7 Best Ways to Avoid Spoiling Your Kids with Holiday Sweets

Expert advice to help kids practice moderation

Little Girl With a Plate of Cookies for Santa

It’s easy for kids to overindulge on sweets during the holidays, but you can avoid spoiling your children this year with a little planning and by encouraging mindfulness and self-discipline.

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“Give your children the gift of moderation this year,” says Ellen Rome, MD, Head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

Dr. Rome’s seven tips are designed to encourage mindful eating and instill a natural tendency toward moderation around the holidays:

1. Set a good example for your kids

If you really want to instill a spirit of moderation in your kids when it comes to eating, you’re going to have to model the behavior for them. In other words, a “‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude doesn’t tend to work, especially around the holidays,” she explains.

2. Check out the choices beforehand

If you’re attending a holiday party with your kids, it’s a good idea to get the “lay of the land” before heading to the buffet table and piling food on your plates. Then, help your child portion his treats at the table and then move away from it.

If the party is at your house, discuss portions and what your child will choose for treats before the festivities get going. A parent can say, “I’m ok with you having one of each kind of cookie and a small bowl of popcorn when we watch the movie,” or other specific advice. Portion control doesn’t mean deprivation, just moderation.

3. Eat together

Have family dinners. Engage in conversation about topics you know your child enjoys. Eating together (wherever it takes place) represents a great way to connect and bond with your child.

By eating and talking, you and your child may eat more slowly and may not feel the need for a second trip around the buffet table.

4. Focus on activities

Create fun holiday time with fun family activities rather than food. Play a game of charades with your family, or have a family bowling night each week during the season. Throw a sledding party with games and prizes. Play a game of touch football. Go for a brisk walk together and play “I spy” along the way.

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“Keeping your children involved in fun physical activities on your days off together can create lasting memories that may be more memorable than opting for pizza and a movie,” says Dr. Rome.

5. Show love in ways other than food

In some families, especially around the holidays, food equals love. Dr. Rome suggests showing love in other ways, “Teach them that giving is what love and the season is really all about. Instead of having an excess of food, gifts and overwhelming emotions, make this year about giving of yourself.”

You can visit people in a nursing home and take the time to make cards and crafts for them. Perhaps you might enjoy participating in a toy drive or, if your kids are a bit older, heading out to feed the homeless.

6. Talk about overnight visits

The holidays are a time for families to come together and celebrate. But a night over at grandma’s house usually involves lots of extra treats. Sometimes well-meaning relatives and friends offer up an abundance of desserts and holiday snacks, often even seeming to push your child to take them.

Discuss how much is enough and teach your child to politely decline those five additional cookies. And share these thoughts with grandma before your wee one gets there. Note: often your child may be more coachable than your parent; have patience with both!

7. Educate kids about nutrition

Teach your kids about a balanced meal plan so they can take ownership of their own health. Don’t make it about weight control and vanity. Make it about wellness, says Dr. Rome.

It may take some work, but teaching moderation and mindfulness is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids. When they have ownership of their nutrition, they’ll begin to see food from a healthier, balanced perspective – one that sees moderation as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.

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