The Christmas season is full of tasty temptations, such as casseroles, cakes, cookies and candy. Though these items may be yummy in the moment, nutrition experts warn against using the holidays as an excuse to overindulge and neglect healthy habits.
Instead, this is the time to exercise moderation. Limit yourself to one treat per day. It's also when parents can explain and model healthy eating to their kids.
"We all know that healthy food fuels kids' growing bodies and minds," says Rachna Govani, co-founder and CEO of Foodstand, a community-powered app that helps people build healthy eating habits without counting calories.
She acknowledges the holiday challenge: lots of food, including too many sweets.
"The trick to eating well amidst all the sweets is twofold," she says. "Create a habit of making the more nutritious choice and balance."
*Get Kids Involved
Amanda Santucci, a certified nutritionist who writes the blog The Skinny Spice, recommends parents limit kids' consumption of sweets, unhealthy fats and fast food and teach them what food does to their brain and body.
"During the holidays and every day, it's important to model good eating habits," she says. "If your kids see you gorging on pumpkin cheesecake, they will model you, even if it's subconsciously."
Celebrity chef David Guas, an advocate for healthful school lunches and better school nutrition, encourages adults and kids to eat "all-natural single-ingredient products, like fruits and vegetables."
He suggests parents get kids involved in meal prep so they develop good habits at an early age. Hands-on learning is "the kid-key recipe for success," he explains.
Santucci suggests making healthy recipes with kids.
"Try making it a 'secret food club' where you are on a mission to change the ingredients in the food and only you two know about it," she says. "When you bring it to the holiday meal, you can spy to see if anyone notices the healthy food you sneakily put in there."
Some nutritious swaps include using honey or maple syrup in place of cane sugar, making brownies with black beans instead of traditional brownies and making Paleo Diet-friendly cookies, which don't contain sugar or flour.
Especially during the holidays, it's important to start your day with a healthful breakfast.
Govani suggests eating a nutritious no-added-sugar breakfast with protein, such as toast with nut butter and banana slices or eggs with plain, unsweetened yogurt and fresh fruit.
When you take a break, nosh on healthful snacks, such as apple slices with peanut butter, instead of chips and dip.
Then at dinnertime, focus on balance.
"Make sure veggies cover most of your plate -- crunchy green beans, delicious sweet yams or squash and some salad, whatever your family is serving," says Govani. "Fill the rest with a smaller portion of turkey and stuffing."
She warns against stacking your plate but says it's OK to have one dessert.
"By eating well throughout the day and filling up on veggies and protein at dinner, you've given your body the fuel it needs and can still enjoy a taste of the sweet stuff, too."
*Snacks for Santa
Though it's traditional to leave cookies for Santa, work with kids to come up with some healthier alternatives.
"Try leaving him some toasted almonds and an apple or pear," says Govani, explaining that fruit is a nutritious sweet and almonds have the "protein that will fuel Santa on his long journey and balance out the sugar from the fruit."
Guas, who develops healthy recipes for the nonprofit National Honey Board, recommends leaving Santa Claus honey granola bars.
Santucci suggests leaving Santa and his reindeer a crunchy and nourishing snack -- veggies with a Greek yogurt dip.
Maybe kids will be inspired to nibble on a healthful snack just like the one they prepared for old St. Nick!