7 Ways to Stay Fit During the Holidays

The holidays are a time for many wonderful things: time with friends and family, roaring fires and twinkling lights, and celebrations galore. Unfortunately, one thing the holidays are not is a time associated with healthy habits – especially when it comes to food and exercise. With everything going on, trips to the gym fall down on the priority list. And who wants a salad when there’s wine and cookies everywhere you look? But celebrating in December doesn’t have to mean guilt in January. That’s why we’ve rounded up a set of stay-healthy holiday tips that take little effort but net big results:

  • Drink water before a party. Before that office event or family gathering, drink a big glass of water (two, if you can!). Many of us think we’re hungry when in fact what we’re feeling is thirst, and we overeat as a result. Keep dehydration at bay by consuming water before you’re tempted by food. The more hydrated you are, the better you’ll be able to make conscious choices over what you eat. Helpful when you’re inundated by trays of hors d’oeuvres.
  • Eat before a party. Don’t starve yourself before a big party where you know there’ll be lots of rich food. People have a tendency to eat very little before an event thinking they will “save” the calories for later. But this tactic almost always backfires. The hungrier you are when the food arrives, the more likely you are to ravenously overeat. Instead, make sure you eat fiber and protein rich foods throughout the day so your hunger stays in check.
  • Drink water during a party. I’m not going to tell you to skip the wine (what fun is that?). What I am going to tell you to do is alternate glasses of wine with glasses of water. Not only will it slow your alcohol consumption – alcohol triggers overeating – but it will also fill your stomach so you’ll feel fuller on fewer calories.
  • Eat the good stuff – but not too much. Don’t try to deny yourself at an event filled with delicious food. Instead, allow yourself a small taste of everything you want. Research has shown that the first bite of something is the most enjoyable. That’s because anticipation plays a huge part in our cravings for food. So instead of eating that entire piece of chocolate cake, have a bite or two. Chances are, you’ll enjoy it just as much.
  • Play outside. Too snowy to get to the gym? Turn your backyard into your own personal fitness arena. There are lots of fun things you can do (with your kids!) to stay active. Did you know that building a snow man burns 349 calories an hour? Sledding burns 407 – that’s almost as much as running! Chances are, when you’re out there having fun, you’re not even thinking about how much exercise you’re getting.
  • Dance! There will be plenty of opportunities this season. Dancing is a great calorie buster (450 an hour) and overall toner (getting low works those quads!). Plus, if you work out at the party, you don’t need to work out before the party.
  • Boost your mood. Even if you don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, chances are the shorter days are bringing you down. And negative moods lead to lethargy and emotional eating. Take advantage of sunny days and go for a walk to maximize Vitamin D consumption. Can’t get outdoors? Buy an electronic blue light – it mimics the sun’s mood-boosting effects. Another quick (and even easier) mood brightener? Smile. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, the act itself has been shown to actually make people happier.


Tips for Feeding a Picky Eater

It was my son’s admission that he’d eaten chicken nuggets for lunch every day at school last week that got me thinking about ways to get healthier food onto his plate without the constant battle.

Nutrition is a question that worries every parent I know. How do we ensure our picky kids are eating enough? Are they getting the balanced diet they need? And what if, heaven forbid, they go on a boycott of all foods colored green?

We reached out to parents and nutritionists for tips on getting those notoriously picky eaters to do just that: eat.

photo: tonya staab

  • Give them a say in planning the meals. Susan Miller, mom to three boys, got her kids involved in creating the family’s weekly menu. Each child would contribute something to the menu that they wanted to eat. “Once they had a little more ownership of the process, they fought me less and were more willing to taste things.” Jill Berry recommends taking the kids along for grocery shopping. “I had good success getting my little kids to eat veggies by letting them choose a veggie from the supermarket. My son loved to weigh the food we purchased on the scales in the produce aisle.”
  • Get them cooking. It’s not surprising that kids love to cook. After all, what is cooking if not a fun science experiment where they mix ingredients to see what results? “The more hands on they are with the preparation of the food, the more interested they are in eating their own creations,” says author Leanne Ely. “I call it hands-on nutrition.” Mom Shannon Duffy agrees and adds that not only does cooking encourage kids to eat better but also teaches them valuable skills. “At the age of 7, my son was already measuring ingredients and helping make meals.”
  • Engage their imaginations. Give their food a special name, call it something fun. Much of what kids like or dislike is really just how its presented to them. “Feeding my kids was often little more than a name game,” says Toni Garcia Carpenter. “When it came to breakfast, I found the word porridge to be a useful tool. After all, the Three Bears liked it. More importantly, the term porridge could be applied to any hot cereal. So we had oatmeal porridge, cream of wheat porridge, and of course, grit porridge.”
  • Serve meals in courses. Break meals up into smaller courses and start with what you want them to eat most. When her kids were little, Ruth Grau began their meals with a fruit or veggie course. When they finished their fruit or veggies, they would have a meat/protein course, followed by an optional carbohydrate course. The result? “My kids now eat everything and love veggies!” says Ruth.
  • Prepare foods in new ways. Maybe your child doesn’t dislike broccoli as much as she claims; maybe she just didn’t like the way it was cooked last Tuesday night. Think about texture, spices, even shapes, and add some variety to the way you cook. Registered dietician, Kati Mora, recommends “preparing the foods your kids don’t like in new ways to see if maybe they just don’t like the brand, prep method, or just aren’t in the mood for it on one particular night.”

