Preparing A Kid-Friendly, Healthy Holiday Season

Nutritionist and healthy food blogger Danielle Shea Tan tells us how you can keep your kids eating healthy in spite of the holidays.

Thanksgiving turkey image via shutterstock

Thanksgiving turkey image via shutterstock

The end of 2014 is getting closer every day, and so is Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner, New Year’s parties, and then, of course, the inevitable New Year’s resolution to shed those holiday pounds. Perhaps this year you’ve made an early resolution to lose that weight before you gain it by preparing a healthy holiday meal. But how will you get the kids to eat healthy with you? Nutritionist Danielle Shea Tan, founder of Healthy Mamas for Happy Families divulges her top tricks to keep your family healthy this holiday season. 

What are your top five tips for getting picky eaters to eat healthy? 

If I had to choose a handful, they’d be:

1) Create a no-stress eating environment. This means no hovering, bribing or coaxing of any kind at the dinner table. Moms should focus on serving a variety of healthy, tasty meals and, barring any health issues, quit stressing about how much the kids do or don’t eat.

2) Serve new foods alongside healthy food your children already love. This ensures they get critical nutrients so you can rest easy knowing they’re eating healthy, even if it takes them five dinnertimes before trying that new food.

3) Make new foods fun and interesting. This increases the likelihood that your children may venture into new territory.

4) Offer new foods frequently and in different forms. This helps to provide your child with enough opportunities for a new food to become a familiar food, which makes it less scary to try.

5) Quit calling your kid a picky eater. We all know kids pick up everything we say. Labeling your child as a picky eater gives them an out when new food is offered. You’re enabling the issue. Plus, it makes moms less willing to offer new foods because they’ve set a negative tone.

What kid of healthy variations on holiday meals, especially desserts, can moms prepare for their kids? 

Apple pie filling doesn’t need the sugar. Skip the cup of sugar most recipes call for and instead mix apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and a splash of orange juice for a pie filling. You can also boost the protein and fiber of desserts by swapping in almond flour or ground flaxseed for some of the regular flour in bread or cake recipes. Also opt for natural sugars like maple syrup, raw honey, or blackstrap molasses to sweeten desserts because they still contain beneficial nutrients.

Are there any specific nutrients kids need that they generally don’t get enough of? How would you suggest incorporating them into meals? 

Most kids, and adults for that matter, rarely get enough fruits and vegetables which means they’re often lacking in fiber as well as a whole host of important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients like magnesium and vitamin C. Though it varies with age and size, children need 1-2 cups of fruit and 2-4 cups of veggies each day. That’s a lot of produce. I encourage families to start every meal with fruit or veggies as the center of the meal rather than as a side dish. But, of course they need to taste good. One simple way to do that is skip the steaming and start roasting your veggies to bring out the natural sugars—they’ll be gobbled down in minutes.

Do you ever disguise vegetables or do anything to make them more appetizing for kids to eat? 

Presentation is everything. You could put the same meal with different presentations in front of an adult and I guarantee they’ll always choose the plate that looks the most appealing. Maybe it has some fresh parsley on top, a sprig of rosemary or a radish cut into a tree shape. It’s the same for kids. Regardless of age, presentation matters. I’m not suggesting moms need to learn origami for vegetables, it can be as easy as serving fruit on a skewer or making a yummy dip for roasted broccoli. It’s also fun to make dishes more healthy by using unusual produce. Try chocolate pudding made from creamy avocados or pancakes made from butternut squash. Kids are none the wiser if you serve them a pancake made with nutrient-dense squash and ground flaxseed instead of an empty calorie boxed pancake mix.

How can moms incorporate exercise into busy holiday schedules? 

Getting the entire family involved in physical activity is the best way to ensure you’ll all get moving. Exercising as a family can be as simple as doing something fun together like building a snowman, going sledding, or walking to the park. And studies show accountability is key for making healthy habits stick. As moms, you know if you promise the kids you’re going outside to play, they’ll never let you bow out. Kids are the perfect workout buddies, which keeps things fun for the whole family and and gets everybody moving together even in the cold weather.

How important is it to establish healthy eating habits for kids when they’re still young? 

Imagine trying to get Grandpa, who has always said that potatoes are the best vegetables, to just try a little broccoli. It’s pretty much impossible if the only vegetable he likes is potatoes. The sad part is, a grandpa who didn’t eat a lot of veggies as a kid is likely battling diabetes, heart disease, or even cancer now. Children are born with the ability to accept new foods. It isn’t until after preschool that children truly begin to develop food preferences. That’s why it’s so important to start children eating healthy at a young age. You’ll be setting them up for a lifetime of good health.