What do we do about all the sweets around during the holidays?

Presents of food from classmates, cookies from the neighbors and a suitcase of junk from the parent’s company. Every Purim our houses are flooded with sweets, and our children grab everything.

 Plum Festival Umegaoka. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Plum Festival Umegaoka.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Every Purim raises questions concerning the eternal triangle: parents, children and food. This triangle is always tested around events and holidays — especially on Purim. The question arises every year as to how to deal with the dilemma around parcel deliveries and the huge amount of sweets and snacks that flood the house, without getting into arguments, and while maintaining a happy and pleasant holiday atmosphere at home.

The issue of nutrition is particularly complex, since, for many, food is a "reason to party" and a means of expressing love, joy, comfort and stress relief. On the other hand, the media and modern beauty standards encourage the desire for thinness and a shapely appearance, even in children. 

In a stable family, parents have a lot of influence on children's relationship with eating. Children who are raised in a home where the discourse on food goes through a health prism and receive positive reinforcement from parents will be at lower risk of developing eating disorders and will develop healthier eating patterns.

In contrast, children who are criticized and judged about their eating while receiving references to their body shape will rebel. This will come out through either overeating or reduced eating, leaving the children at risk of developing disturbed eating patterns and an unstable weight problem.

 Candy (credit: INGIMAGE) Candy (credit: INGIMAGE)

What do you say to children who don’t stop eating sweets?

Even parents who understand the importance of a balanced discourse on eating and body image may find it difficult to see their kids eating large amounts of junk on Purim. So, how do we reduce the preference for sweets and the loss of control typical of Purim?

Choose your words carefully

Choose terms from the world of health and not from the world of diet, while maintaining a happy and relaxed atmosphere.

Terms like "hunger," "satiety," "healthy," "makes you feel good," "burdensome," etc. are preferable to "allowed/forbidden," "fattening / lean, "low calorie," "dietary," and so on. 

Don't make side remarks 

Avoid making low-key comments about the form of eating, such as: "How much candy did you eat?" "Why are you eating it now?" and “Enough!”

Such comments frustrate kids and actually make them eat more. It is better to say sentences like "I understand you had a hard time refraining from eating more," or "It's not easy when there is delicious food around" etc.

Don't make it a race

Avoid awarding prizes for healthy eating or weight loss.

Using phrases like "if you don’t eat snacks you’ll receive a gift," will turn the journey of healthy eating into a plan with a starting and ending point, rather than maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If a child fails to reach an expected goal this will cause frustration which might lead to weight gain or the development of disordered eating.

Teach your child to make the right, routine choices

In the parent-child-food triangle, care must be taken to maintain healthy eating patterns at home. It is important to bring home a variety of foods from all food groups, to ensure that vegetables are included in main meals, and to maintain regular meals, including at least one family meal a day. Remember that as parents, we’re the best example and role models for our kids.

Transfer more responsibility to kids and teach them to make the right choices. "The decision to eat the cake is yours", "Choose what you like from the delivery of the dishes".  Don’t criticize choices; choice invites trust. To neutralize the feeling of frustration from any overheating, it’s important to always emphasize the half-full glass, and see healthy eating and exercise as part of a healthy and regular lifestyle, rather than a temporary plan. And even if it happened and the kids ate too much junk, tomorrow we’ll return to routine.

Hani Sakal Freiloch is the chief dietitian of the Leumit health fund.