Holiday Health Tips From Packard Children's Hospital

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Happy holidays mean happy eating. And lots of it. But what can parents do when their kids are offered one yummy treat after another? And what about keeping kids active and limiting screen time during bad weather? Internationally-known researcher and pediatrician Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, director of the center for healthy weight at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, offers these tips to families trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Start new, healthier traditions

"Traditions guide a lot of what we eat and serve, and unfortunately, many of those traditions focus on high-fat, high-calorie foods," said Robinson. "Most of these traditions are driven by advertising and marketing, which is an attempt to make certain foods more prevalent during the holidays." Robinson, who has led first-of-its-type research reflecting the impact of branding on children's eating preferences, added that "Families can fight back by starting new, healthier traditions, and these traditions can stay with your family for many years."

Making fruit fun

"Instead of making sweet, high-calorie holiday desserts," said Robinson, "parents can think about planning a meal using fresh fruit as a dessert." Robinson said there are lots of ways to make fruit more fun for the kids. "There are plenty of different types of fruit around this time of year, from Asian pears to star fruit. You can even cut them into unusual shapes. They're low-calorie, fun to eat and kids love the taste."

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Healthy snacking around the house

Again, Dr. Robinson stresses alternatives. "When it's time to snack, instead of having all those leftovers and sweets around, replace them with foods like pomegranates, which can be a cool surprise for kids." Robinson also suggests an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. "Often, candies and sweets are only eaten because they're just sitting there, right out in the open."

Working calories off during bad weather

"We sometimes hesitate before letting kids outside when the weather is cold and wet," said Robinson, who offers advice that may be surprising to some parents. "But families need to know that kids don't get colds from being in the cold. They get colds from viruses. Sending kids out to play in the cold, or even a little bit of rain, will not get them sick."

How to limit screen time

Make a budget. "Our team suggests a budget of seven hours a week total screen time, which includes TV, DVDs, videogames and computers," said Robinson, who's led multiple research efforts into the relationship between screen time and children's eating habits, weight gain and effects on education. "This means an hour a day, which is easy for kids to understand. And it allows kids to discover alternatives on their own, which is more motivating than being directed to do so by their parents."

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