Normally we focus on the entertainment at a party, but we know that like us a lot of you are probably worried about how to safe guard healthy eating habits for the kids during this season of treats, treats, and more treats. We asked nutritionist and nutrition blogger Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition to share her tips for you and your kids. It’s nearly time for the annual holiday party circuit, and I have a radical suggestion for navigating it: Keep yourself in control, but let your kids have free reign at the festivities. Why the double standard? Three reasons:

  1. Grown-ups tend to let one evening of overindulgence spiral into a guilt-laden free-for-all that lasts through New Year’s Eve (and sometimes beyond). Kids, on the other hand, have no problem stuffing their faces with pizza and cupcakes and getting on with their lives—and the otherwise healthy eating habits you encourage at home. Unlike adults, many kids are also great self-regulators. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have asked for a second cookie/brownie/cupcake only to take just one bite of it and announce that they’re full.
  2. Presenting a child with a buffet that includes cookies, pies, and cake and expecting them to eat a big plate of healthy food before they even think about the treats is unrealistic and nonsensical. Making them eat a specified amount of vegetables before they’re allowed to have “the good stuff” doesn’t teach them anything. Since you probably don’t serve dinner alongside a platter of cookies every night, this isn’t an issue you have to worry about otherwise.
  3. Following your kids around and policing their food intake doesn’t make for a good holiday party guest or host.

That said, this plan will work better if you also do the following:

*Keep your child’s diet healthy on the day of the party. If she asks for a treat, remind her that you’re going to a party later and she’ll have a chance to eat those kinds of foods there.

*Check in with your child during the party. If he’s on his third helping of cheez puffs and fudge, ask him what his tummy is telling him—is he still hungry or is he full? Maybe even overfull? If you think he’s eating out of boredom, redirect him to some toys or gather the kids together to play a game or dance to music.

*Go easy on goodies at home during the holidays. While occasionally overdoing it on junk food is okay, most families attend multiple holiday gatherings. Save those special foods for parties and avoid keeping little dishes of candy and containers of cookies around your house.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a freelance writer, dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition.