How You Can Curb Your Child’s Appetite This Holiday Season
Parents Can Teach Healthy Choices and Moderation

It begins with Halloween candy and lasts through New Year’s eggnog—the eating season is here.

As a result, studies suggest the average American will probably gain about a pound during this winter holiday season. It doesn’t sound like much, but the extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later in life, according to the National Institute of Child Health.

So while parents do well to worry about their own waistlines this time of year, pediatricians urge them also to keep up with their children’s food consumption.

“The holidays are a chance for you and your children to practice the good eating habits you’ve been instilling in them all year,” says Dr. Katrina Bolar, pediatrician and director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

6 Ways You Can Help your Kids Keep the Pounds Off

Bolar offers parents some concrete guidelines that may help their children ward off that extra pound this party season:

Substitute crackers for cupcakes—If the party menu is up to you, make wise offerings. “For snack food, give peanut butter crackers, cereal bars, trail mix or fresh fruit rather than candy and cupcakes,” Bolar says. Even non-food options like fancy pencils and erasers are a hit as party favors for children.

Trick the appetite—The day of a holiday feast or party, downsize the pre-party meals and offer children low-fat snacks to take the edge off of hunger. During the festivities, children should drink sugarless drinks, such as diet soda, sparkling water and beverages sweetened with Splenda or Equal. The liquid contributes to a feeling of fullness without contributing calories, Bolar says.

Shrink portion size—When serving up a child’s plate, focus on variety rather than quantity, offering plenty of vegetables or fruit and keeping the portions small enough to allow for seconds. “A 6- to 10-year-old portion is much smaller than an adult portion,” Bolar says.

Unsubscribe to the “Clean-Plate Club”—Even a special holiday feast—or a sensitive auntie whose squash casserole lies untouched on the child’s plate—is no reason for forcing a child to eat when he or she is full, according to Bolar. What about the child who is too full for dinner but starving for dessert? Offer sweet vegetables or fruit as an alternative, Bolar says: “You don’t want to deprive them of the holiday favorites, but you do want to set some limits.”

Get moving—After a holiday meal or party, the temptation may be to lounge in front of the television. But Bolar suggests families take a stroll around the neighborhood, or encourage the children to don their winter clothes and play outside. The activity will expend some of those calories, Bolar says, and it may even curb the urge to go back for seconds on dessert.

Focus on togetherness—Most importantly, parents can teach their children that holidays are about family, friends and tradition—not about food. Bolar encourages parents to set the example by eating slowly and enjoying the social aspect of mealtime, during the holiday season and all year long. “Children can learn so much if we show them that eating together is a way of building relationships,” she says.