Holidays are synonymous with friends, family, and good food. Holiday foods aren’t always healthy, though, and many of us deviate from our careful eating plans over the festive season. December can be an especially tricky time when it comes to this. Chips, sweets, chocolates and cakes are very tempting – for adults and children alike. Wellness consulting dietician Judith Johnson shares her tips for making these holidays happy and healthy for the whole family.

“Making sure your children eat healthily over the holidays can be a challenge, especially if they’re being cared for by others, or visiting friends who aren’t that conscious of good eating habits,” says Judith.

“We are continuously surrounded by a tempting array of colourful packaged foods, snacks and drinks, so we need to teach children how to choose the right foods to feel good. There is no doubt that feeding kids well makes them happier, healthier, and easier to look after. This is as much about what to avoid as what to include in their diets.”

Snacks – what to avoid

Avoid commercial foods that are deep fried, or processed, that contain hydrogenated vegetable oils or fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours and colours and chemical preservatives. As a rule, crisps, energy bars, biscuits and cakes are a no-no. Dried fruit, which is often considered a healthy snack, may be preserved with sulphur dioxide, which is a potential allergen.

Sugary snacks and foods with a high GI won’t keep children full for long. Judith’s tip: “If your children are having sugary snacks, give them something high in protein at the same time like a nut butter (if they can have nuts) or added fats. This will help keep their blood sugar levels even.”

What to look for in snack foods:

  • Choose foods that will satisfy. They should contain protein and some fat
  • They should be low in sugar and salt
  • Whole foods are better choices and are higher in fibre

What if my child has allergies?

If your child has allergies their symptoms may be aggravated by ingredients with wheat and gluten, sulphur dioxide and other preservatives, artificial flavourants and colourants, dairy and even sugar. “Symptoms of allergies can include mouth breathing, eczema, headaches and congestion, and even grumpiness,” says Judith. There are plenty of allergy-free snacks available in stores, including Wellness Warehouse, and making your own from scratch using fresh ingredients is always a good idea. “It’s well worth trying to reduce any offending foods if your child shows these symptoms,” says Judith. It is also worthwhile seeing a healthcare practitioner for allergy testing if necessary.

Making snacking healthier

Do give your children the foods they like. Adapt them to make them healthier, however, Judith advises. “Increase the fibre in your children’s snack foods, add more protein, and consider changing the source of fat.”

Healthy sources of fats include nut butters, coconut oil, and olive and seed oils. These will help balance blood sugar. When the snacks you make are homemade it’s easier to control these ingredients.

“Easy substitutes for popular snack foods include natural, preservative-free yoghurts, flavoured with bananas and/or berries instead of readymade sipping yoghurts, and recipe muffins adapted to include almond flour and oat bran as well as organic butter instead of margarine,” advises Judith.

Always have preservative-free crisps on-hand (root crisps are a good option) for little ones to snack on instead of regular chips that may be loaded with artificial additives. Fruit and nuts are also a good idea, as are kale chips, and hummus with raw veggies to dip. Being prepared is key.

Snacking suggestions

Keep these snacks handy and your children won’t ever be deprived. In fact, you should be snacking on them too!

  • Ice lollies – homemade from fruit juice or try Smooze, new in-store
  • Date balls (these are high in sugar, so enjoy in moderation)
  • Smoothies made from almond milk, hemp protein, berries or other fruit (freeze and serve as an iced treat)
  • Gluten-free muffins
  • Flax crackers or rice cakes with avocado and cream cheese or nut butter
  • Carrot sticks dipped in cream cheese and avocado
  • Chicken strips cooked in tamari
  • Cheese squares, baby tomatoes and meat balls on tooth picks
  • Unsulphured dried fruit and nuts

did you know?

Sulphur dioxide, a common preservative, causes sensitivity in some people. This usually affects breathing and can aggravate asthma in asthmatics.

The effects of unhealthy foods on children

“Children who are given lollies, cakes, chocolates, chips, cool drinks, ice creams, and foods packed with sugar and artificial additives can have the following problems,” says Judith:

  • A lowered appetite for healthy food at meal times
  • Sugar highs with instant energy followed by energy slumps, lethargy and general grumpiness
  • Weight gain due to unstable blood sugar levels
  • Exposure to various allergens through colourings, flavourings and preservatives
  • This all contributes to an unsettled child who may have difficulty concentrating.