It can be difficult at the best of times for parents to provide a consistently healthy diet for their kids, but Christmas really ups the ante. Puddings, fruit mince pies, fruit cake, gingerbread and just generally more of everything. Here are 6 tips from ECU nutrition academic Dr Therese O’Sullivan to help you keep your family on track this festive season.
Offer children a substantial breakfast containing a variety of food groups. Think scrambled eggs with baked beans and wholegrain toast, avocado on toast with a banana, or yoghurt with fresh fruit and crushed nuts. Eating a wide variety of food groups at breakfast has been associated with better mental health in children and daily nutritional profiles are likely to be better compared with children who skip breakfast or have a low quality breakfast. Even if Christmas parties are on the agenda for lunch and dinner, having one good meal at breakfast will help ensure kids are well set up regardless of what the day brings.
Maintaining regular meal times and bed times through the busy Christmas period helps provide kids with a sense of structure and security. It can also ensure a regular food intake over the course of a day. If heading to an event where you’re unsure when the meal will be served, packing a lunch box with a sandwich can be a good back-up option.
Forbidden foods are more attractive to children. In an experiment where two groups of children were forbidden to eat fruit or sweets, consumption of these items was higher compared with a control group who were invited to eat everything. At parties, allow kids to try a small amount of everything if they wish (although watch the rum balls!).
At busy Christmas gatherings it can be tempting for kids to continue to run around and play with their new toys while eating. Not only is this a choking hazard, but it can also result in unfinished meal times, as children become distracted. Seats are not required – a picnic blanket or towel will do the job. Sitting with children as they eat encourages them to eat mindfully and enjoy the food provided.
Parents often have the urge to say “No dessert until you finish all those vegetables!” or “Just eat two more bites and then you’ll get dessert”. But using desserts as a bribe can have negative consequences. Providing dessert foods as an incentive to finish dinner can result in children ignoring their internal cues and overeating, and seeing sweets as a good reward option. It’s Christmas – you can let them have pudding regardless of whether they’ve eaten their peas or not. You can even place a variety of foods to choose from, including dessert options, on the same plate. Not forcing children to eat helps create a safe eating environment and shows you trust them to know when they’ve had enough.
Water is the best drink for children (and adults!). Drinks like juice and soft drink provide kilojoules that contribute to energy intake. Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages significantly decreases obesity in children and adolescents. Keep a water bottle handy and offer it regularly to help kids stay hydrated and enjoy their day.
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