By Rose Yson-Zaragoza M.D.
The contents of this web site are provided as an informational tool. This is not intended to replace medical advice or care administered by a healthcare professional. Common sense should always be used when referencing this site. If, at any time, you feel your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.
December can be one of the most exciting and fun times of the year for a child. But with all the shopping, prepping, hustle and bustle for the holidays, it’s easy to lose sight of what our kids need during this festive time. Here are some tips for minimizing stress and maximizing nutrition for your kids during the holidays. For Holiday Safety, check out the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics for some good reminders.
To combat the inclination to fall prey to the holiday marketing blitz that started before you even thought about Thanksgiving turkey, try the following: Take a quiet moment to reflect on what the holidays mean to you on a personal level, and share this with your children. If you’re like me, this is a time for being thankful for all the blessings I’ve received over the past year. This includes the love of my family and the blessings of the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, and the opportunity/capacity to love others.
Spend some unstructured free time with your children, preferably doing something that does not involve waiting in lines (unless you and your kids like that sort of thing!). It doesn’t even mean having to do something mutually interactive. One of my family’s favorite things to do is to go to Barnes & Noble, pick something to read (or look through, in the case of our 3 year old) while we lounge together in the café and drink hot cocoa. If we time it right, we get extra quiet time while our little one naps!
Physical activity is an important stress-buster for anyone, especially for children. It’s easy as a parent to let TV or video games keep the kids busy so we can get on with shopping, wrapping, planning, and cooking for the holidays. But don’t forget to schedule in active play time. Remember, children in school usually have 3 recess periods in every seven-hour day—that’s roughly every 2 hours or so!
Maintain usual eating and sleeping schedules. Nothing makes my kids grumpier or more difficult than being past hungry or being sleep-starved. When you’re on vacation, whether it’s home from school for 2 weeks or away at friends’ and relatives’ homes, keep your kids on their same schedules (it’s best to adjust to time changes once you’re already there). This is sometimes difficult to do, but it’s so worth the effort. Your children (and you) will be happier in the long run.
Reduce stress while traveling. This is when maintaining usual eating and sleeping schedules is the most important. While you’re en route to your destination, be sure you plan to let your child eat and nap (if they still do) at their usual times. Factor in boarding times and long lines through security, if you’re traveling by plane. Consider bringing the stroller to the gate, to be checked at the last minute to allow for naptime if it occurs during your wait to board. Bring snacks, but drinks other than infant formula are not allowed as a carry-on. Make sure your child has something to drink/swallow to minimize the effect of air pressure changes on the ears as the plane ascends or descends. Ask the stewardess for a cup of water, and tell her why you need it. Bring Tylenol or Motrin/Advil in case of ear pain that cannot be alleviated by swallowing/drinking; this is more likely to happen if your child has a cold or sore throat. Encourage your child to bring a favorite toy, but also pre-pack their carry-on back pack with some unexpected toys (not necessarily all new ones), enough to keep them occupied for the duration of your trip. If you’re fortunate enough to have a seat for your under-2-year old, bring their car seat on board; they’re more likely to relax in this familiar setting—perhaps even readily fall asleep if the timing is right.
It’s important to uphold your usual nutrition standards during the holidays. The long vacation from school and the potential abundance of unhealthy foods during holiday-get-togethers is a perfect recipe for indulgence. Just because you baked 3 dozen cookies doesn’t mean you or your kids have to eat them all. Share them with your neighbors and friends! And save a few for each member of your household. If you know Grandma’s going to have tons of sugar-laden or fat-laden foods at her house, give the kids some carrot sticks, fruits, or granola bars to munch when they’re hungry—before you get to Grandma’s. If you’re hosting the party, consider having some healthy “appetizers” (e.g., fruits, veggies, cheeses, rolled deli meats, in kid-friendly sizes and arrangements) for the kids’ table before the main table is set. Get them while they’re hungry, and they’re more apt to eat the stuff they’d normally gloss over.
For some good nutrition advice, check out choosemyplate.gov/ You can see what your child needs on a daily or weekly basis based on their age, height, gender, and the amount of activity they get. There’s a sample menu for a 2000 calorie daily intake, and tips for when eating out!