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How to Handle Holiday Party Food with Kids

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As a health-conscious parent, you might feel a little (or a lot!) uncomfortable with the amount of sweets and treats your kids have access to at holiday gatherings. But your kids will be OK! Learn a dietitian’s strategy for handling the treat scene of holiday parties.

a collection of christmas cookies on a white table. This party food does not look healthy

All year long, you work hard to feed your family healthy food. You cook homemade dinners, pack fruit in their lunchboxes, and stay on the lookout for creative ways to serve veggies that your kids will like.

But during the holiday season, it can feel like your healthy habits are falling through the cracks. Classroom parties, family gatherings, potlucks, and cookies for Santa bring colorful sweets, mystery appetizers, and unwanted ingredients into your kids’ world.

How do you handle it?

Common Party Food Strategies You Might Have Tried

It’s understandable that you want to protect the healthy eating habits you’ve worked so hard to foster. So you might have tried to limit or manage your kids’ access to party food treats. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You bring along snacks from home to try to get your kids to eat healthier food
  • You let them choose one treat at the party, and one treat only.
  • You make a dinner plate for them and let them know they have to eat a certain amount before they can try the treats.

These strategies are commonplace and they come from a place of real care and concern for our kids’ health! But when it comes to long term total wellness for our kids, there’s another way to handle holiday party food. And it’s actually easier on parents!

What I (Actually) Recommend

Let kids choose what they want to eat from the spread, and how much. Enjoy what’s on offer yourself, without guilt.

This strategy MIGHT lead to kids overindulging with sweets in the short term. But in the long term, it tends to foster a healthier relationship with food. When kids are allowed to moderate their own intake, they learn:

  • To share the pleasure of yummy food during a celebration
  • That they don’t have to feel sneaky or guilty around treats
  • How their bodies feel (good or bad or both) when they eat treats

How Over-Managing Kids’ Eating Can Backfire

If you find yourself trying to limit your kids’ access to the treat table, know that trying to protect your kids in this way can actually do more harm than good.

Kids, like grownups, tend to gravitate toward what feels forbidden. So if they’re only allowed to have one mini cupcake, or they have to beg you to be allowed that extra handful of chips, they can develop fixations on the foods that they aren’t allowed to have.

Stay True to the Big Picture

Holiday parties are special occasions, and the foods your kids eat there don’t represent the every-day family meals they are used to eating at home.

Of course, it can feel uncomfortable to watch them eat handfuls of cookies (after a dinner of potato chips from the appetizer table, no less!)

But in the long run, letting them manage their own choices and appetites is part of fostering a healthier relationship with food.

So… enjoy your family holiday parties this year and breathe! Your kids will survive the treat overload and you’ll return to your regular eating habits soon. (Your kids might even double down on healthy fare when it’s all over. I’ve seen it happen!)

Holiday cheer to you and yours.

More Healthy Holiday Reads

Healthy New Year’s Appetizers for Kids
5 Ways You Can Feed Your Family Better in the New Year
14 Fruit Party Platters

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

Learn More about Natalie

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I’m totally that mom that limits my kids’ desserts at a party, but not because I’m trying to control their sugar. I HATE when little kids come marching out of the line with plates piled high with desserts and the dessert table is decimated before the adults get there. (Leave treats for me!) I think it’s good manners to have just one treat, at least initially, and then going back after everyone else has had an opportunity. So trying to teach them manners usually has the effect of slowing down their sugar consumption, even though that’s not the main motive.