Teaching Charts to a 5 Year Old

Earlier today, I left my site statistics window open at the dining room table as I went to get Gavin a cup of apple juice.  As I was in the kitchen I heard from the dining room “Daddy, I like your painting.”  Not having painted anything in about 15 years,  I didn’t know what he meant.

Returning to the dining room, apple juice in hand, I saw him sitting in my chair happily appreciating the artistic merits of the chart of emails sent by day over the past month.  I like the chart too, because it shows that SittingAround is growing.

My “Painting,” or notification emails sent by day for the past month.

Realizing that he’d never been exposed to visual representations of information before, I though it would be a good idea to give him a quick primer.  I expected his attention would last maybe three sentences.  Six charts in, having shown him bar charts, spider graphs, x-y plots, and pie charts, I realized he was more interested so I started to probe on understanding.

I showed him this bar chart and asked, “Which day do you think we have the most signups?”

SittingAround User Signups by Day

Instant and correct answer: “Tuesday.”

So I showed him another chart and asked “Why do you think they call this a spider-graph.”  This time answering like I was a bit of a simpleton, he says in his explain-simple-concepts-to-my-parents voice “because it looks like a spider web.”

Touche kindergarten child, touche.  Perhaps I’ve underestimated you.

I ask if he’d like to make his own charts, which gets an excited jumping up and down yes.  About twenty minutes and three charts later he clearly felt like he’d mastered the topic and was ready to move on to blowing bubbles on the deck.  The following are the charts that we created this afternoon.

TV Shows, using a simplified X-Y axis

TV Shows Gavin Likes vs. How often he gets to watch them
Data Table for TV Shows Gavin Likes

Toy preferences, using a simple bar chart

Scale of 1-10 how much Gavin likes each toy. Notice how he considers my Iphone to be one of his toys.
Data Table for Toys Gavin Likes

Food, using a four factor spider graph

Gavin’s Take on different foods. I think this one is my favorite. Notice how we have somehow convinced him that Kale is the perfect food. Secret to that, I think, is lots of galic and olive oil.
Data Table for Gavin’s take on foods


Gavin’s Summary:
Q: What did you think about daddy showing you charts today?
A: “Awesome, Awesome”

Q: What was your favorite chart?
A: “I think toys, yeah, toys, toys toys”

Q: What is a chart?
A: “I don’t know but I made a chart at school today.  Its just a plain old chart, you know, number charts daddy.”

I’m a big proponent of explaining things to kids that are beyond what I think they can understand.  I figure it primes them to the basic concepts and words for the next time they are exposed to the idea.  It also has the advantage of occasionally finding an area where my son’s comprehension is way beyond what I expect it to be, like happened today.

If you’d like to try this with your own kids, the excel file we used to make these charts is available here.  Gavin 5 year old charts.xls

5 Healthiest Candies for Halloween

If you’re anything like me, you dread the post-Halloween sugar binge. I spend a lot of energy trying to get my son to eat healthy and it becomes so much harder when he’s staring down a bucket of treats. But, not all treats are created equal. The same amount of one candy may be much less healthy than the same amount of another. So, how to choose?

The classic red licorice tops our list of Healthy Treats

In honor of the upcoming holiday, we’ve compiled a list of the top five healthiest candy options:

  1. Twizzlers. Our hands-down winner. These long-time favorites are low in sugar, low in calories (compared to other candies), and low in fat. And, they are trans-fat free.
  2. York Peppermint Patties. The high mint filling-to-chocolate coating ratio makes these a winner. While mint isn’t typically a kid’s favorite flavor, these patties are sweet enough to appeal to everyone.
  3. Tootsie Rolls. The soft, chocolatey comfort of a Tootsie Roll is a low-guilt indulgence. Tootsie Rolls have half the calories of the average chocolate bar and just a third the fat.
  4. Smarties. This is one very smart choice. Serving sizes are small, but at 25 calories a pop, you can feel good knowing your kids will still have room for dinner.
  5. Kit Kat. If you must have a chocolate bar, a Kit Kat is the way to go. It’s lower in fat than most other bars and is trans-fat free. Best of all, its easily broken into smaller servings and shared.

These five options will leave you (and your kids!) feeling better about enjoying a ghoulish October treat. Do you have a favorite Halloween candy?