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Ten Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

It’s happened to all of us. We stand in front of the holiday buffet, looking at the mouth-watering feast while fighting back a nagging sense of guilt. "We all seem to have the same ‘binge gene’ when it comes to the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s," says personal chef and party menu planner Nikki Haddad, who specializes in healthy Mediterranean cuisine for her business, The Little Chef.

"Extra pounds can be the most unwanted presents we receive during the holidays," says Haddad. She stresses that with childhood obesity on the rise, it is important to monitor our children at the time when they are most likely to overeat. Haddad shares her healthy eating tips so that we can all enjoy this special time of year without feeling deprived.

  1. Don’t overschedule the kids. Haddad says this invariably results in stress, which leads to overeating and poor food choices. Be sure to plan some down time for your family.

  2. "Keep a large bowl of fresh fruit on the counter and cut veggies in the fridge at all times during the holidays," says Haddad. She points out that kids will be more likely to grab a healthy snack when it is handy.

  3. "Plan at least one healthy meal every day," says Haddad. If you can, prepare some meals ahead of time for those weeks when you are overscheduled. When you can rely on freezer food, Haddad says, "You won’t be as tempted to run through a drive-through window or send out for pizza."

  4. Examine your recipes, and look for ways to reduce fat and calories. In a cookie recipe, for example, you could try using less butter or sugar, or you might add dried fruit in place of candy. Try to bake or grill your food instead of frying it.

  5. When holiday shopping, Haddad suggests taking along healthy snacks for you and the kids. She says that granola bars, carrots and celery sticks, pretzels and raisins all travel well and will help to prevent a mad dash to the food court.

  6. "Try to eat at least three meals together [as a family] each week," says Haddad. She suggests using this time to educate your children about the importance of portion sizes and good food choices.

  7. Make sure that your family eats a healthy meal before attending holiday gatherings, so no one will be tempted to overindulge at the party. Plan ahead by cutting back on sugar earlier in the day. For example, you can substitute a glass of water in place of your child’s juice box. Talk to your kids about making every bite count at the party. Remind them that instead of just randomly piling food on their plates, they should be sure to choose the special holiday treats that are only available at this time of year.

  8. "Don’t obsess over every morsel your children put in their mouths," says Haddad. This will only create tension within the family. Haddad recommends that you concentrate instead on what you can do to incorporate more exercise into your time together.

  9. Create new family traditions that don’t center around eating. Engage your family in outdoor activities, such as ice skating, skiing, building snowmen or having snowball fights. The extra exercise will help to compensate for those occasional splurges at the dinner table.

  10. Allow the kids (and yourself) some treats during the holidays. After all, Haddad reminds us, dark chocolate has been shown to be good for the heart. Have a treat or two at your holiday gathering, then resume healthy eating and regular exercise once you arrive home.

Julie Bloss Kelsey is a freelance writer with a weakness for glazed doughnuts. She lives in Germantown with her husband and two young sons.