When it comes to keeping children healthy and well during the holidays as a Registered/Licensed Dietitian, I know the best defense is a good offense. In a recent interview, I discussed how the holidays typically bring chaos to our everyday schedule. We can proactively promote children’s health during the holiday season through several courses of action to keep things sane:
Maintain a regular schedule and serve nutritious foods
Pediatric researchers’ findings discussed in the October 2014 issue of Parents magazine, suggest that sleep is also essential to good health. When kids get the sleep they need, they may have a lower risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes as well as experience fewer learning problems and attention issues. They also stated that sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. It’s when the body reboots and rebuilds allowing brain cells to “take out the trash” each night, flushing out disease-causing toxins.
Staying on track with nutrition is easy with MyPlate Kids’ Place. The site provides online resources and tools for children to help them make wise choices in a fun and appealing way. The MyPlate graphic guides them to include all food groups in their meals and snacks. At the same time, the MyPlate Website offers science-based advice to help kids and their parents build healthy meals and maintain or achieve a healthy weight. Following the MyPlate guidelines encourages more fruit and vegetable intake – often “the forgotten” food groups. Fruits and vegetables contain important phytonutrients that can boost immunity and help optimize health.
Watch holiday party foods and beverages that could be hazardous to children
During holiday gatherings, we might be distracted or in atypical situations. It only takes a second for a tiny hand to grab a nut, a shrimp or a glass. The next thing you know a child is choking, having an allergic reaction or experiences alcohol poisoning.
Common holiday foods and food preparation such as nuts, olives, shrimp, cheese chunks and other “bite size” food portions are potential choking hazards and should not be given to children under age 4. Keep serving trays on high counters and separate from “child friendly” food service.
Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department. The incidence of those involving children has increased 50% over the past 15 years. If you host at home, inform your guests bringing dishes of your child’s food allergies. If you are attending a party, help plan the menu or inquire about the menu in advance then, bring snacks and desserts that your child can safely eat. However, in any situation Communication is Key. Making sure everyone involved knows about your child’s food allergy is the safest route.
Alcohol poisoning is a common risk for children during the holiday season. Many parents host holiday parties where alcohol is served. Take care to remove all empty and partially empty cups as soon as possible. Keep alcohol containers in elevated locations during the event and put them away immediately after the event. Because kids imitate adults, many may drink the beverages they see adults drinking. Children become “drunk” much more quickly than adults, so even small amounts of alcohol can be dangerous.
What to do if your child gets sick
According to the Institute for Healthcare Advancement, 88% of adults are not health literate. This means they do not have the skills to understand basic health information available in healthcare facilities, retail and media or to read medicine bottles. If you end up at the doctor’s office, be sure to ask questions and plan for follow-up on your child’s illness. According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, three most important questions for all of us to know before we leave the doctor’s office:
What is the main problem?
What should I do about the problem?
Why is the course of action needed?
Following all of these proactive steps can be your best defense, when it comes to keeping children healthy and well during the holidays. This will not only protect your child from harm, it will keep you out of the emergency department and ensure that you can ring in the new year in peace.