Strategies for Happy and Healthy Holiday Parties With Kids

children eating healthy food during friend's birthday party
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Thanksgiving marks the start of a weeks-long eat-a-thon. There are festivities packed with rich, special foods and buffet tables lined with goodies. It’s tough to navigate the holiday party circuit as an adult when you’re trying to maintain a semblance of your healthy habits (and your usual weight). But add kids to the mix, and things can quickly get tricky.

I have a radical suggestion for handling this: Keep yourself in control—enjoy a few of your very favorites, then focus on friends and conversation instead of fixating on the food. And, when it comes to your kids, consider letting them have free reign.

Why? Three reasons:

Reason 1: We grown-ups tend to let one evening of overindulgence spiral into a guilt-laden free-for-all that lasts through New Year’s Eve (and sometimes beyond). Kids, on the other hand, have no problem stuffing their faces with pizza and cupcakes and getting on with their lives — and the otherwise healthy eating habits you encourage at home. Unlike adults, many kids are also great self-regulators. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have asked for a second cookie/brownie/cupcake only to take just one bite of it and announce that they’re full.

Reason 2: It’s unrealistic to present a child with a buffet that includes cookies, pies and cake and expect them to eat a big plate of “healthy food” before they even think about the treats. Making them eat a specified amount of vegetables before they’re allowed to have “the good stuff” doesn’t teach them anything. So if dessert is served alongside other foods, don’t withhold goodies until they’ve eaten their veggies or their main course. Have them choose one or two cookies and put them among their other food. They may eat them first — but will likely eat the other foods, too (and it won’t turn into a battle).

Reason 3: Following your kids around and policing their food intake won’t be fun for you or your kids. And you’re supposed to enjoy yourself at a party!

This free-reign strategy works better if you also do the following:

  • Keep your child’s diet healthy on the day of the party. If she asks for a treat, remind her that you’re going to a party later and she’ll have a chance to eat those kinds of foods there.
  • Check in with your child during the party. If he’s on his third helping of fudge, ask him what his tummy is telling him — is he still hungry or is he full? Maybe even over-full? If you think he’s eating out of boredom, redirect him to some toys or gather the kids together to play a game.
  • Go easy on goodies at home during the holidays. While occasionally overdoing it on junk food is OK, most families attend multiple holiday gatherings. Save those special foods for parties and avoid keeping little dishes of candy and containers of cookies around your house.
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Sally Kuzemchak
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a blogger on Real Mom Nutrition. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.