The holidays can be full of our most favorite activities: spending time with loved ones, practicing traditions, and–a popular one–eating amazing holiday foods! Sometimes we can get so wrapped up with shopping for gifts, visiting relatives, and creating special meals that our healthy intentions go out the window. We asked several knowledgeable dietitians for their advice on how to maintain balance and make the most of your holiday season.
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Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, mother of three and author of Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy*, explains, “You may be tempted to skimp on shut-eye this time of year. Don’t. Tired people are irritable, distracted, and spacey—and often hungrier as well. One study found that men who only slept for four hours consumed, on average, 559 calories more the next day than men who slept a full eight hours. Another study with women found those who slept the least (less than five or six hours per night) were significantly more likely to gain weight over time than women who slept seven hours or more.” Learn more about the importance of sleep here.
In addition to making sleep a priority to keep excess pounds at bay, Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, has some fantastic ideas on how to keep perspective during this busy time of year. Bannan recommends that we “take the focus off food. Think of all the things you can do with your family and friends besides eat—really. You can bond in other ways. Create and decorate ornaments together. Go ice-skating, biking, or walking as a group. Have a family game night or play cards. Rent a batch of favorite holiday movies and watch them as a group. Yes, you can (and will) eat. It just shouldn’t be all you do, holiday-wise.” Here are some more great family activity ideas!
Another fantastic way to keep your composure and stay on track with healthy eating this time of year is to practice gratitude. You and the kids can think of it as a type of holiday tradition. Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, Nutrition Coach and Consultant at The Foodie Dietitian keeps a daily gratitude journal that she writes in each day. Lydon explains that “It helps me keep perspective on what’s really important and all the wonderful things I have in my life. It’s a nice way to set the tone for the rest of the day. I find this extremely helpful during times of increased stress, like around the holidays.”
If you do feel stressed, instead of eating, choose to pamper yourself. Bonnie Averbuch, a registered dietitian nutritionist, suggests, “taking a hot bath, getting a massage, making yourself a cup of hot tea and curling up with a book, or even taking a nap. Pampering yourself can reduce stress, eliminating the urge to eat all of those unhealthy foods. It can also leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, so you feel ready to tackle all of the craziness of the holidays.” Staying healthy during the holidays can take many different approaches.
Not only can we stay healthy by enjoying all the non-food activities available, but we can also keep stress to a minimum by realizing that some variation from our normal routine is expected. Bannan advises that we “forget perfection. Shoot for ‘pretty good.’ That goes for the rest of the celebrations as well. You don’t have to bake six kinds of Christmas cookies from scratch or nail your biggest ever year-end bonus to make sure the holidays are wonderful for you and your family.” Try insulated cookie sheets, which can help prevent your cookies from burning when you’re tired or are trying to multitask.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author of The Best Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook, shared her insight into cooking with the kids. “A great way to teach kids about healthy cooking and holiday traditions is to cook together in the kitchen. From a young age, my kids would help with mixing ingredients, cracking eggs, and measuring ingredients, and as they have gotten older, they can actually make most of the dishes. For example, on Thanksgiving, my daughters can follow most of the steps to make a pumpkin pie and for Hanukkah, my daughters get involved in making our annual holiday cookies (especially all the decorating of the cookies!). Being in the kitchen together helps me teach my kids how to cook, our family traditions, and we get to spend time talking to each other for a few good hours!”
Kids can also be at risk for unhealthy habits this time of year since sugar seems to be everywhere. Ward recommends that you “serve kids meals with adequate protein, found in lean meat, low-fat dairy, beans, and legumes combined with fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to keep kids fuller for longer. Try to stick to a normal meal and snack schedule as much as possible.” Also, keep snacks out of sight to reduce temptation and freeze goodies to extend their shelf life (and hinder the ability of your child to inhale a whole plate of cookies!).
Find some time to have fun as a family this year in a healthy way. Do you have an annual tradition or can you start a new one this year? Make being active with the family during holidays something everyone can enjoy. Play games moving and standing inside like charades or Pictionary, or stream an indoor yoga class on your TV. There are countless beginner-friendly options that are good for all ages! If you live in warm weather, get the family together for a walk or jog to keep your legs moving amongst all of the other festivities. If it’s cold, bundle up and play catch or toss snowballs at a target – preferably not a sibling or parent, unless it’s soft snow! Here are some additional fun family fitness ideas for wintertime.
Take time to enjoy this time of year, chaos and all. Time flies! Before you know it, the clock will strike twelve and the new year will have arrived. Find healthy habits that you can adopt this holiday season and work them into your schedule in a meaningful way that will work for you. See if you can come up with your own healthy holiday traditions and promote wellness together!
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