I don't think I'm the only one who doesn't really want to make Thanksgiving skinny.
Actually, I know I'm not. Sally, of Real Mom Nutrition, and my Happy Bite podcast co-host, copped to some strong feelings about how important it is that her favorite holiday stuffing stay full strength.
Listen to that podcast here.
For my part, I not only think it's OK to eat unhealthy foods over the holidays. I think you can teach your kids the right eating habits by doing so. You just have to rethink the lessons you want your kids to learn.
Here are some ideas from an post that originally appeared in 2011. My thoughts haven't evolved...
I’d like to suggest that, rather than worrying about having a skinny Thanksigivng that you teach your kids three things:
- Have fun.
- Enjoy the food.
- Don’t throw up.
I’m only partially joking. An incredibly important holiday survival strategy is learning to indulge without grossly overeating, i.e. without throwing up.
So much attention is placed on one or two celebratory days. When really, if you have developed the right eating habits, you should be able to go wild—if that’s what you want—for each and every holiday of the year.
Here are some ways to make this happen:
Strategy 1: Eat What You Want
Give up on getting your kids to eat the healthy stuff first. It might make you feel better, but it won't teach your kids the healthy eating habits you're shooting for. Instead, it will teach your kids to overeat.
Let’s be honest here. Nobody passes up the pie—even kids who’ve filled up on healthy foods—unless they don’t really like pie (in which case they’ll go for the ice cream, or the cookies…) And if you trade peas for pie (you know…make your kids eat the peas as a condition for getting to the pie) you’ll make the sweet reward even more valuable.
Instead, teach your children to browse the buffet and to fill up on their favorites.
- Tell your children that you want them to eat only the items they really like.
- Then, to help your kids figure out what they really want to eat—assuming that some of the food is unfamiliar to your young children—give them a plate with one bite of everything on offer.
- Finally, tell your kids that after the taste test they can help themselves to anything they want.
For more on teaching kids to be browsers read But What Are You Going to Do with All That Halloween Candy?
Strategy 2: Pace Yourself
One reason that Thanksgiving is a challenging eating environment is that the meal is frequently served at an odd hour, often in the middle of the afternoon. Families gather earlier in the day and then...eat. (It's important not to starve before feasting!) Your kids are going to be tempted by the endless supply of snacks (pretzels, nuts, chips, cheese) and you've got to let them eat.
However, you can help your children pace themselves.
- Offer your children a small meal at an appropriate time (breakfast, lunch and/or dinner if Thanksgiving is late by your children’s standards).
- Tell your children what kinds of foods are coming and when. You know this but your kids probably don’t.
- Encourage your kids to save room for favorites that won't show up until later.
- Remind your kids to pay attention to their tummies.
Strategy 3: Bookend the Holidays with Healthy Eating
Eating right is a big picture mission. What matters more than how your kids eat on Thanksgiving is how they eat in general. Teach your kids to bookend Thanksgiving with a couple of no-treat days before and after their holiday feast. Even if Thanksgiving is outrageous, this strategy will even things out.
Don't think your kids will put up with a couple of no-treat days without a fuss? Stick to your guns. Remember that teaching kids to delay gratification is a good thing. It’s been shown to lead to healthy eating habits. Read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.
Still want to healthify the holiday?
Here are two articles worth reading:
- This Huffington Post piece that tells you how to cut calories in your Thanksgiving feast.
- This USA Today article tells you how to cut sodium.
The skills and habits your children need for a lifetime of healthy holiday eating are the same ones they need to survive the holidays today.
Become your children’s ally, not their food monitor, by teaching your tots a routine for handling the holidays they can use forever.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~