Getting kids to eat wisely can be difficult any time of the year, but it's especially hard during the holidays, when over-indulgence is a recipe for disaster.
"The holidays are tough," says chef and nutrition expert Ella Nemcova, who owns and operates The Regal Vegan, a gourmet dinner delivery service in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. "This is the time of year when every dish is super fatty with heavy cream and butter."
The average Thanksgiving dinner consists of a whopping 2,000-3,000 calories, according to Dr. Melina Jampolis at the website eldr (www.eldr.com). "That is the equivalent of eating two Big Macs, two large fries, and a large chocolate shake. The average person would have to walk 20-30 miles to burn off that many calories," Jampolis writes.
But parents don't have to make their kids (or themselves) miserable with stringent restrictions or by skipping any of the holiday fun. Armed with healthy strategies, they can create nutritious menus and reinforce positive eating habits without losing any of the flavors of the holiday season.
"There are so many options for altering recipes, for preparing foods in ways that add nutrition and flavor," Nemcova says. "Kale is a secret weapon. It's a super food and you can sneak it into practically everything, from soups to dips." She suggests keeping cleaned, shredded kale in the fridge to add to dishes at the last minute to amp nutritive value and fiber without altering taste.
A great alternative to high-fat sour cream or heavy cream in sauces is silken tofu, Nemcova says. Tofu is particularly flexible because it takes on flavors really well. Blend it with cooked spinach, garlic, and a low-fat cheese like pecorino Romano, or with roasted peppers and garlic to create an interesting sauce or dip.
Incorporating healthful grains is another great way to get kids to eat filling and fun foods. Use quinoa or couscous as alternatives to high-fat bread-based stuffing. Use brown rice in place of white rice, which is stripped of its nutritive value by hulling. Try making a rice pudding prepared with brown rice, sweet raisins or currants, cardamom, and cinnamon, and sweetened with honey to serve as dessert.
Tasty Tips for Parents:
Nemcova offers these simple suggestion. With minor adjustments, eating healthy during the holidays can be as festive as the season itself.
Speak to party hosts about having low-fat healthy alternatives to calorie-rich dishes and offer to bring something to help.
Feed kids a filling and healthy snack before heading to a party to discourage face-first dives into the chips and dips.
Be sneaky. Use silken tofu or low-fat/non-fat yogurts in dips and sauces.
Make food bold, colorful and whimsical. Cut foods into neat shapes like stars, hearts or diamonds.
Serve soups in hollowed winter squash "bowls." Use seeded and cored red or yellow peppers as "dishes" for low-cal dips.
Offer fruit and yogurt parfaits or serve crepes with mixed fruits and yogurt as dessert alternatives. Strawberries and blueberries are rich in antioxidants to fight cancer and heart disease and lower cholesterol. The bonus: these fruits are very appealing to young palates.