Rethink Your Holidays with 10 Healthy Tips

By Amy Kobos, Health and Wellness Promotor, Fayetteville

When thinking about how to make your holidays healthier, nutrition and physical activity seem to be the focus.  But, your health is more than that.  You need to include other wellness dimensions, like mental health, interpersonal relationships, choice and critical thinking.  I know you’ve seen inspirational lists all over the internet which can be inspiring, but how many of these health tips do you actually practice? You can’t create behavioral change if you can’t explore the reasons why you aren’t implementing a healthier lifestyle, period.

Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays particularly make us vulnerable to slip out of any health plans we have made for ourselves and our families throughout the year. You need to begin by asking yourself what’s going on in YOUR life that affects you and your family from making health a top priority around the holidays. Is it time? Is it money? Are you consumed by “normal” American society standards?  Are you afraid of getting out of your comfort zone? Do you feel guilty for taking care of yourself?

Tip 1:  Rethink Black Friday.

Black Friday is the hallmark of American consumerism.  Many companies even exercise Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. Is it fair for employees to subject themselves to companies versus spending time with their families? Is it really necessary for you compete with others for the latest toy?  How does this define the importance of what the holidays are really supposed to be about?  Have this discussion with your kids. Did you know that the outdoor sports company, REI, is closed on Black Friday? They encourage the public to #optoutside in order to exercise what Mother Nature has to offer.

Tip 2:  Have Your Kids Make a Christmas List with Non-material Items.

Nearly 100% of kids’ Christmas lists comprise of material items.  What if you redefined “Christmas gifts”?  How would you and the kids prioritize life differently if only 20% of the Christmas list was material items?

Tip 3:  Gratitude Jar Activity.
Because we tend to focus on what we want during the holidays, we tend to forget what we already have.  Pick an amount of time (maybe each week before Christmas), when every day your kids write down what they were thankful for the day before and what helped them get through their day and why; i.e., someone who made them laugh, being outside, helping someone, etc.  Spend a day at the end of each week sharing these gratitude stories with 4 different people (randomly selected and one story per kid).  For the at-home version, mealtime may be a good time to share. This activity focuses on interpersonal relationships, cultural diversity, different perspectives, and critical thinking.

Tip 4:  Practice Eating Mindfully.
I know you’re swamped during the holidays, but sitting down and eating a meal shouldn’t be rushed. Take advantage of savoring every flavor.  Learn to enjoy every minute of the taste.  According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the slower you eat, the more time your body has to properly signal hormones which tell you that you’ve had enough.  When you rush eating, your body cannot adequately notify your brain, usually leading to consuming more than you should.Top this off by serving food on smaller plates.  Practicing mindfulness activities like this alters the pathways in our brain, creating more connections in the frontal lobe, which acts as a composer to the rest of our brain – telling our brain how to respond instead of react.

Tip 5:  Make Walking Part of Your Holidays.
I know it’s a bit colder outside, but I promise that you will feel so much better if you take a 30-60 minute walk or hike a couple of times a week, especially during or after your holiday meal.  Walk around your neighborhood and go for a little adventure. This activity doesn’t just burn calories; it helps take away holiday stress and optimizes your mental health.  Recent studies have also shown that exposing kids, especially of whom may have attention or impulsive issues, to Mother Nature will increase focus and increase problem solving.

Tip 6:  Rethink Holiday Treats in the Classroom Activity
Instead of having the kids congregate around cookies, cupcakesand ice cream (maybe a little bit is okay), try making healthy green and red Christmas themed smoothies in the classroom! Why not have a green smoothie that tastes like chocolate peppermint (dark chocolate chips, avocado, spinach, banana, and fresh peppermint)? Why not have a red cinnamon spice apple, raspberry, plain yogurt, and toasted almond smoothie? Get your kids involved.

Tip 7:  Educate Your Kids on How Pumpkin Pie Gets from Farm to Table, Then Make It!
Teach your kids about where holiday food comes from.  I bet you didn’t know there are over 40 types of pumpkins, a couple of which called the Cinderella pumpkin and the peanut pumpkin. Click here for a quick pumpkin identification tutorial!  But how do they grow? And what are the best pumpkins used for Pumpkin Pie?  Click here to find out!

Now, make it! Watch this video on how to make healthy pumpkin pie mug cakes!

Partner up and do this in your classroom or at home with the kids!  Teachers and parents:  be aware of possible food allergies, as this recipe uses eggs and graham crackers (graham cracker may contain gluten).

Tip 8:  Try These Food Additions and Substitutions, and Make It Fun!
I believe it is okay to indulge once in a while, but it’s also important to teach healthy alternatives.

  • Make mashed cauliflower potatoes or add to mashed potatoes – You won’t even know the difference!
  • Make yogurt-based dips, instead of sour cream or cheese dips.
  • Use applesauce instead of oil when baking, or oil instead of butter.
  • Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour.
  • Use fresh herbs, like parsley, rosemary, lemon thyme, clove, basil, instead of salt.
  • Use rolled oats instead of dry bread crumbs.
  • Add dark greens (like, spinach, kale or Swiss chard) to tomato or cream-base soups.
  • Add nuts to your recipes!

Tip 9:  Celebrate the Holidays with Someone New.
Nobody likes sitting alone at the lunch table and nobody likes spending the holidays alone.  Have you ever thought about inviting an acquaintance from work or including one of your kid’s friends from school to be a part of your tradition? Include them. This demonstrates compassion and teaches cultural diversity.  Family doesn’t always have to be defined from a biological perspective.

Tip 10:  Demonstrate and Teach the Importance of Self-compassion.
Don’t be hard on yourself.  It’s okay to let go and indulge.  Stop feeling guilty. The holidays can be very stressful, especially on top of being a busy parent! Don’t feel like you need to be Superdad or Supermom. Maybe you can gift yourself a scheduled spa day or a dad’s day out.  It’s important to show your kids that you are not selfish if you take care of yourself.  It’s okay to munch on occasional treats or take time off to rejuvenate. Balance is key.