be tempted to give into your child’s pleas for more candy canes and Hanukkah gelt in lieu of a real meal. “Allow the kids to eat some yummy snacks, but have a set snack time rather than allowing them to graze throughout the day,” says Dr. Peter Jung, a pediatrician in Houston, Texas. To balance out sugary snacks, be sure to steer your child toward the fruits and veggies platter, cheese plate or nuts bowl as healthy alternatives.
If you’ll be playing hostess, use this an opportunity to update traditional recipes with more nutritious ingredients, like spelt or whole wheat flour in holiday cookies, offers Beth Warren, a registered dietician in Brooklyn, NY (www.bethwarrennutrition.com). “By swapping in healthier ingredients such as dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, and baking them in smaller portions, you’re already making a better choice without sacrificing enjoyment,” she says.
And when creating a holiday menu for family and friends, consider enhancing traditional kid favorites. For lunch or dinner, Warren recommends baked chicken nuggets or fish sticks breaded with whole wheat panko crumbs (“the crumbs give a nice crunch and do not taste like whole wheat”). For breakfast or brunch, she suggests a whole grain pancake in the shape of a snowman or a yogurt parfait in festive holiday colors using colorful fruits, like strawberries and kiwi slices.
New Year, Better Nutrition
Once the holiday hoopla has died down, many families aim to eat healthier and make smarter choices for their everyday meals. When packing lunches and snacks for preschool and daycare, experts suggest portable foods that travel well and are packed with flavor. Bridget Swinney, a registered dietician and author (www.eatrightmama.com), suggests small mandarin orange as a lunch treat. “Peeling them helps with motor skills, and they are a good portion size for a preschooler,” she adds.
Unprocessed foods—fruits, veggies and yogurt—are ideal nutritious snacks for a young child. “Try different ways of preparing the food,” offers Dr. Jung. “Smoothies, dried fruits and veggies and trail mix can liven up the snack tray.”
When making smaller-size portions for lunches, Warren likes to cook foods for school lunches in muffin tins. “Cooking foods such as a quiche with spinach, cheese and egg…in muffin-size portions makes the dish more kid-friendly,” she explains. Another favorite is a homemade pizza roll: whole wheat wrap, sauce and cheese cut into smaller portions.
At dinner time, experts agree that eating together as a family, whenever possible, helps develop healthy attitudes toward nutrition at any age. “The best way to get kids to eat a healthy diet is to let them see their parents and caregivers eating healthy,” notes Swinney. “This means that kids and their parents need to eat together; that cannot be stressed enough.” She advises serving a fruit and veggie at each meal and letting kids choose what to eat.
During meal prep, experiment with new foods by introducing them with things kids already like to eat. “You can incorporate nutritious foods by combining ingredients you know they’ll enjoy,” says Warren, offering peppers on pizza as an example. She also suggests creating dinner themes (taco Tuesdays, for instance) and laying out healthy options that kids can choose to add to their tacos. “Not only are you making the idea fun and exciting, but you are allowing a child to choose, making it more likely he or she will eat it,” notes Warren.
Getting kids involved in the kitchen is another way to enhance their diet—even it’s as simple as husking the corn or setting out the ingredients for spaghetti and meatballs on the kitchen counter. “When kids help prepare their meals, they feel empowered and will want to make smart decisions about what they are eating,” says Dr. Jung.