Navigating a Healthy Holiday

For most of us, the holiday season means family gatherings for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s celebrations. Add travel, lack of sleep and extra food to the mix and it’s a recipe for overindulgence and possible illness. Keeping up with healthy habits and sticking (as best as you can) to your regular routine has benefits for your whole family. Enjoying everything in moderation can help to avoid holiday weight gain, fend off holiday fatigue and stress, and help keep your kids from bouncing off the walls.
Many people give up on healthy habits during the holidays. But with a little extra planning, you can help keep your children healthy and safe during this busy time of year.
Sleep
Because kids are out of school, bedtimes tend to get later and later, and our kids sleep in. Some of this is unavoidable with the onslaught of holiday events, but setting even a few limits will help.
If you can, try to encourage a fairly normal bedtime routine when you have a quiet evening at home. Even a few nights of “normal” can go a long way in preventing a total meltdown at holiday events. If your family is planning to stay up late one night, try to keep your wake-up time the same the following day. Consistency in your sleep cycle will go a long way in terms of keeping your family well rested and in good spirits.
As the holiday break comes to a close, consider getting your kids back into a normal routine before school starts up again. If bedtime has shifted later than usual, push it earlier by 15 minutes each night to help your child get back into a regular school routine.
Travel
This time of year, over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. Sometimes, grandmother’s house is in a different time zone, which can wreak havoc on your child’s routine. If your travel plans take you far away, start readjusting your child’s bedtime routine a few days before travel. When you get to your destination, while they will not be completely acclimated, they will begin to adjust a little easier. Remember, changing time zones is difficult for any age group. It will take a day or two for everyone to settle in. When you are planning your trip back home, I suggest trying to get home a day or two before school starts so your child has time to get back on schedule.
The holiday diet
Both kids and adults’ diets can easily get off-track during the holidays. What can you do about all  the sweets, late night dinners and holiday baked goods? Let your children indulge to a degree, but set limits. Children as young as 3 can be taught certain limitations when it comes to indulging in sugary treats. Perhaps allow your kids to choose two cookies or treats at the party, rather than freely sampling off the dessert table. Setting clear limits ahead of time will make your outings easier on everyone.
If you know that your child is particularly sensitive to sugar, consider allowing a treat earlier in the day, far away from bedtime. If your child has allergies and is old enough to monitor his/her own allergies, teach him or her to choose food alternatives or eat at home before attending events where food will be served. For younger children with allergies, be aware of what is being offered and carry your Epipen or Benadryl as needed. During the holidays, it is always important to be a little more prepared than the rest of the year.
Screen time
It’s bound to happen. When your kids are out of school and have no homework, they turn to screens to fill their time. While our general recommendation is to limit screen time (time in front of computer, mobile device or television) to 30-60 minutes per day, we know this isn’t always possible during the holiday break. Try to schedule activities that don’t involve a screen for at least a portion of your day. Go for a walk outside (if weather permits), shop the mall for holiday gifts, bake cookies for your neighbors or simply play board games with your family. Know that screen time will likely be a bit more than normal, but you can still set reasonable limits and expectations.
Staying healthy
Contrary to what many people believe, eating sugary treats and staying up late will not make your child sick. Instead, our kids tend to come down with illnesses during the holidays because they are exposed to more people. Parties, play dates and group settings are often a breeding ground for germs. Continue to encourage your kids to wash their hands well and use hand sanitizer. Try to keep your kids away from anyone who may be ill.
The holidays are exciting times, especially for kids. Being prepared and somewhat flexible with your schedule will allow everyone in your family to participate in the fun without completely overindulging. Remember, moderation is the key.
 Happy holidays – be well!
Dr. Genevieve Palmer is a John Muir Health pediatrician in Alamo. She is currently accepting new patients. Learn more and schedule online at johnmuirhealth.com.
 

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