Children's Hospital Colorado

How to Make Holiday Traditions Healthy

A boy wearing a blue shirt with a yellow basketball on it uses puffy paint to make a snowflake on a piece of paper.

Over the years, we develop routines and rituals to celebrate the winter holidays, but they may not always be a healthy choice. Nothing makes the holidays quite as cozy as sweets baking in a warm oven, but that choice is considered a sometimes food, and we often overindulge not sometimes, but many times throughout the entire season.

Make the most of this special time of year by learning how to keep beloved holiday traditions alive – like baking and indulging in a holiday meal – while making them healthy.

Make crafts instead of food.

Sometimes just the act of making something is memory enough. Light a candle or the fireplace to create a warm atmosphere, and set up a table to make gifts or decorations. There are thousands of websites dedicated to winter craft how-tos that you can find through a simple online search.

Host a recipe swap.

Many of us gather with friends and family to eat rich comfort food. To encourage others to bring healthier items, host a healthy recipe swap prior to the gathering. Have all attendees print the recipes on index cards and bring enough copies for everyone.

Use the plate method when going to a holiday party. 

Have a plan for your plate before you visit the buffet and choose wisely. Look for the festive fruit and vegetable options and make sure half of your plate is filled with those. For the remainder, choose whole grain and lean protein options. And always remember, sharing a dessert with a friend is a great way to cut calories while socializing.

Consider the activity side of energy balance.

Energy balance occurs when the calories eaten equal the calories expended. That’s how you maintain your weight. Sometimes you just won’t avoid the calorie-dense foods during the holidays, so plan activity time regularly to keep yourself in balance. Don’t just say you will do it – brainstorm ideas and make plans with friends and family to keep yourself accountable.

Walk to see the lights.

Many families drive around neighborhoods at night during the holiday season to check out the beautiful light displays. Instead of driving, bundle up and try a walking tour instead.

Create new traditions.

This year, try a new physical activity, like snowshoeing or night sledding. You could also attend a musical event (music is good for the soul). Get excited about your new tradition and share it with others.

Disconnect from your electronic devices as a family.

Replace screen time with face-to-face time. Try it for 30 minutes 3 times per week and use those 30 minutes to get some extra physical activity. By putting the phones down and spending time connecting, you can reduce family stress and help with connectivity.