Healthy Holiday Eating for 2020—a Different Version of the Holiday Season

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It’s the holidays 2020! Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s—this is the season when we spend time with family and friends enjoying old traditions and creating new ones. Many of those traditions involve food.

This year, we are dealing with an uninvited guest named COVID-19, which puts an extra level of stress on how we celebrate.

After months of isolation, many families view the holidays as both an opportunity for relief and a cause for concern. Just remember: The COVID-19 virus is not taking a holiday. Continuing with all safety precautions is crucial, both for you and for those around you, to ensure that you enjoy a truly healthy holiday season.

Here are some tips to help you and your family eat healthy during this unusual holiday season.

1. Safety first.

The pandemic is not over. To minimize your chances of contracting or spreading the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges everyone to continue to follow the basic guidelines we’ve become accustomed to:

  • Wear a mask (except when eating).
  • Stay at least six feet away from other people.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

The State of California Department of Public Health has issued additional guidance for safe gatherings during the holidays:

  • Limit get-togethers to people from no more than three households.
  • Keep events to under two hours.
  • If possible, hold gatherings outdoors.
  • Avoid singing and loud talking.

Check with your own state or county health department to see if they have modified any of these guidelines for local needs. But whatever the guidelines, if you’re feeling unwell or have any concerns about the safety of an event you’re considering, stay home! It’s better to be cautious than to risk unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.

2. Plan ahead, and keep to the schedule.

“Holidays are about food, no matter how you celebrate them,” says Venus Kalami, clinical pediatric dietitian at Stanford Children’s Health. “Maintaining a routine and planning ahead can help your family strike a balance between having healthy meals and snacks and enjoying the occasional indulgence.”

  • Recruit help from all family members to create a weekly plan for all your meals, recipes, and activities. Post the plan and stick to it!
  • Involve your children in shopping and preparing meals and snacks. This gives them a sense of ownership and pride as people comment on their delectable culinary creations. This is especially helpful for picky eaters.
  • Keep to your normal mealtimes to limit the graze-and-grab style of eating that can creep in when there’s lots of food around.
  • Start new holiday traditions that are not based on food. A daily family walk to look at holiday decorations, board-game night, a drawing to determine who will light the candles that day—activities like these move the attention away from food as you build long-lasting memories.

3. Be realistic about food choices.

“Enjoy yourself,” advises Venus Kalami. “Eat the treats, but enjoy them mindfully—you don’t have to eat all that you’re offered!”

  • Let kids have their special foods, but fill in with healthy snacks they prepare themselves. A bowl of chopped fruit or vegetables with nuts sprinkled on top can appeal to children if they did the chopping, peeling, or sprinkling themselves.
  • Include lots of vegetables and fruits in your meals. They not only are nourishing but add a vibrant splash of color to the table.
  • If you know you’ll be busy with holiday preparations, set aside a plate of healthy foods like fruit, nuts, and yogurt in advance. Then you’ll all have something quick and nutritious to reach for when you’re hungry.

4. Be kind to others.

“This might be the time of year to focus on helping others with their food needs,” says Jami Zamyad, director of clinical nutrition services at Stanford Children’s Health. “Unemployment resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has pushed many people to the edge of their ability to cope, and food insecurity is now the reality in many households.”

  • Consider volunteering with your family at a food pantry or soup kitchen to help distribute food or serve meals.
  • Be aware that holiday eating can be stressful for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or celiac disease. Before your event, ask your guests if they have any food restrictions so that you can have appropriate food available for them. They will be beyond grateful.
  • If anyone in your family has a chronic condition that affects what they can eat, let the hosts know in advance so that your whole family can enjoy the celebration. Don’t be shy about this—your hosts will appreciate your telling them.

5. Be kind to yourself.

“The holiday season can be a time to recommit to your family’s health through self-care,” Kalami suggests.

  • Stay active. This can be your most effective stress-reduction tool any time of the year but especially during the holidays.
  • Take time to relax. Go for a walk. Meditate. Read a book.
  • Recognize that taking care of yourself is an act of giving. It will enrich your experience of your holiday. Be a role model for your family in this act of self-care.

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