7 ways to deal with the holiday food frenzy

From Halloween to New Year’s Day, there’s no denying that the holiday season is upon us and along with it, sugary treats and indulgent foods. For kids (and their parents), the abundance of sweets and special occasion foods can be overwhelming and a threat to a healthy diet. 

Some parents wonder if they should control food or make sweets off limits. Or they ask, “How much is too much?” These are hard questions to answer. Letting kids have access to holiday foods and treats without limits or boundaries doesn’t seem like a good idea, as the risk for overeating is a real one. But being a food cop by eliminating, restricting, or controlling food isn’t a bed of roses either. In fact, research tells us that being too restrictive, or controlling food too tightly, can backfire, resulting in children overeating (sometimes on the sly) or losing control when around foods that have been significantly limited from their diet.

Because of these two extremes, I vote for somewhere in between—some food boundaries coupled with some special liberties. The good news is that the food “boundaries” should be your everyday approach to feeding your children anyway!

Here are 7 easy ways to keep a cap on those sweet holiday indulgences without becoming a food cop:

1. Stay on a feeding schedule. Keep three meals and snacks scheduled every day at regular times. This helps ensure your child gets the good nutrients he or she needs for growth and development, while keeping physical hunger in check. Young children typically eat every 2-3 hours and stretch out the time frame to 3-4 hours when they enter school.

2. Try a “one sweet per day” rule. With this approach, you’re not taking away all the fun, but you’re working it into your child’s diet in a reasonable way. Healthy foods still take center-stage, while sweets or desserts are a sidekick to the main diet. Remember, for young children, a portion of dessert is small, like the fun-size or mini-size Halloween pieces of candy or a small scoop (1/2 cup or less) of ice cream. Young toddlers under age two should steer clear of sweets—they’ll get plenty of exposure to these foods later on!

3. Try serving desserts with the meal. Some families find that serving sweets at mealtime, alongside veggies and the main course, helps to dilute the sugar effect and minimize the focus and importance of desserts in a child’s mind. The thinking is that dessert is simply part of the meal—not really different than the baked potato on the table. However, other families feel their child may go hog wild and go for the sweet that’s on the table. You know your child best—do what makes the most sense for keeping sweets in their place—as an occasional or small treat. I have had success with the traditional way to serve dessert (after the meal) and with it on the table. Change it up to keep things interesting!

4. Freeze leftovers. Overloaded with Halloween candy or too many sweets at the year-end holidays? Stick them in the freezer for another day, another party (piñata, anyone?), or another celebration. “Out of sight, out of mind” works particularly well with young kids.

5. Don’t hang on too long. After a certain period, sweets lose their luster and freshness. Don’t be afraid to toss them! There will always be more candy and dessert to be had in the future, especially during the holiday season!

6. Avoid shopping for as long as you can. If you buy it, they (or you) will eat it. Remember this, and hold out on purchasing holiday candy and sweets until the last minute. I buy Halloween candy on Halloween.

7. Enjoy the holiday! Serve and eat your favorite foods on the holiday. Your children will grow to anticipate and enjoy these foods as they grow up, and they will associate them with the holiday. Return to your healthy eating patterns as soon as you can, even the next day.

How do you manage the holiday hustle of sweets?

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About Jill Castle, Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert. She is co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

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