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Montefiore in the News

November 17, 2014

New York (November 17, 2014) – As the days grow darker and colder and the holiday season approaches, kids will end up spending more time off of school and stuck indoors. What’s more, families tend to eat heavier comfort foods this time of year – making it a challenge for many kids to maintain a healthy weight during their holiday break.

Childhood obesity is a national concern, and more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. In addition to over-eating unhealthy foods and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, it is thought that an increase in sedentary behaviors, such as watching television and playing video games, is contributing to the expanding waistlines of American children.

“Despite what many people may think, parents do not need to rush out and buy expensive, hi-tech gadgets to keep kids active and entertained,” said Allie Matarasso, M.S., R.D., clinical dietitian, Montefiore. In fact, Montefiore research has shown that video games that require active movement and physical activity to advance the game forward, known as exergaming, do not impact children’s weight. With that in mind, experts from Montefiore Medical Center share simple advice on how to balance kids’ diets and keep them healthy and on-the-go during the winter season.

Indoor activities to keep kids moving

While many costly games and toys are available, sometimes keeping it old school can be just as much fun and a lot more cost-effective. A classic game that ensures hours of entertainment is the old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Parents and even older siblings can create clues and hide them at various spots throughout the house, so kids have to use their brain and their bodies to complete the game. The clues could even have a special holiday theme.

  • Some other low-cost physical activities to entertain kids include hula-hoop contests, playing "keep the ball up" using a balloon, indoor hop scotch – using colorful tape on the kitchen floor – playing hide and seek, choreographing a new dance to your kids’ favorite holiday music, practicing Zumba moves together with parents/caregivers, playing musical chairs and, if the kids are really cooperative, having them help do chores around the house, such as folding laundry and distributing it to bedrooms.

Holiday meal tips

During the holidays with numerous school parties and family celebrations, calorie consumption can go through the roof. In order to keep a balanced diet and not get carried away with all the festive foods, here are some tips:

  • Involve kids in meal planning; have them help pick out recipes and cook healthy foods, when kids are involved in the process it allows them to learn – they become more interested in the food and more likely to want to try it when they’re done.
  • Serve veggies or broth-based soups as a starter at big family dinners, this will help fill up kids and they’ll be less likely to overeat the higher calorie foods during the main course.
  • Let kids serve themselves, adults tend to overestimate the amount of food kids can eat, and young kids are usually good at self-regulating.
  • Even if your kid serves themselves more food than they can eat, don't make them be part of the "clean plate club" - it’s okay if they don't finish everything.
  • Don’t keep platters of food on the table while eating; having these tempting foods around makes it more likely that your kid will keep eating more servings. Instead, have everyone serve themselves first and then sit down at the table to eat together.
  • Bait and switch - replace butter and oil with applesauce to create moist products with a fraction of the fat and replace white flour with half whole wheat flour for added fiber and nutrients.
  • Make hot chocolate with skim milk and cocoa powder instead of the packets of mixed ingredients which often contain a lot of sugar.
  • Keep healthy snacks easily available and in plain sight. Instead of keeping cookies and chips on the counters, display fresh fruit, nuts and granola bars.

“Remember, the most important thing is not to make your child feel guilty about enjoying the foods they love,” said Vanessa Wissing, R.D., C.D.N., C.D.E., clinical dietitian, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. “Let them know that it's okay to enjoy the treats once in a while and encourage them to be active.”

Allie Matarasso, M.S., R.D., and Vanessa Wissing, R.D., C.D.N., C.D.E., are both available for media interviews.