You hear about the dreaded extra 10 pounds many adults gain this time of year, but kids, too, can pack on a few extra “L-Bs.”
When you mix lots of goodies and extra calories with time off from school, when kids tend to indulge in sedentary activities, like TV and video games, you get holiday weight gain.
“The holidays are centered around food and tantalizing treats,” said Dr. Michelle Levitt, a pediatrician in Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program. “All it takes is an extra 500 calories, or about 3 cookies a day, to contribute to 1 pound a week.”
The good news is holiday weight gain is not inevitable. Dr. Levitt offers the 5 Ps as a foundation to ensure kids enjoy all the season’s festivities without packing on unwanted pounds.
Protect your home
We can’t always control what happens outside our home, but we can control what happens inside. Set up your home environment for success by stocking it with nutrient-dense foods, such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Keep ultra-processed foods (prepackaged baked goods, chips, sugared cereals) and sweetened drinks, including juice, out of your home. Your kids will have plenty of opportunities to indulge in sweets over the holidays.
Plan and prep
Schedule structured meal and snack times to help reduce the temptation to graze all day.
In addition, prepare healthy foods in advance for easy grab-and-go. Wash and cut fruits and veggies or portion out nuts into baggies for easy snacks. When healthy options are within reach and ready to go, your kids are more likely to eat them.
Be sure to involve your family in the plan and prep. Dr. Levitt suggests a weekly meeting to connect and communicate what’s happening that week so you can plan healthy meals ahead of time, especially when you’re on-the-go.
Make sure all your kids’ meals and snacks include protein, which helps keep kids fuller longer and stabilizes blood sugar. Protein doesn’t have to be lean meats, either. Fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, beans and cottage cheese are great sources of protein, too.
“Protein at breakfast is especially important so kids don’t start the day off with a sugar spike,” said Dr. Levitt. “Plus, research shows starting the day off with a healthy breakfast prevents overeating later on.”
Plenty of water
Kids who are actually thirsty or dehydrated can mistakenly take that for a feeling of hunger and may overeat at the holiday table. Reusable water bottles are a great way to ensure kids are getting enough fluids throughout the day.
Water, as opposed to sweetened drinks, is especially important this time of year because kids are already indulging in sugary treats.
Power of mindful eating
Mindful eating is the secret weapon against holiday weight gain. Encourage kids to pay attention and be present for what they’re putting in their bodies, rather than eating mindlessly due to distraction. They’ll be less likely to overeat.
Try role modeling these ways to help kids be mindful eaters:
- Sit down for meals. Sit down when you eat, even while snacking, so your full attention is on your meal. Also, eat at the table as a family as much as possible to connect, enjoy each other’s company and reduce stress, which can also lead to overeating.
- Slow down for meals. Eat slowly to savor your food. Chew food properly and put your fork or sandwich down between bites.
- Schedule meal times. Regular meal times prevent snacking and enable you to plan ahead, instead of resorting to fast or convenience foods on busier days.
- Ensure meals are screen free. Eat without distraction so you can be aware of the body’s fullness signals. Studies show kids who eat while on screens or watching TV are more likely to overeat.
- Stop eating before you’re stuffed. Stop eating once you feel satisfied and get a fullness signal. Oftentimes, we continue eating because it tastes good or get distracted from fullness signals and wind up overfull.
“The holidays are centered around food, but if we can refocus on nonfood-related traditions, such as gift giving, outdoor fun or charitable events,” said Dr. Levitt, “that can distract kids from reaching for one more cookie.”
If your child is struggling to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, discuss your concerns with a pediatrician. If necessary, he can refer your child to Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program.
Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 resources and public vaccination program.