Rudolph PB&J Sandwiches | Red & Green Veggie Pizzas | Strawberry & Banana Santa Hats
Strategies for a Nutritious Kid-Friendly HolidayBy David Yeager
With Thanksgiving behind us and additional holiday celebrating ahead, parents often wonder how best to balance the enjoyment of holiday treats with the importance of maintaining proper nutrition. One of the biggest challenges is the length of the holiday season. For better or worse, the overabundance of calorie-laden foods and treats stretches from Halloween to New Year’s Day.
The good news is there are strategies clients can use that will enable kids to enjoy their favorite treats, while remaining on a solid nutritional footing. The first step, according to Ashley Cappel, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at the Healthy Lifestyles Center at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, is to think about the entire holiday season, rather than focusing on a single day. She says having treats once in a while is fine, but daily access to them can be a big stumbling block.
“It’s OK to indulge in some of those sweets and treats,” Cappel says. “We go to parties and celebrate, and I think it’s OK if we have those things then. It’s more a matter of what’s around the house on an everyday basis.”
To prevent every day from becoming a holiday party, Cappel suggests parents limit, but not ban, holiday goodies. For example, if the family receives treats as gifts, open one at a time. Or, if there are several options, let the kids choose their favorites, and give the rest to a food bank.
Cappel says it’s also important not to use treats as bribes or rewards. Instead, she recommends making them a normal part of the meal routine—after dinner, two or three times per week, for example—rather than letting kids have them whenever they’d like. And, she says, parents need to model the behavior they want to instill: That means no sneaking snacks.
Altering recipes and getting the kids to help are other great ways to cut down on sugar, calories, and unhealthful fats, without skimping on fun. Allie Matarasso, MS, RD, a clinical dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says kids love to help cook, and parents can make many substitutions without altering the taste of the treat.
“I feel that a really good strategy is to make healthier versions of the treats that kids tend to overindulge in,” Matarasso says. “That way, the kids get to participate in making the item, which they tend to love, and I think they appreciate it more when they eat it. It also decreases the risk that they’ll feel deprived. So, instead of saying, ‘No, you can’t have this,’ making a healthier version of it is kind of a win-win for everyone.”
Some substitutions that Matarasso recommends are applesauce for butter or oil, a half portion of whole-wheat flour for a half portion of regular flour (completely switching whole-wheat flour for regular flour can significantly change the texture of the food), or low-fat cheeses for whole-fat varieties. She also suggests keeping an ample supply of healthful foods, such as fruits, cut-up vegetables, granola bars, and whole-wheat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so kids have easy access to them.
Cappel recommends dips, too, since kids love to dunk food. She suggests cutting the “dipping” foods into fun shapes, like Santas, snowmen, or smiley faces. Participating in food preparation even may entice children to try some new foods, she adds. Getting them involved also provides an opportunity to educate them about good nutrition.
“As you’re making it, talk to the kids about why these foods are good for us and what they can do to avoid empty calories,” Cappel says. “Make it more about things you can do with a snack, instead of cookies, for example.”
Another important point for parents to remember is that food may be a big part of any holiday, but it isn’t the whole holiday. Matarasso suggests finding other things to do during the school break. “Have the kids do activities that don’t involve food,” she says. “That way, the entire holiday isn’t just about food. Having the kids participate in crafts or games or physical activity helps distract them from the food.”
— David Yeager is a freelance writer and editor based in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Rudolph PB&J Sandwiches
This healthful snack idea combines two children’s favorites: peanut butter and jelly and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Peanut butter and jelly is an after-school snack staple that’s both filling and satisfying, in addition to being a perfect-sized snack between lunch and dinner.
In today’s supermarkets, there are several brands of peanut butter, jelly, and bread, often making it difficult for clients to determine the healthiest choices. For these products, it’s always best to look at the ingredient list. For peanut butter, suggest they choose a product that has only two ingredients: peanuts and salt. Many products have added sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils, which clients should avoid. Instead of jelly, opt for a fruit spread or jam. Again, check the ingredients list and recommend they avoid products with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial flavors. Most products will contain sugar, but it’s best if it isn’t in the form of HFCS.
For bread, recommend clients choose whole wheat or whole grain options. Encourage them to check the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient says the word “whole.” This way, they’ll avoid products that may contain whole wheat but in much smaller quantities than 100% whole wheat bread. If their kids don’t like whole wheat bread, using white whole wheat bread is a great option.
Makes 1 sandwich
1 slice whole wheat bread
1 T peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1 tsp fruit spread or jam (flavor of your choice)
2 brown M&M’s
2 mini pretzel twists
1. Spread peanut butter on bread evenly.
2. Spread fruit spread or jam over peanut butter.
3. Fold bread over so that it becomes a triangle.
4. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter or a knife to cut out a heart shape (kids can eat the extra).
5. Place a pretzel between the slices of bread at each arch of the heart so they resemble reindeer ears.
6. Position M&M’s to become eyes and the raspberry as the nose.
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 198; Total fat: 9 g; Sat fat: 1 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: <1 mg; Sodium: 223 mg; Total carbohydrate: 22 g; Dietary fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 8 g
Pizza is an all-time favorite for kids. While pizza is easy to order in, clients can save on calories, fat, and money if they make it themselves. It also provides a fun activity for kids and allows them to be creative. These individual pizzas aren’t only fun to make but also healthful and visually appealing.
Makes 4 pizzas
2 whole-wheat English muffins, cut in half
8 T marinara sauce
8 T part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
Cut up green and red vegetables of your liking (red and green peppers, zucchini, grape tomatoes, scallions, broccoli, spinach)
1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to broil.
2. Spread 2 T of marinara sauce on each English muffin half.
3. Put on veggies of your choice (the more the merrier)
4. Sprinkle with 2 T cheese.
5. Broil for about 3 to 4 minutes, until cheese is melted and slightly brown.
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 140; Total fat: 5 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 8 mg; Sodium: 371 mg; Total carbohydrate: 18 g; Dietary fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 8 g
For a sweet, festive treat without a ton of added sugar, encourage clients to slice some bananas and strawberries for their children. They will love to make their own Santa hats and will get vitamins, minerals, and fiber while doing it.
Makes 1 serving
5 banana slices (about 1/4-inch thick)
5 strawberries (stems removed)
5 mini marshmallows
1. Place banana slice through toothpick and push until only a small amount of the toothpick is showing (enough to hold in your fingers).
2. Place strawberry through toothpick on top of banana (wider side first so the pointy end is on top).
3. Place marshmallow on top of strawberry as the pom-pom for the hat.
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 72; Total fat: 0 g; Sat fat: 0 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 4 mg; Total carbohydrate: 18 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 11 g; Protein: 1 g