Holiday season is officially upon us. This time of year can be a delicious time for your family. In our household, I know that the holidays mean sugar cookies, gingerbread houses, and comfort foods galore!
Although it can be difficult to completely avoid these tempting treats, it is important that your family, especially your kids, get enough healthy and nutrient-dense foods throughout the day.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Virginia Chapter, 31 percent of the children and adolescents in Virginia are now either obese or overweight. Overeating unhealthy foods, consuming processed foods, and an increase in a sedentary lifestyle have caused this epidemic to grow in the Commonwealth.
As we dive into the holiday calendar, ensuring that your family is eating healthy can seem like a daunting task. In reality, there are five simple steps you can take during the holiday season that will make a huge difference in your child’s life and well being.
• Let them help you in the kitchen. Getting children involved with meal preparation creates a better understanding of healthy ingredients and nutrition. Have your children help you pick out healthy recipes and foods for your family. Bring them to the grocery store and introduce them to the different types of fruits and vegetables in season. At home, let them help you wash, pour, peel, chop, squeeze, mix, or knead. Cooking together can also help win over a cautious eater and introduce your child to different flavors and foods.
• Focus on color. Encourage kids to include three to four colors of healthy foods in their meals each day. Every color can offer unique health benefits for your child. Your kids can have red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow corn, green broccoli, purple eggplants and other colorful foods. This will guarantee that your kids get a full host of different nutrients and vitamins through their diet. Just remember that rainbow sprinkles do not count!
• Reinforce healthy eating behavior. Make sure that the healthy and nutritious items that you have purchased or cooked together are stored on levels of the refrigerator and pantry that they can reach. Move the processed or sugar-filled foods to a higher level. By putting healthy foods within reach, your kids will be more likely to eat healthy and less likely to eat junk food. Small changes like this will reinforce healthy eating and will eventually become a healthy habit.
• Moderation is key. Teach your children that moderation is the key to healthy living. Making big changes all at once can set some people up for failure. Even healthy foods will cause weight gain if you eat too much. Keep portions under control and measure until you can recognize how much a portion is. Take baby steps. By making small changes and sticking to them, you can help turn healthy steps into a lasting healthy habit.
• Keep your kids active. With all of the holiday festivities at school, family gatherings, and other parties, it can be hard to find enough exercise time for your family in their busy schedules. The American Heart Association recommends at least an hour of physical activity for kids every day, but sometimes it can be hard to fit in those 60 minutes. If you cannot devote a full hour to play time, we encourage our families to find ways to carve out small pockets of time for their kids to get active, play, and run around.
For example, incorporate a few minutes of stretching first thing in the morning—right in the bed! For older children, school assignments can encourage sedentary activity and extensive computer and screen time. Encourage your kids to take a 10-minute break from school work to get moving through jumping jacks, running outside, or having a dance party. Or take an after dinner walk as a family or play a fun indoor game that gets everyone moving. Before you know it, all of these little bursts of activity throughout your kids’ days will add up to a full 60 minutes of fun.
Throughout all of our schools in Hampton Roads, we encourage our families to follow steps like these to make healthy living a habit. With these small changes, I know that you and your family can enjoy a nutritious, delicious, and healthy holiday season.