Healthy Holiday Eating: Tackle the Age Old Struggle!

The holiday season is ripe with cliches. We wish one another joy, peace and merriment. We lament the lines at the mall. We balk at cooler temperatures and full calendars. And without fail almost everyone quips about holiday weight gain. We hope to avoid the decorated cookies and candy canes or go easy on the buttered mashed potatoes. We vow to fit exercise despite the busyness of the season.


And then we make New Year’s Resolutions when we fail.


So what does it look like to truly eat healthy during this indulgent season? Is there a way to celebrate the splendor of December without drowning our children in sugar? And can we keep healthy without anxiety and guilt over the whole conversation?


Stress Less


December proves one of the most stressful months of the year and leads to poor eating for many. Traffic jams at the mall, 3 AM shopping deals, finishing up year end projects at the office, or wrangling squirmy children for the perfect photo can leave us trembling.


Time crunches often lead to fast food drive-thrus or shoveling in a few cookies and calling it “dinner.” Stress can point us toward too much caffeine and too little time to cook a well-balanced meal.


If we simply slow down and reflect on what is truly important we can find ourselves with the time and energy we need to cook healthy meals this time of year. Do you really need to dash off to the store for the one hour power shopping super special? Or can you skip the gadget and use the time to whip up some healthy cuisine instead?


Eat Seasonally


Granted, the bounty of summer has passed but winter still offers abundant choices for seasonal eating. There are two reasons why eating seasonally is important. The first is that you are likely consuming foods that come from sources closer to home and this means you will eat fresher food. Fruits and veggies have more nutritional power if you eat them as close to the picked date as possible. If you eat what is in season near you then your meals have more of a vitamin zip compared to the strawberries picked weeks ago in South America.


The second is that you are using seasonal eating as an opportunity to their ecosystems, the farmers who grow crops in their county and to the harvest that comes where they live. So load up on root crops and warm your plate with squashes. It is a ripe time for colorful, seasonal eating.


Sneak Attacks


The holidays offer many families the chance to celebrate treasured family recipes. Cookies that Aunt Georgiana fancied or pies that Grandma Adeline once baked. Teaching our children the joy of these traditions is one of the high points for many families. So, rather than rob our children of the fun that lies in cookie dough and rolling pins, we can find creative ways to infuse their baking escapades with healthy options.


One choice that works for many families is to consider organic baking ingredients. Organic flour and sugars, fair trade vanilla and spices, organic milk and butter are all great additions to the pantry. Another option is to tweak muffin and bread recipes to include whole grain flours, wheat germ or other robust options. These put bleached flour to shame in their nutritional value.


That said, my closest friend Amy once had holiday anarchy on her hands when she swapped traditional baking flour for whole wheat flour. Her cookies flopped as did the faces of her family when they bit into her treats. So choose wisely what you decide to alter.


Another option is to help your children to dip or lick that bowl a little less when baking. Invite them to chew a piece of sugar-free gum while cooking to keep their mouths moving. Consider having a bowl of grapes or cut up apples on the counter to satiate a sweet tooth without licking the spoon filled with icing.


Help Others Eat Better


There is no other time of the year when our culture seems as open to giving and offering assistance to others than during the holidays. So at this time of year when we indulge ourselves so decadently let us also remember how we can help other families enjoy the same luxuries. Here are a few family options to consider.


First, serve together as a family during one of your regular meal times. Go to a food pantry or a homeless shelter and serve a meal to needy folks and then reflect upon that time with your children once the event has ended. If your children are too young for this option consider making  it a date night with your spouse or a good friend. Skip a holiday restaurant meal to help someone else fill their stomach.


Second, collect healthy food options for your local food pantry. Often food pantry recipients take home discarded or unwanted food from other families. Rather than rummaging through the cabinets or your local grocer to offer the cheapest faire consider purchasing top quality organic and locally grown choices for your food pantry. If your local pantry accepts produce then help them stock up with seasonal, local or organic selections.


Finally, do not forget the wisdom of the first section. Don’t Stress! Enjoy the season, do the best you can and let the rest roll off your back. Enjoy the second cookie and the smiles of your children and let the guilt and anxiety fade to the back of the pantry.