When I think about Christmas in years past, many of my memories involve food. Baking with my Mom, devouring homemade cinnamon buns on Christmas morning and sipping hot chocolate (which has been replaced with baileys and coffee) after playing outside in the snow.
No matter what your holiday traditions are, food is always a huge part of the celebration. That is why I think it's important to put all weight loss goals on hold, give yourself a break and enjoy holiday foods without feeling guilty. I also think that it's important, as parents, to let our kids enjoy holiday foods too — without being monitored 24/7 by Mom or Dad.
All year long we work hard to ensure that our kids eat a fairly well balanced diet, enough vegetables and not too many treats. What if, instead of rationing our kids treats and making sure that they get enough brussel sprouts, we backed right off for two or three days and let our kids explore, taste and even go a little crazy on the foods of their choosing? Avoiding potential "food fights" during the holidays might just make things a little more fun and a lot less stressful for everyone. Here are some suggestions on how to do this:
If there is one meal that should be non-negotiable, it's breakfast. Kids are hungry in the morning, so it's a great opportunity to take advantage of their rumbly tummies and feed them a balanced meal. We know that eating breakfast offers a wide range of benefits, but when protein (think yogurt, milk, nuts, meat, eggs etc.) is included, it can tame the cookie monster later in the day by helping to control appetite and blood sugar levels.
Without completely disregarding the time — after all, you don't want your preschooler to throw a huge tantrum because he hasn't eaten in 5 hours — try to be flexible when it comes to the timing of meals and snacks during the holidays. Holiday meals are often served either earlier or later (depending on your family or the host) than regular weeknight meals and there is also typically a lot more snacking during the day. With the exception of breakfast, don't worry too much if your kids don't have balanced healthy meals during the day — holiday eating is random and fun and everyone (including kids) should enjoy it.
At holiday parties and family gatherings, there will be platters of delicious foods that everyone is going to want to try (including your kids). Let them explore different foods by guiding them through the buffet of deliciousness and allowing them to choose what they would like to try (not what you want them to eat). Try not to steer them towards decisions, but instead give them full control over what goes on their plate. There are only a few opportunities for young kids to have full control over what they eat during the year, and holiday time should be one of them. Allowing your kids to explore different foods that aren't offered at home on a regular basis will help to widen their palate and give them a sense of control and confidence when it comes to their meal, which will increase the chances of them actually eating it!
Instead of stressing about what and how much your child is eating, turn a blind eye. That's right — let it go. Indulging more than usual over these holidays — which really only accounts for about 1-3% of the year — is fun and normal and does not mean that your kids will develop unhealthy eating habits for life. In fact, if you try to control everything that your child eats, he or she will likely overindulge when they get the chance and new, longer lasting food battles may arise. Think about how much more time you will have to enjoy yourself and focus on what's important during the holidays instead of wasting it on monitoring every morsel that enters your kids' mouths.
Instead of fighting with your kids to sit down to the table to eat dinner, let them know that they don't have to eat if they don't want to (after all, they have likely filled up on yummy snacks all afternoon with their siblings, friends or cousins) but that they do need to sit down at the table with everyone to visit, laugh and catch up. When you take the pressure off of kids to eat, they are often more open to trying foods and less "picky" with their choices. You may be surprised at how much your kids end up eating, and even if they don't, it's OK. You will enjoy yourself so much more if you resist telling them to have "3 more bites" and focus instead on creating happy holiday memories.
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When you think Ritz crackers, the term "whole grain" likely doesn't come to mind—well I hope not anyway. A Manitoba mother sent her two kids off to daycare on December 10th, 2012 with what I would consider a healthy, balanced lunch made up of leftover roast beef and potatoes, carrots, an orange and some milk, according to Yoni Freedhoff's "Weighty Matters" blog.
But as per this daycare's nutrition policies, it was lacking a "grain product," so they decided to penalize this mother by fining her $10.00 and then supplementing her kids' lunches with Ritz crackers, which are a refined, processed cracker full of vegetable oil, glucose syrup, and salt. When I was interviewed earlier today by CBC radio stations across Canada on this story, I expressed that I was not only horrified from a nutrition/health point of view, but that I also felt terrible for this mother, who sent a healthy, balanced lunch with her kids — one that was likely healthier than most packed lunches.
Manitoba's early learning and childcare lunch regulations require that parents (and care providers) provide balanced lunches complete with all of the food groups as set out by Canada's Food Guide. I really don't see a problem with this — I think that it's a great idea, in fact. But here's the problem: Canada's Food Guide, although a good overall tool for basic nutrition, can easily be misinterpreted, such that food like processed, packaged products like Ritz crackers might be considered a "grain."
