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Healthy Kids (and Habits) for the Holidays

From Halloween through the New Year, kids are offered one tempting treat after another. They catch-on quickly, and before you know it, treats may become a daily habit. This habit is easy to form and challenging to break.  Parents face a task of helping children maintain healthy habits with food during this often-indulgent time of year. It can be done. Kids can enjoy the season, and its holiday parties and celebrations, all while eating healthy and staying active (and maybe not even knowing it)!  Here are a few ideas:

Healthy boundaries at home

Prolonged holiday breaks offer unstructured days in a house filled with scrumptious treats. Prevent boredom eating and all-day grazing with a few simple strategies:

  • Discourage eating in front of the television.
  • Plan structured meals and snacks (i.e., 3 meals + 1 snack) at regular times during the day. Aim for 20 – 30 minutes per meal.
  • At parties, encourage your child to play games and interact with others, rather than hang around the buffet table.
  • Enjoy something active everyday.
  • Fill them up with fiber to prevent overeating. Just one Fiber d’Lish bar tastes like a chewy cookie and contains 12g of fiber. For children under the age of 8 start with half a bar.

Get them cooking

Research shows that kids who get involved in preparing healthy foods are more likely to eat them.  So, along with making your favorite holiday cookies and other treats this season, invite your kids to the kitchen to prep some healthy treats too.

Try these nutritious party snacks.

  • Fruit kebobs, alternating red and green grapes, or red and green apples
  • Raw green beans, broccoli and cherry tomatoes served with dip
  • Hollowed red and green peppers filled with guacamole or hummus, and served with fresh veggies
  • Tasty Trail Mix including: 1 cup dried fruit, 1 cup Wheat Chex cereal, 1 cup Cheerios, 2 cups pretzel sticks, ½ cup raisins
  • Pumpkin Dip including: 3 Tbsp. canned pumpkin, 1 cup vanilla yogurt, 1 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate, ½ tsp cinnamon – a perfect dip paired with graham crackers
  • Use cookie cutters to cut Fiber d’Lish into fun holiday shapes. This also helps control the portion of fiber being served to very young kids.

Get your kids in the kitchen with these easy-to-make recipes.

Sweet Potato Latkes

5 large sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
1 onion, peeled and grated
5 eggs
1 tsp. salt
Dash pepper
Canola oil for frying

  • Mix together grated potatoes and onions
  • Add eggs, salt and pepper. Mix with a wooden spoon.
  • Pour enough oil into a frying pan to just barely cover the bottom. Carefully place large spoonfuls of latke batter into the pan.
  • On a medium flame, fry latkes for about 5 minutes on each side, until they are brown.
  • Place them on a paper towel to cool, and to absorb excess oil.
  • Serve warm, with applesauce.

Kids can: Peel and grate potatoes and onions, crack the eggs, mix the batter, and place batter on the pan.

Apple-Cranberry Compote

3 cups fresh cranberries
2 large apples; peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup water
¾ cup apples juice

  • Rinse the cranberries and remove stems.
  • In a saucepan, bring sugar, water and apple juice to a boil.
  • Add berries and diced apples. Boil, stirring continuously, for 10 minutes.
  • Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate until chilled (about 3 hours).

Kids can: Measure ingredients, rinse cranberries, and dice apples with a small plastic knife.

Get them moving

It’s easy to stay indoors during cold weather and winter breaks. Yet, there are so many ways to be active outdoors. Take advantage of nature’s playground – sled or puddle jump, ice skate or hike, build a snowman or play basketball. When parents get moving, kids do too. If the indoors still beckon, plan a dance party or dance contest, or set up a scavenger hunt.

Above all, enjoy the season. While some of our favorite holiday traditions may not encourage the healthiest of choices, striking a balance with good-for-you foods and activities reinforces to kids that healthy behaviors are a year-round endeavor.

Happy Holidays!


Anne Marie Kuchera, MS, MA, RD, LPC is a registered dietitian, and both a licensed nutritionist and licensed professional counselor. She manages community-based obesity prevention and preventive health and wellness initiatives through Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.