A Recipe for Holiday Wellness

Author: Nancy Heinrich

Holiday traditions are part of a family’s collective memory.

What was your favorite holiday tradition growing up? Was it making and decorating cookies with your mother? Singing carols with neighbors? Decorating the house?

Kids MCM Fun Run

Holiday traditions are part of a family's collective memory. Traditions define families and communities. Children depend on them like they do the security of their favorite blanket. Traditions ground us and give us a solid base so we can be who we are as adults, live our lives with great passion and purpose, and do good things for other people. Make this the season for celebrating your family's traditions while creating new ones.

The fact is that the winter holidays cause stress for most people. Figuring out how to get through the holidays can be a dreaded chore instead of a joy. For some people, ignoring the holidays instead of embracing them may seem like the only option. When kids are in the house, however, the choices we make as adults - good or bad - can impact our little ones for the rest of their vulnerable lives. They deserve to have a great holiday. At the same time, the holidays are the perfect time to teach kids about the joy of doing random acts of kindness for other people.

Keep the holidays simple, healthy and fun this time of year. Let's make the 36 days between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day the healthiest time of the year for you and your loved ones.

It is impossible to be stressed out when you make cookies.

After all, "stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts." Cookies make great desserts! Making cookies is always something kids look forward to, especially when frosting and sprinkles are involved! A holiday tip is to use more of the healthy ingredients and less of the bad. All kids deserve access to good foods, less processed sugar and health literate parents and guardians. Awareness of the added sugar in foods and deciding to cut back on added sugars is a powerful step you can make now toward better health in 2016. Teach your children to read food labels and become aware of hard to pronounce ingredients. If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it!

This year, set aside time to make holiday cookies. Select your family's three or four favorite cookie recipes, and make a shopping list of the ingredients you need to have on hand for The Cookie Party. If you call something a party, it is always fun.

Here are three suggestions to make your favorite cookie recipes healthier. For most recipes, you can reduce the sugar by about one-third and maintain the flavor and texture. Also, consider using a whole grain flour instead of enriched flour. Refined flours have been stripped of the bran, which is the outer coating containing the B vitamins that our brains need. Some of the flours I love to bake with include oat flour, millet flour, coconut flour, and my newest favorite, almond flour. These are ideal for anyone who has a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

A third way to make your favorite cookie recipe healthier is to replace up to half the butter in the recipe with one of the following: applesauce, canned pumpkin, mashed bananas or ground flax seeds. Schedule a test run before The Cookie Party. Pick out one recipe and make two half batches. Make each half with a different fat substitute. Ask the kids to be the official taste testers and let them decide which version to make.

Still your minds and walk for an hour in silence.

For making new and healthy holiday memories, go outside and play! Playing in nature is one of the healthiest things you can do for both your mind and body. Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."

Do your kids suffer from a nature deficit, spending too much time on computers and video games and not enough time outside? The healing power of nature is reason enough to do something different this year. Teach children to respect nature by active participation, whether it is taking them kayaking, learning the "stingray shuffle" along the Intracoastal Waterway shore, or going for a walk in a state preserve. Sometimes one of the healthiest things we can do is to still our minds and walk for an hour in silence, listening to the sounds of the animals around us and observing how the wind moves through the trees. Afterward, invite everyone to share their observations with each other.

Make a list of three places within an hour's drive of where you live. It can be places you love to visit or places where you have always wanted to go. Choose a favorite state, county or city park. Opt for a nearby beach, mountain or botanical garden. Even a local farm or forest is a good option. One of my favorite ways to explore nature is to connect with wildlife refuges when I travel. They are protected areas, often isolated and always beautiful. There are more than 560 refuges across the nation, and most metropolitan areas have one within an hour's drive. Locate a national wildlife refuge near you.

Explore the healing power of nature.

If you have a child who is in fourth grade, be sure and check out a very special opportunity from the National Park Service. Fourth-graders are invited to become ambassadors and help celebrate the National Park Service's 100th birthday next year. These children can participate in the "Every Kid in a Park" program, which runs until August 30, 2016. Go to the National Park Service website and click on the "Kids" tab to learn more. Your fourth-grader can get a voucher for an annual pass that entitles them and their family to free admission to national parks and other federal lands and waters for an entire year. What a great way to celebrate the outdoors! Set the date for your outdoor adventure, make a picnic lunch and dress appropriately. Now go outside and play!

A wonderful way to bring wellness into your holidays is to do something for someone else. Make a pot of butternut squash soup and a pan of cornbread to share with a neighbor who lives alone. Ask your children to make a card to give when they help deliver the meal. Little things can mean so much to someone who may be spending the holidays alone.

A favorite thing to do when friends with children come to visit is to go to the local Humane Society and volunteer for a couple of hours, spending socialization time with dogs and cats waiting to be adopted. If you have a young child who is learning to read, ask them to pick out a favorite book to read to a cat or dog. The children connect with an animal who brings no judgments or expectations. Sharing their favorite story with an animal can raise a child's self-esteem. Another idea is to check out local resources for equine-assisted therapy. Connecting with horses has proven to have healing properties by creating a sense of emotional well-being, especially for those dealing with anxiety or post-traumatic stress.

Make a conscious choice to find joy in the holidays. Commit to do whatever it takes to be healthy. Create a personal relationship with wellness by bringing healthier ingredients into your family's favorite recipes, engaging in the beauty and healing power of nature, and ensuring a healthy mind through connections with those you love. Have fun this holiday season by celebrating old family traditions while making new ones!

By Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH, is an epidemiologist, diabetes educator, author and parent. She founded Growing Healthy Kids, Inc. in 2009, a nonprofit organization which creates solutions to prevent, halt and reverse childhood obesity and obesity-related diseases. Growing Healthy Kids designs and deploys programs (such as the 4 Sisters, 5 Cities Wellness Project and Kids. Kitchens. Kayaks) and advises companies on wellness policies. She teaches people about the joy of healthy eating and playing outside. Nancy writes "Wellness Wednesdays", a weekly article for parents. She lives in Vero Beach, Florida. Her favorite vegetable is kale.