Creating Healthy Holiday Traditions

Creating Healthy Holiday Traditions

It's that time of year again. And I couldn't be more thrilled. My Halloween decorations have come down, and I'm so ready for Christmas lights, the smell of pine, and a pretty tree. Having kids has made it so fun for me to reminisce and experience holiday happiness all over again, especially through their eyes.

Creating Healthy Holiday Traditions

This time of year, however, means JUNK FOOD is everywhere!  Chocolate, peppermint candy, sweet breads and pastries, turkey and gravy (for some), marshmallow sweet potatoes, the list goes on. Food has been a part of holiday traditions for years and years. To you, your parents, and your grandparents, a turkey dinner with stuffing and apple pie—or another signature family meal—brings thoughts of comfort, family, laughter, and happiness.

But what if it wasn't the food that conjured up those feelings? 

I remember taking a class at UCLA about tradition and families. One afternoon we talked about how our fond memories often involve food. Most families gather around plates when the holidays come around. I mean, what else are you going to do? It's cold out, there are hours upon hours to kill with family members you haven't seen in ages. Food is a great conversation piece, a definite community builder, and even a distraction when things or conversation are slow. Everybody has to eat, right? So by default we look to foods and recipes to recreate those feelings of love, happiness, warmth, and holiday cheer.

Interesting, right?

Creating Healthy Holiday Traditions

A lot of things can inspire that same feeling of warmth, love, happiness, and joy—not just food. Hot tea in front of a roaring fire, snow ball fights, wintry outdoor adventures, lighting the menorah, spending time with family, the joy of giving, reading The Night Before Christmas, family karaoke. . . . What better time than now to work on keeping the holiday spirit, creating the fond memories, yet helping family members stay healthy!

I know that food does provide yummy aromas and good feelings. So, making cookies can and should still be a holiday tradition. But in place of making sugar cookies with tons of frosting, why not make honey sweetened pecan cookies?

And instead of having lots of unhealthy food around when family comes over, fill the house with smells of healthy butternut squash soup, kale herb salads, spiced nuts, and rosemary wreaths. Offer homemade hot chocolate or warm organic apple juice with cinnamon.

If you hear things like "You're depriving your child of memories" when you discourage peppermint candies in favor of a seasonal clementine, don't worry. Memories, nostalgia, and cravings come from our fond experiences and associations from our past. And if (junk) food and eating are the main things you're smelling, tasting, and doing when you're creating comforting memories, then you will naturally crave those things each year in hopes of recreating those memories.

Why not start your traditions in a healthy way for your kids? If you start healthy now, your kids will ask you each year for your homemade vegetable chili. Their memories and the feelings they have will be the SAME as those with egg nog and fruit cake. The only difference is, your child will have healthier habits. So why not?

Let's forgo our own tokens of nostalgia for the sake of a healthier generation. Let's reinvent tradition this year, and create feelings of joy and comfort in a different way. Even if that means saying goodbye to some of your favorite traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. Or have fun re-imagining and creating the healthier version of those beloved food traditions.

- Juli Novotny of Pure Mamas


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