I think that the Canada's Food Guide, as well as national labelling policies, need to evolve to better educate what a healthy intact "whole grain" food is vs. a "grain or starch"—which, as it stands, could range from Goldfish and Ritz crackers to quinoa and steelcut oats, depending on who is interpreting it. A balanced meal, in my mind, should include high quality protein, vegetables and fruit, dairy (if there is no allergy or intolerance), healthy fats and some whole grains or starchy vegetables.
It seems as though Kristen Bartkiw (the mother who was penalized) got it right.
In my mind, packaged processed carbohydrate foods such as most crackers, cookies, chips etc. should not be considered a healthy addition to kids' meals or snacks.
A once-in-a-while treat? Sure.
Whole, intact grains such as rice, quinoa and oats are much better "grain" food choices. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and yams are also great grain/starch alternatives (and in my mind should be lumped into the "grains/starches" food group, not the "vegetables" food group). And I'm sure that this is what Kristen Bartkiw was thinking too.
During my interviews with CBC, I was asked what I thought about penalizing parents for sending unbalanced school/daycare lunches. In this case, I thought it was absurd, considering what this daycare deemed as "balanced," but in general I think that what parents send is their business — it is ultimately up the them. Unless, of course, a parent is sending a lunch made up of pop and candy every day — in that case, some intervention may be needed. The bigger issue when it comes to this story, though, was the lack of education and knowledge of the daycare staff. In all honesty, I think that this particular daycare worker was likely just doing her job. She probably looked through these two lunches, compared them to the food guide and noticed that the grain was missing (potatoes are considered a vegetable according to Canada's Food Guide, not a grain or starch). I'm guessing that she is also underpaid yet overworked and just trying to do her job.
What gets me though, is that Ritz crackers were the choice "grain" supplement. I think that care providers and teachers should encourage parents to send a balanced lunch, but these same care providers should also be provided with education (ideally by a Registered Dietitian) on what a balanced lunch is.
I was also asked to give some advice to parents on how to get their kids to eat more of their lunch. I answered by saying that it's important, as parents, to recognize that kids' appetites can fluctuate drastically from day to day and that we as parents need to try to respect that. My son can out-eat my husband one day and hardly eat anything the next—kids are intuitive eaters for the most part, so it's important to focus not on one meal or even one day, but instead the whole week. It's also important to encourage our kids to listen to their tummies, not clean there plates (or lunch bags). The other piece of advice I had was to involve kids in planning and preparing meals. Anything from helping with meal planning to grocery shopping, to preparing the actual meal- kids are more likely to eat it if they have a hand in making it.
I'm hoping that the school lunch policy in Manitoba has evolved since last year, when this happened. I'm hoping that their has been some more education offered to care providers and teachers on what a "balanced meal" is and that parents who send their kids to daycare and school with healthy school lunches made up of whole foods do not have to experience what Kristen did last December.
Photo credit: Flickr Commons
Gingerbread instantly makes me think of the holidays. Gingerbread cookies, lattes and loaves are among some of my all time favourite holiday treats, and this gingerbread cake has become my favourite holiday dessert to make. I haven't met a person who doesn't love it. I made it yesterday afternoon while my daughter was napping and brought it to my supper club last night (which is made up of Registered Dietitians—and foodies—that I went to university with).
We all fell in love with the White Water Cooks cookbook series a few years ago and decided to create a "White Water Cooks Supper Club" where we get together once a month or so. Everyone takes a turn hosting and we all bring a different course of the meal (I was in charge of dessert last night). Everyone was quite pleased when they found out which dessert I brought—it is a favourite among all of us. With just the right amount of sweetness, just-out-of-the-oven warmth, and the spicy flavours of the holidays, this easy-to-make cake is perfect for the holidays or the weeks leading up to. It is definitely dietitian-approved, not because it's healthy (because it's not really), but because it's amazingly delicious.
*No need to cut back on the amount of sugar because I already have a little bit.
Directions (preheat oven to 350 F)
Grease a 9 inch oven-proof baking dish or 8 X 8 glass baking dish with butter or Pam
Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl
Beat butter and sugar (the 3 tbsp) until well combined and the add the beaten egg and mix until just blended
Mix the dry mixture into butter/egg/sugar mixture, alternately with the molasses/water mixture. Blend well until smooth.
Transfer to your baking dish, sprinkle with brown sugar and then pour the butter/hot water mixture on top of that (carefully). There will be a lot of liquid on top!
Bake until crackled (about 35-40 minutes)
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Make sure you use a scoop instead of a knife and serve in bowls (with a dollop of good quality vanilla ice cream or real whip cream on top).
Modified from Mia's Warm Gingerbread Pudding Cake Recipe in the White Water Cooks With Friends Cookbook