Sugarplum madness: Help your family handle weighty holiday temptations

Cookies, candy canes, fudge and egg nog, oh my! Everywhere we turn this time of year, we’re faced with temptations galore. As if we need reminding, the media dishes up plenty of advice on how to avoid holiday weight gain.

As every parent knows, it’s a more indulgent time for children, as well. While they have more caloric leeway than we do — and more opportunity to burn it off — some children gain weight during the holiday period.

Research published last year in the Journal of Clinical Medical Research suggests that elementary school-aged children can gain weight over the six-week holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Not surprisingly, those who are already overweight are more susceptible to this gain.

A 2000 study on adults published in the New England Journal of Medicine came to a similar conclusion. It found that they gained an average of 0.8 pounds during the holiday period of mid-November through mid-January. Those who were overweight gained significantly more weight, with 14 percent gaining more than five pounds.

Realistically, the “eating season” stretches much longer than six weeks. It starts in mid-October when people start stockpiling candy for trick-or-treaters, and usually ends when the kids head back to school in early January.

“Anyone is susceptible to weight gain and, even more importantly, to developing unhealthy eating habits if they allow the holidays to bleed into one another,” explains Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, a dietitian and mother of two in Columbus, OH, who blogs at www.realmomnutrition.com. “After weeks of having treats around, kids and grown-ups expect these kinds of foods daily. Instead of being ‘sometimes foods’ they become ‘all the time foods.’ ”

Burning those extra sugar plum calories is also important. Enjoy physical activities with your children, such as snowball fights, sledding, building snowmen, as well as walks during a snowfall. Even shoveling can be fun if you make it so. Kuzemchak shares her tradition:

“My family is pretty active on the holidays. Between me and my brother, we have four little boys — so staying inside isn’t really an option! After the big holiday meal, we often end up going outside to play football or taking a walk through the woods.

“Yes, it’s cold and every fiber of my being wants to stay inside and eat cookies, but once we’re out, I’m always glad we did it,” continues Kuzemchak. “It’s good for everyone’s mental health, too. Kids like to be active and outside, even in the cold.”

Here are some tips for keeping your child’s (and your) weight under control:

• Remember, you are a role model, so make good food choices yourself.

• Keep healthful food choices front and center in the fridge and on the kitchen counter.

• Encourage small samples of rich holiday treats. Eat slowly and savor those tiny bites.

• Emphasize what celebrating the holidays are about: family, friends and its religious aspects.

• If hosting a get together, include beautifully displayed low-calorie foods, such as a tossed green salad with pomegranate arils, or an artfully assembled crudite platter.

Holidays are about making memories, which include enjoying the special foods we hold dear to our hearts. So make the traditional, once-a-year dishes. Bake the pies and cookies. Use butter and cream and other ingredients that make those once-a-year foods so special.

As Kuzemchak admits, “I actually let my kids have free reign on those days. We have family parties with tons of food, and I’m not about to police them at the buffet table. But that’s ONE day. I try my very hardest to get everyone back on track the next day.”

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a dietitian in Naperville, IL. Her three children are hoping she’ll host a cookie exchange this year. She can be reached at Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com or at (630) 369-8495.

Poached pears in purple grape juice

Makes four servings


1½ cups Welch’s 100 percent Grape Juice made with Concord grapes

2 cinnamon sticks

Rind of orange, 2 strips

4 pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled

DIRECTIONS: In a medium saucepan, bring grape juice, cinnamon and orange rind to a boil. Peel the pears, leaving the stem. Place pears standing in saucepan and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn or spoon juice over pears as they simmer. Remove pears and let cool. Reduce sauce by boiling down to about 1/3 cup. Spoon sauce over pears and keep chilled. Serve pears by themselves or with whipped cream or vanilla pudding.

NUTRITION: 150 calories, 0 g fat, cholesterol and sodium, 1 gram protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams dietary fiber.

Used with permission from Welch’s. Featured in Welch’s “Taste the Harvest Guide: Where and How to Eat Fresh, Local and Seasonal.” Visit welchs.com/zagat to check out the guide and more recipes.