With the holiday rush here, how do I keep my family healthy, fit and safe?
With the upcoming holidays, there’s a lot of focus on meals, preparing for family gatherings, and for families with little ones, creating safe and enjoyable celebrations. The holidays are a wonderful time for creating memories, but it is also important to keep your children and families on track when it comes to nutrition, exercise and safety.
When you think about holiday meals, one of the first things that may come to mind is an excessive intake of food and drink. Here are some sensible recommendations for creating more health-conscious holiday choices for your family.
- Involve children in meal preparation. With more school-age children on holiday for the entire week of Thanksgiving, there is an increased opportunity to have them assist in food selection and cooking. Have younger children collect more colors (translation: fruits and vegetables) to use in the big meal. Have older children help measure out ingredients and, in the process, learn about the different components of each food. Use the help of children to prepare more meals from scratch rather than relying on processed foods, which have more salt and preservatives.
- Strike a solid balance. Many traditional holiday dishes aren’t perhaps the most nutritious offerings. However, if you try to balance out the table with other selections that are more beneficial for overall health, you can still enjoy the unique offerings of the holiday.
- Limit the pre-meal snacking. Leave plenty of room for that holiday feast by reducing pre-meal snacks that might be tasty but commonly are full of unneeded salt, sugar or unhealthy fats. Instead, offer selections of fresh fruit or vegetables. And don’t forget to make sure your family is drinking plenty of water. This will give them the sense of fullness and help curb the appetite.
- Slow down and slim down at mealtime. With a bounty of tantalizing foods, many people load up plates with large servings and then hurry through a first course to get to a second (or more) course. Use the size of your fist as a guide for a more proper serving size. Try to slow down between bites and wait for at least 20 minutes before going for another plate. Giving more time allows for a sense of fullness and less chance of overeating.
- Eat to boost your immune system. Vitamin C (commonly found in citrus fruits) can be beneficial for fighting infection, as can other anti-inflammatory items such as fish oil, flaxseed, ginger and turmeric. Reducing processed foods and high sugar-content foods (can be tough with holiday sweets) can also be good for the immune system. Exercise
With the holidays, many children and families cut back on their exercise regimen. So how can you keep exercise fun during the holidays?
- Take the family for a turkey walk-off. Rather than succumb to that post-turkey nap, gather up family and friends and go for a brisk walk between meal and dessert. This will help overcome that food coma and give you more energy for the rest of the day.
- Focus on appropriate levels of exercise for your child, especially those in sports. Remember that moderate levels of exercise (four to five days a week, 30-45 minutes a day) can support a stronger immune system. While being inactive may lead to spending more time on the couch because of illness, not getting necessary time off can also increase sickness risk. Young athletes with busy fall seasons might benefit more from some well-placed down days than hitting up additional tournaments or practices.
- Shop for good fitness. From grocery store runs to finding perfect gifts, shopping trips are another beloved staple of the holidays. While many might covet that prized close parking spot, parking the car farther away and getting in more steps can be a fitness bonus. If you are one to line up for those Black Friday deals, don’t be afraid to pass the time with exercise (push-ups, air squats and even balancing on one foot) rather than just sitting or standing around. If you aren’t rushing to a particular sale, take time to window shop for 10-15 minutes before entering stores. Use the stairs instead of escalators or elevators and step up your shopping fitness for all year round.
Holiday vacation breaks are often the time of year when extended family come to visit. Add to this all the fun outings for parties, watching “The Nutcracker” or going out caroling, and necessary sleep often gets compromised. It is important to keep regular bedtimes and good sleep habits.
During work or school breaks, getting out of usual sleep routines can lead to less sleep and nightmares for the immune system. Younger children with less than nine to 10 hours of sleep a night and teenagers with less than eight hours of sleep are at higher risk for both illness and injury. Do your best to make sure your family is getting their much-needed sleep to keep them healthy.
One of the last things any parent wants to deal with during the holiday season is a trip to an urgent care or the emergency room. Here are some tips for keeping your children and family safe during the holiday season.
- Careful with Thanksgiving morning football. While playing outside is generally better than just sitting on the couch, trying to imitate your favorite professional heroes or reliving past glory days can be a health hazard. Too many Thanksgiving meals have been altered by hamstring pulls, sprained knees or banged up shoulders from seemingly innocent touch football games. Take ample time to warm-up beforehand and playing something less than an all-out football game might keep you from having to sit out later in the day.
- Be careful with holiday lights, candles and ornaments. While these are beautiful and shiny, little ones will want to touch them, which can lead to burns, choking and cuts. If you have little ones, it’s best to leave lights and any ornaments off the bottom part of the tree.
- Be careful with trees. Again, with little ones, it may be best to put the tree in a corner surrounded by a baby gate (or something sturdier that won’t fall over if climbed).
- Look for choking hazards. This is particularly true if you have infants and toddlers. Make sure there are no turkey bones in their food and pay attention to holiday decorations that could potentially enter the mouth of a toddler. Those should be either put away until they are older or placed in a higher spot.
- Beware of potentially poisonous holiday plants. These include the poinsettia, holly and mistletoe. While the risk of poisoning from these plants is relatively low, be aware of the potential dangers they pose especially if you have young children or pets in the home.
Above all, remember to be truly thankful. Part of good holiday health and fitness is the mental and emotional boost that comes from taking time to give appropriate thanks, especially for important people in your life.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics and the Chapman University Dance Department. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit activekidmd.com or follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/activekidmd), Instagram (www.instagram.com/activekidmd) or Twitter (@dockoutures).