Sugar plums and gumdrops. Candy canes and frosted gingerbread houses. For many, the Christmas holiday conjures images of cheery confections loaded with all sorts of sugar.
And while it’s next to impossible to completely avoid sugar over the holiday season, an overload of the sweet stuff can disrupt your kid’s sleep patterns and ultimately affect the enjoyment of your holiday season. And nobody wants that, especially Santa.
We spoke with Certified Nutrition Specialist Janine Higbie from JH Wellness who shared tips, advice, and a couple healthy Christmas treats of her own.
Kids in the kitchen
It’s no secret that kids like to be included in meal prep, so put your little helper elves to work in the kitchen and make it a family activity. This can be a solid tactic in steering them to eat healthier, according to Janine, even during Christmas.
“We tend to associate sweets with celebrations, but that doesn’t mean that food is only fun when it’s loaded with sugar and chemicals. Even young kids enjoy helping in the kitchen and are more likely to eat foods that they’ve taken part in preparing.”
Healthy, festive substitutions
Most recipes can be modified, if not completely substituted, to make them healthier without losing their festive touch. Swapping Christmas-colored candy with red and green fruits, like strawberries and kiwis, for example, will infuse some health into the holidays. “Lower sugar, nutritious, whole-food snacks will satisfy hunger and balance blood sugar,” says Janine.
Berries, raisins, and nuts can also be used as festive embellishments for healthy Christmas treats like these celery reindeer and yogurt bark recipes.
Makes 6-8 Reindeer
- 2 stalks of celery, cut to 2-2.5” pieces
- 2 Tbs nut/seed butter of choice
- 16 raisins
- 8 pomegranate seeds
- 4 mini pretzels, broken in half
1. Spread nut butter on celery sticks.
2. Decorate with pretzel antlers, raisin eyes, and pomegranate seed nose.
- Swap cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips for raisin eyes.
- Swap raspberries or dried cranberries for pomegranate seed nose.
Holiday Yogurt Bark
- 1 C plain yogurt of choice
- 2 Tbs pistachio, chopped
- 2 Tbs pomegranate seeds
1. Place parchment paper over mini baking sheet (10×7”) or square glass dish (8×8”).
2. Spread yogurt over the parchment paper.
3. Sprinkle the pistachios and pomegranate seeds over the yogurt.
4. Freeze for 2 hours or until frozen.
5. Remove from dish and break apart with a knife.
6. Enjoy or freeze for later.
- For added sweetness, mix in 1 Tbs of honey to yogurt before spreading.
- You can make this dairy-free with coconut yogurt.
- Add or swap any toppings of your choice.
Better nutrition, better sleep
The benefits of healthier eating choices go beyond avoiding tummy aches and cavities. Sleep, mental well-being, and stress can also be impacted by sugar highs and lows.
“I recommend avoiding sugary foods at least two hours prior to bedtime,” says Janine. “We know that sugar negatively impacts the gut microbiome, which is intimately linked to overall mental health, depression, and anxiety. In fact, one study demonstrated that kids self-report feeling more anxious and stressed if they’ve eaten sugar.”
Along with avoiding sugar, there are more proactive things you can do to prepare your child for bed. According to Janine, a glass of milk isn’t only a Santa favorite but it can also help settle your kids at bedtime. “Warm milk in the evening may be soothing and sleep-promoting, just be sure to leave time to brush their teeth after.”
Negotiating with your tiny cookie monster might be tricky, but Janine has a handful of tips that can make navigating the Christmas season a little bit easier.
- Avoid sugary foods at least two hours before bedtime.
- Offer whole foods like berries and yogurt as after-dinner snacks in lieu of sugary dessert foods.
- Limit those desserts to more infrequent special occasions so it doesn’t become a nightly battle. Or, move that sweet treat to earlier in the day so it doesn’t impact sleep.
- Keep the portions of sugary desserts small.
For more festive ideas for the holiday season, check out our list of creative Christmas activities to do with kids.