Like so many things in parenting, navigating holiday indulgences among a sea of candy canes, school celebrations loaded with Christmas-colored doughnuts, social events and sentimental meals is totally and completely … exhausting. This very morning I was having a minor panic attack (OK, I’m being a little overdramatic), about a weekend of gingerbread cookies, candy-cane hot chocolates and Nutella crepes. I shifted gears and got excited thinking of how “clean” (c’mon, this is what I do for a living) I was going to cook and we were all going to eat to help get us through the rest of this holiday week. As I pulled out my first carrot to chop for a big veggie soup, I was thinking I couldn’t wait to make the Hanukkah cookies with the kids that we make every year. Do you feel my pain here? Is it possible to indulge and feel empowered rather than victimized? I think the answer is a resounding YES, but it also means taking a look at your food culture and deciding how you plan to empoweringly indulge. I have some ideas:
Know you’re normal. Even though you may not like it, it is normal to feel a little conflicted about holiday food. Everything from the holiday lunch to the neighborhood potluck to the full-on feast can trigger negative feelings about your eating and the way your family eats. I’ve soothed many a mother who has publicly berated her kid for stealing a cookie from the dessert table when the meal hasn’t even started. Normal. I’ve listened to stories of kids telling their grandma, who worked tirelessly on a holiday meal, that their friend’s mom’s food is better. Normal. There are countless numbers of us out there who say “What the heck?” and just eat and eat and eat. Normal. All normal. You are not alone. Whatever you are dealing with when it comes to holiday eats, you’re in good company.
Make a food culture exception. Perhaps the kindest way you can navigate your way through the last couple of weeks of December is to consciously and deliberately make an exception to the food culture that you generally follow. If your family and personal food culture uses fruit for dessert nightly, but during the mistletoe season you are not home on most nights, then you may decide that one holiday treat will replace that fruit. Take a good look at your food culture and reassess it during the holidays. Whatever you decide, you do not “fail” and “all is not lost” if you are a little off your usual track.
Prioritize your partying. Even with the youngest kids, I always try to find something non-food-related to focus on through the holidays. I’m a huge believer in focusing on the company rather than the food at any celebratory event. Just as you remind the kids that they are there to spend time with cousins, not linger around the buffet, you can do some self-talk not to get too worked up over the artichoke dip. You give the kids a snack before they go to the party so they won’t be grumpy and overly hungry. You should give yourself one, too. You want the kids to eat the greens before they load up on sweet potato pie. You too can make good choices by going for the veggies and shrimp cocktail, not the triple-baked potatoes. If you’re at your in-laws’ for New Year’s, you and the kids can be the horn-blowing, countdown-keeping and favor-distributing guests of honor. Focusing on what you will be doing instead of what you will be eating will keep you positive and goal-oriented.
Blaze some memories. You don’t have to make a fruitcake, just because you grew up with one every holiday. You can choose what memories you want your kids to treasure and look forward to as they race to grow up way too fast. You can honor your own memories by telling the stories of them, or cooking that fruitcake on a random day in April, when you’re less surrounded by Santa’s cookies. Make a list of traditions that you want your family to honor, such as serving at a shelter, doing a holiday puzzle, taking a family hike and planning a secret sock exchange. Throw in a few healthy new traditions and your kids will grow up to plan their own healthy holidays.
Cook, bake and eat mindfully. You can definitely, absolutely, with all the permission under the sun, bake and cook and plan for kitchen love with your family. Do it your way! Make the cookies so that you’ll feel great eating them. Use the expensive, high-quality chocolate chips. Reduce the sugar and use the organic brand you bought at the health food store. Add the flax and replace the butter with prune puree. Choosing ingredients that you feel good about makes for a great teaching moment with those kiddos, and eating one satisfying cookie with a hot mug of tea will you help to indulge happily.
We all want to create wonderful family memories for our children and ourselves. Indulge. Go ahead. It is part of the enjoyment of the season. Use these tips and try my favorite No-Cook Cookie Balls to help you do just that!
Homemade No-Cook Cookie Balls
Time: 45 minutes
1/2 cup almond butter
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup oats
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips
Mix together all wet ingredients. Add in dry ingredients and mix well. Roll into 1-inch balls, place on wax or parchment paper and stick in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. She is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott, was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, upwave and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off”. She has authored four books and is regularly featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live.