I tend to break all the classic rules when it comes to attending holiday parties. I don’t eat a healthy snack before I go. I don’t fill half my plate with vegetables. I don’t position myself at the opposite side of the room from the buffet.
Instead, I usually arrive hungry, eat my very favorites, and gather around the food (hello, that’s where everyone is!). And often, I eat a little bit too much.
That’s the truth. And since I only attend a handful of holiday parties every year, I honestly don’t get worked up about it.
I also don’t get worked up about what my kids eat. And I want to make the case that you shouldn’t you shouldn’t either.
Obviously, I know that parents of children with food allergies and intolerances always have to be very aware of what their children are eating at parties. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about spending party time worrying about how much sugar your kids are getting or how many chips they’ve eaten. I’ve seen too many parents following their kids around, telling them they can’t have a second cookie or that they have to eat their chicken before they can have their cake. It looks stressful for the parent and the kid.
And it’s also not very productive.
Truth is, kids are pretty good self-regulators. We’re all born with the instinct to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full. (By the time we’re grown-ups, things go haywire for many of us, and we start eating because it’s 6pm and stopping because the plate is empty!) Give over some control and let your children use their instincts. There have been many time when my kids have asked for a second cookie only to take just one or two bites of it and walk away, announcing that they’re full now.
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Kids also don’t have the baggage that we do–so let’s not give it to them. We adults have a bad habit of letting an evening of indulgence turn into an overeating shame spiral that can last for days. On the other hand, children usually have no problem going to town on pizza and cupcakes and then getting on with their lives–and the regular eating habits they have at home. Your kids are smart enough to know that party food is different from the food served at home. And they should never feel like they were “bad” at a party because they had five cookies.
That being said, if you have young children, it makes sense to help them fill their plate at a buffet. And all kids should learn basic party manners like taking just one portion at first to allow others to have some.
I also know that the abundance of holiday food stresses out a lot of parents. It’s easier to relax at parties if you serve regular, healthy meals and snacks as much as you can during the holidays. If your kids are asking for sweets on the day of a party, I also think it’s reasonable to tell them that they’re going to a party later and they’ll have the chance to have desserts there. And personally, I know that having fresh fruit on the counter and healthy meals planned during the week gives me a better feeling of balance during the holidays. So stock the healthy foods and plan the healthy meals that your kids love too.
And if your kids do go overboard at a holiday party and end up with a bellyache? I consider that an opportunity for kids to learn a valuable lesson–or blame their parents. After a party years ago, we were walking back to the car when my then-preschool son said, “My stomach hurts. Why did you let me have all that juice?”