Christmas is time to enjoy family, friends, fun and food, but it doesn’t need to lead to unhealthy eating habits. Here are some helpful tips to help keep your family healthy and in shape this festive season.
What are your favourite memories of Christmas? Growing up, I always looked forward to Mum making her batches of rum balls (minus the rum!) and yo-yo biscuits. I also remember Mum buying a whole watermelon which was such a treat, and sitting outside munching on huge wedges of watermelon. I can almost taste the watermelon and remember the big black seeds– that is how strong the memory is! I also remember some of my favourite Christmas presents as a child being a skipping rope, a new bike or some beach toys.
Fast forward to today, and I am very conscious of creating similar memories for my three children with a mix of the healthy food, treats and Christmas presents to encourage healthy eating.
The Christmas and summer holiday period is always jam-packed with catch ups and social gatherings – and the common feature of all of these is food! Given the food is often ‘treat’ food, research shows that most adults gain about half a kilogram of extra body weight over the Christmas period. What can we do about this? Here are my tips to help keep Christmas fun and healthy – and you don’t have to miss out on your favourite treats!
Favourite summer icy-pole flavours:
– Mango and orange
– Watermelon and mint
– Raspberry & yoghurt
– Banana smoothie
1. Healthy treats
Summer fruit is one of my all-time favourite treats. Grapes, stone fruit, cherries, watermelon and rockmelon are all in season and scrumptious. Frozen grapes are delicious on a hot day, and watermelon granita or frozen berry sorbet is so refreshing and hydrating (my tip – halve the sugar in any recipe). Watermelon also cuts easily with cookie cutters – star shaped watermelon is very popular in my house!
Summer vegetables that I often include on snack plates are capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, tomatoes, snow peas and sweetcorn. They’re great for snacks and to take along as a plate to Christmas gatherings. Add some fresh fruit, cheese, boiled egg or cold meat along with a hummus or avocado dip and you instantly have a platter that could be a big snack or a meal.
From a scientific perspective, fruits and vegetables usually require us to chew the food – which is what takes extra time and allows us to feel full. So skip the juices and instead choose the whole food that takes longer to eat. This way our brain is reminded of when we feel full, where juice is very quick to drink and all too easy to drink more than we need. Remember that a glass of orange juice is usually the same as two-three oranges!
2. Water – lots of water!
Feeling hungry? First grab a glass of water. Research shows that too often we confuse thirst for hunger, which can mean that we eat more food than we need. If children say they are hungry, offer some water then a snack to help curb their appetite. I really have to encourage my children to drink water and find new straws, or ice blocks, or using an ‘adult’ glass are ways to encourage water being drunk.
3. Eat breakfast
Don’t skip it! A new study has shown that as children become teenagers they are more likely to skip breakfast and choose a less healthy breakfast. Parents influence what children eat at breakfast across all age groups. Avoid the sugary cereals – breakfast can be as simple as a banana, or a boiled egg with toast, or some oats with yoghurt and berries. Even on days that you know are going to be filled with food, starting the day with something small provides energy to keep us going during the day.
We head to the beach on Christmas morning straight after breakfast. It is some time to stretch the legs before the day becomes focused on eating and sitting down.
4. Smaller portion sizes
This is where you can still choose your favourite foods – just choose less of them. First up choose a smaller plate. Our brain is very visual – if you have a large plate you are likely to fill it up. So choose a smaller plate. Divide your plate into quarters – one half for vegetables and salad, one quarter for protein such as meat, fish, chicken, egg, nuts, and the remaining quarter for some carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, potato or similar.
Research shows that too often we confuse thirst for hunger, which can mean that we eat more food than we need.
5. Stay active
Add in extra activity to help with the extra eating. Seems simple – but adding in these types of activities are what children will remember as they grow up. And remember to make it fun! We head to the beach on Christmas morning straight after breakfast. It is some time to stretch the legs before the day becomes focused on eating and sitting down. And they get to try out any new beach toys that Santa might have left for them!
Most importantly have a safe, happy and healthy Christmas!
Kate Bullen is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Mum to three young kids. For more advice from Kate visit www.dietitianonline.com.au