By Jennifer Zarrilli, MS, RD

How can you encourage kids to enjoy themselves to the fullest this season, but also stay healthy? It doesn’t have to be a challenge! Connecticut Children’s nutrition experts have ideas.  

Want more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust?

Sign up for our newsletter.

1. Color it up

Get festive and fun with this! Make fruits and veggies the superstars of your child’s plate. Cut them up into unique shapes and mix and match the colors to reflect whatever holiday you celebrate.

2. Keep portion sizes age-appropriate

This can be tricky because every child is different. The recommended food portion sizes for kids depend on their age, weight and gender. You may choose to “eyeball” the food or actually measure it—depending on how much time and patience you have! Click below for a more detailed guide, broken down by age.

>Related: Portion Sizes for Kids: What’s Right for my Child’s Age?

3. Have fun together—with choices!

What better time than the holidays to involve your kids in all kitchen activities? Kids love choices because choosing makes them feel empowered. So let them choose a healthy recipe, go over each ingredient and what the health benefits are. For example, “Blueberries have fiber and antioxidants. Those are good for digesting food and fighting diseases like cancer.”

>Related: 6 Reasons Why It’s Important to Cook with Your Kids  

4. Stick to a schedule the best you can—and stay active.

This is especially important if your child is on an extended break from school. Try to match breakfast, snack and lunch times with those at school, and balance the day out with plenty of physical activity. Important: don’t skip meals to try to “save room” for a larger meal later; this can lead to overindulgence.

Maybe you take a walk as a family after the holiday meal or just get active inside instead of crowding around the food table.

Kids love routine, so try to keep it up!

5. Keep healthy snacks on hand

Encourage healthy snacking before offering the fun, indulgent treats. This will help your child fill up on healthy fats, fibers and proteins. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked and, as stated above, stick to some kind of consistent schedule. You can even have a healthy snack together before heading to the larger gathering; this helps to avoid overeating later.

6. Offer new and familiar foods

It’s a great time of year to try new dishes and take comfort in family favorites. Parents often find themselves slaving over a holiday meal for hours only to have their child eat a dinner roll! Always have an “safe food” you know your child will eat when serving more challenging dishes. Keep mealtime chats positive and never force them to try a food.  Don’t panic if they only pick at their plate—they’ll return to normal eating when they’re hungry.

7. Hydrate smart

Drinking water helps to curb appetite, so encourage healthy hydration with water rather than large servings of juice. It’s completely ok to change up the flavor a bit: stick to four ounces of juice in one day, or add one ounce of juice to each cup of water.

8. Moderation, not deprivation!

Of course they can have treats—that’s all part of the fun. If you’re not sure how much is too much, commit ahead of time to limiting indulgent treats to the festivity days only rather than the whole season.  

9. Be a healthy role model

You hear over and over again about modeling the behavior you want to see. It’s true—setting a good example can help your kids develop healthy habits that last a lifetime. So sit and eat together, let them see you eat healthy foods and spend as much time with your child as possible over the holidays.

Food and holidays go together like friendship—it’s only natural. Focus on these tips and enjoy the season in good health.