Being a dietitian, I sometimes find my advice is not so popular in the run-up to Christmas. While many people make healthy New Year’s resolutions in January, during late December they’re more likely to be thinking about mince pies and Christmas dinner. So I’ll keep this newsletter short and sweet (just like a mince pie!).
My top nutrition and health tips for Christmas centre around what I find, as a parent, is the greatest Christmas gift: a bit of extra time to chill out with family and friends. If you have a few more free hours than usual, you might like to:
- Enjoy a family breakfast. While we may have some extra time at Christmas, there’s no denying that on some days we may feel we have to be here, there, and everywhere. Starting each day with a family breakfast is not only a good nutritional plan to fuel our families for the busy day ahead, it also provides a perfect time to connect with each other before getting into the day. And if you can manage another relaxed family meal together in the day, or even two, so much the better.
- Cook together. Whether you’re whipping up an indulgent White Christmas or a healthy stir fry, cooking with kids emphasises that preparing food is a fun social activity. As a bonus, it begins to teach them the cookery skills that will mean our children will be able to cook for themselves one day.
- Nudge nutrition in the right direction by leaving a bowl of delicious summer fruit around to tempt the family (and hiding most of the sweet treats out of sight!). Taking a few spare minutes to chop some fruit (and even some vegetables) to have ready in the fridge makes them easy to grab and eat.*
- Food can be a great basis for a holiday or festive challenge. You could ask kids to devise a tasty Christmassy sandwich with green and red colours. Or they could make ‘plate patterns’ (or a larger ‘platter pattern’ for a family meal) with green, red and white foods such as trimmed raw green beans, sliced red plums, halved cherry tomatoes, green or red apple slices, fingers of cheese, large canned butter beans, avocado chunks and slices of chicken.*
- Childcare centres and schools are very good at reminding kids to drink regularly and stay hydrated. There aren’t always the same prompts at home when we’re out of our usual routine. If your kids tend to need extra reminders, you could try setting an alarm to go off every few hours. Having bottles of water ready-chilled in the fridge will be perfect for hot summer days, and you can always add some slices of lemon, chunks of other fruits or gently crushed mint leaves to add extra zing.
- Many kids start a new school year with a shiny new drink bottle for school or nursery and a new-found enthusiasm for filling and drinking from it. Buying it earlier, to start the Christmas holiday break, can be a good way to keep up the hydration when out and about on hot summer days. If you’re worried that the new bottle will be broken or lost before kids get back to school or nursery (I have three boys, I completely understand), you could instead try personalising disposable plastic bottles you may already have with permanent markers.
- The Christmas break is a perfect time to enjoy some active time as a family. If your children are bouncing around the living room or stuck on screens, try a family trip to the playground or the pool, or maybe explore a new State Forest walking track or wander by the river or the coast.
- Get into gardening, indoors or out. No matter how small your space is, it’s possible to introduce your kids to the joy of growing their own food. Beans are an ideal way to start – they’re easy and quick to grow and most kids already like eating them. Be sure to buy ‘bush’ bean seeds if planting indoors, so they won’t grow up to the ceiling. They can be planted in larger yogurt pots or juice tetra-packs if you don’t have any plant pots – just make some holes in the bottom and sit them on an old plate so water can drain out. If you have lots of space you could plant climbing beans to climb up garden stakes or bamboo poles arranged in a teepee shape to make a living plant cubby house for your little one. Whichever you grow, plant a few extra bean seeds in soil in a plastic bag (with a few holes for drainage) so your children can have a look each day to see the roots and then the shoots forming – such a fun way to learn some science!
- Santa might be able to help with some of these ideas. You could encourage him to bring your little ones an ‘active’ toy such as a soccer goal or toddler ride-on, or slip a skipping rope into a Christmas stocking. Budding mini-chefs really love mini-kitchen tools such as wooden spoons, whisks and child-sized aprons. A kids’ cookbook will keep the enthusiasm flowing. And kid-sized garden tools, maybe with a few plant pots and acrylic paint pens to decorate them, will help mini-green thumbs to flourish.
Hopefully, you’ve found these and other ideas from my newsletters helpful during this year. I wish you all a relaxing and delicious festive break with your little ones, enjoying the magic of Christmas with children. See you in 2023!
*Note that all foods should be appropriate to the age and stage of your child, and will need to be cooked or mashed for younger children who require softer textures.
©Fiona Hinton 2022
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Please note that this blog is for general information only, and should not be taken as a substitute for qualified medical advice. Please discuss medical issues with your child’s doctor before taking any action.
About Fiona: Fiona Hinton is a dietitian, but describes herself as a nutrition translator, taking the science of nutrition and translating it into foods we love to eat, to nourish both body and soul. She has over 20 years of experience as a dietitian, working in a wide range of areas from hospital wards to running her own private practice. Fiona has a special interest in children’s nutrition. As a mum of three school-age boys, she has first-hand experience of the issues associated with feeding young children, such as weaning and fussiness. Fiona specialises in real-life strategies and practical suggestions to convert nutrition advice into food kids will eat. Fiona has collaborated on several books, including one with best-selling children’s food writer Annabel Karmel, as well as training childcare staff in children’s nutrition.