While the days get colder and it gets dark out so quickly, kids settle inside and often begin snacking more often and on less nutritious food -- especially on all those tempting holiday goodies lying around!
But, with the weather getting frightful outside, the body can still stay happy and healthy. Focusing on some key strategies this winter will help your kids stay nutritiously sound and help ward off germs and keep them healthy.
Serve high-quality carbohydrates
Our bodies have a good natural supply of a happy-feel-good hormone called serotonin. But, as the days get shorter and less sunny, serotonin levels begin to drop and the body will naturally crave carbs, or what most of us lovingly refer to as our comfort foods. Instead of turning to fat-laden potpies or refined sugars in pie and dessert, load the pantry with easy to grab whole grain and high-fiber snacks. Great options include: washed and ready-to-eat fruit at kids' eye-level in the fridge, whole grain crackers such as Triscuits, or homemade root vegetable chips (see below for an easy recipe).
Store up on seasonal produce
Winter produce isn't always as easy or appealing to younger appetites, but working them into the diet can help pack in the nutrients without breaking the budget. Try adding in pomegranates, cranberries, purple grapes, carrots, celery, potatoes and pumpkins. Easy snacks for the kids could be ants on a log with celery/peanut butter/raisins or pumpkin muffins for on-the-go breakfast options.
If seasonal produce just can't make it into your kids' mouths, you can always venture into the freezer section for some fruits and veggies. Frozen foods are often equal counterparts to the fresh as long as they aren't doused in syrup or butter/cream sauces.
With the cold days, kids spend a tremendous amount of time inside and can wander into the kitchen for "boredom-buster snacks" more often than usual. This is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to the concept of mindful eating. Mindful eating is the art of knowing why you are eating and enjoying every bite slowly until your body signals that it's full. Think back to Thanksgiving dinner. Did you plow through several courses and dessert in record time without feeling too full to only find yourself 20 minutes later desperately unbuttoning your pants? Here are several simple concepts of mindful eating to practice during the holiday winter months with your kids:
• If they're hankering for a snack when they just ate, try the apple test. Ask if they are hungry for an apple; their bodies may be physically hungry and actually needing a snack. Otherwise, they're probably bored and should be encouraged to choose another activity.
• Chips or a hug? What are they really craving? Physical hunger builds slowly over time. Emotional hunger can hit instantaneously.
• Encourage them to wait 20 minutes after eating before going back for seconds. It takes about 20 minutes for the body to communicate satiety to the brain.
• Discourage snacking in front the TV. It's difficult to listen to the body's hunger/fullness cues when zoned out in front of the TV.
Baked Veggie Chips
1 medium sweet potato (12 ounces)
1 beet (8 ounces)
1 medium white potato (5 ounces)
1 large parsnip (6 ounces) or 1 large carrot (6 ounces)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch ground black pepper
Heat oven to 375.
Peel the sweet potato, beet, white potato and parsnip. Using a chef's knife or a mandolin, slice each into 1/8-inch thick rounds. Place sliced vegetables in a large bowl. Add the oil and toss gently until well coated.
Arrange in a single layer on two large baking sheets.
Combine the Parmesan cheese, salt, garlic powder, oregano and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over vegetables.
Bake until crisp and light golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve with dipping sauces as desired.
Tip: It's easier to bake these in two ovens or in two batches. If you bake both sheets at the same time, be sure to rotate the baking sheets halfway through for more even cooking. The veggies don't need to be turned during cooking.
I hope this gives you some starting points to help your kids through a healthy holiday season. Enjoy the holidays and I'll see you in the new year!
Contact me: If you have any feedback, comments or questions on this topic or any others, I would love to hear from you! You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
•Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and three young sons in the Northwest suburbs.