Ever since my child was born, I have begun to dread the holidays. Between celebrations and fast food, there seems to be no way to avoid eating badly. Any suggestions?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

Every parent can identify with that problem. Even if you don’t pay as strict attention as I recommend to your children’s diet, you’ve got to be concerned around Halloween about the amount and quality of candy they eat.

Holidays are times for celebrating with family and friends. It’s unfortunate that we too often link some unhealthy foods with these festive periods. Just as Halloween means candy, Thanksgiving means turkey and pies. Christmas is associated with roast beef and cookies and eggnog. Even the Fourth of July has its requisite hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad.

During holiday mealtimes, we are careful that our daughter doesn’t eat anything we know will harm her and we try not to let her overdo it. However, we are definitely more lenient than during the rest of the year. On Halloween, we allow her to choose a few pieces of candy and the rest it taken to school to be counted as a math exercise. We may also eat a piece or two ourselves before they are taken to school.

A teacher at her school has a unique idea. She has the children use Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter candies to make clever counting games. The children paste their candy on pieces of paper to work out arithmetic problems. This way the candy can’t be eaten. Instead, it’s a learning tool. And the parents are grateful for this teacher’s intervention in the “candy wars.”

Thanksgiving is another potentially difficult nutritional time because most people over do it with several helpings of turkey and fat-laden stuffing, along with high cholesterol pumpkin or mince meat pie. In our family, we fill up on bread, cranberry sauce, yams, and salad. It’s easy if you’re selective and you can still be part of the holiday festivities.

The Christmas holiday is a tough time to eat in a healthy way. There’s a candy cane lurking around every corner and seemingly endless plates of cookies in every classroom. At our house, we focus on the joy of the season and not on the food. When we go to other homes where they may have quantities of candies, cookies, ice cream, and other unacceptable foods, we allow our daughter to have one or two pieces and then say “No more.”

As for the Fourth of July and Labor Day picnics, cold pasta salads, vegetable sandwiches made with whole wheat pitas, and bowls of fresh fruit all make wonderful substitutes for the more traditional American fare.

Even if I didn’t have a calendar, I would know when the holidays roll around because of the increased number of phone calls I get from parents whose children are sick with abdominal complaints brought about by high-sugar and high-fat foods. There is plenty of documentation in my files to prove that children get sick more easily after they have eaten poorly. The white blood cells, which fight infection, actually move more slowly in sugary blood. This slows down the immune system so that it can’t provide protection as quickly as it would in cleaner blood. If you put sugar in your gas tanks, your car wouldn’t run. Like an automobile, children’s bodies react to bad fuel.

In our culture, we have come to expect and accept the “morning after tummy ache.” It may be a common reaction to too much partying, but it’s not the best way to bring up a child. I can’t think of a single Holiday “goody” that’s worth endangering the health of a child.

There are few things less enjoyable than a holiday vacation flight with children who’ve eaten a lot of junk food!