Navigating the Holidays in a Healthy, Allergy-Friendly Way
I’m going out on a limb here and writing about a topic I’ve gotten lots of questions about from parents-navigating the holidays in special circumstances. In particular, parents who want their child to focus on healthier foods during this sweet-heavy time of the year are not sure how to have these discussions with their extended family members.
Personally, I feel as adults and caregivers, it's our duty to support our youngsters’ efforts to lose weight and/or eat healthier. It’s important for the entire family to show support during this pivotal time. That may mean having some uncomfortable discussions with family members that discuss the implications of eating an unhealthy diet and the long-term impact of overindulging. It may be helpful if these discussions are conducted one on one and may even have to take place more than once, but it’s the most efficient way to instill the concept of support amongst extended family when it comes to eating healthier.
If you feel the message isn't getting through to your family members, your pediatrician can be a great advocate and also step in to further explain to family members and motivate them to get involved in a full-scale family effort.
Trust me, I get it. It’s difficult even with my own family sometimes! There was one instance where I had to ask my mother not to offer my child a second large slice of cake. After politely explaining our rationale about not having my daughter eat another slice within 2 hours, we had to remind my mother of where our boundaries stood with our daughter’s diet. Sometimes these awkward conversations just need to happen.
Eating around the holidays is challenging because so many foods are often laden with fats and high in sugar, but I come from a big family and do understand that food really does bring families together and create memories. I like to advise families not to completely cut any one particular food out. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed! Instead of completely limiting yourself, I recommend making smart substitutions such as using natural sweeteners like fruit in recipes.
When baking with your family around the holidays, you can use mashed or pureed bananas to help add sweetness such as in zucchini banana bread (which also adds a vegetable!), using applesauce in cakes, and even whole fat vanilla yogurt instead of oil. Frozen bananas can also be pureed in a food processor to make delicious banana soft serve ice cream! One baking suggestion that I use myself is using half all purpose, half whole flour when baking holiday cookies. One of my favorite Food Network recipe’s uses this formula and you can’t tell they have a healthier base!
For savory food tips: Another way to keep things slimmer is opting for broth-based sauces over cream based sauces. For dishes that do call for cream-such as mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, consider swapping out whole milk or reduced fat milk for half and half or non-dairy milk such as unsweetened oat milk or almond milk. These are easy substitutes for making savory mashed potatoes!
Another special circumstance when navigating the holidays is children with food allergies. Parents are often worried about what they call “cross contamination” of their child’s allergens.
To clarify, it’s actually not cross-contamination. When we think "contamination," that word implies the food is dirty or infectious. The actual term is cross-contact! So, it’s all about if the food has contact with the allergens. As a mother of a child with food allergies, I get the anxiety.
For the host, I suggest contacting the guests that RSVPed and ask about any food allergies. Make sure to task in advance so you as the host can appropriately plan. This step, I assure you, really shows consideration and thoughtfulness that your guests will appreciate.
To avoid cross-contact, try to keep those particular allergies out of recipes, if possible. Occasionally, a child may have a diary or egg allergy and may be able to tolerate those ingredients in a cooked item, such as cakes or muffins, but not necessarily in tarts or custard. If this if the case, make sure to clarify with your guests beforehand.
It’s not absolutely necessary to keep your home completely allergy-free, but, it would be a good idea to keep those particular foods well out of hands reach - such as peanuts should be put away in the pantry when guests arrive if there is a child with a peanut allergy. As a mother of a child of food allergies, I usually do my due diligence to ask the host if there’s any of my child’s allergens in any of the cooked items just to add an extra level of safety and awareness.
These are simple tips I share with my families in the practice and wanted to spread more awareness on things I’m passionate about-healthy eating during the holidays and food allergy awareness!