This Christmas, staying mentally healthy is probably on the top of our wish lists, as an addition to the normal wishes for everyone to be physically healthy (and wealthy and wise)! Here’s what you can do to keep your family in tip-top health this holiday season.
Many of us won’t be making our annual trips back home to see family and friends, and visitors will unlikely be able to travel to Singapore as planned.
While this will undoubtedly be upsetting for many, it may be particularly upsetting for younger children and adolescents who depend on these family holidays to stay connected to extended family back home, says DR GINA DAHEL, a UK-trained paediatric doctor at International Medical Clinic (IMC) Children’s.
“As life starts to slowly return to some sort of semblance of normality, we could be forgiven for forgetting the global impact of COVID-19,” she says. “Young children, in particular, will have acclimatised very quickly to this new way of living and may be too young to understand or be aware of what is happening elsewhere. It can therefore be difficult to explain to them that this year’s Christmas holiday to Grandparents or planned visits may be cancelled.”
If you happen to be in this position, here’s what Dr Dahel suggests:
“Discuss how this year’s Christmas might be very different to other years and what they can expect. Even very young children can understand that being healthy and staying safe is essential.”
Acknowledge their disappointment
“Help your child acknowledge that your family will celebrate Christmas a little differently this year, while offering reassurance and instilling hope that next year will be better.”
Focus on the positives
“We will all need to rethink how we celebrate the holidays this year and it can be tempting to focus on what we cannot do. Instead, help kids find new ways to celebrate with loved ones. Use Zoom to organise a Christmas carol concert, a family Christmas quiz or open up presents together with Grandma and Grandpa abroad.”
“Even though the term ‘social distancing’ is being used, we are, in fact, being asked to physically distance. It’s more important than ever to stay well connected during this time. Encourage your kids to regularly call family and friends, as this will help them maintain those vital social connections.”
Dr Dahel adds, “It’s completely normal for children to feel upset about missing out on holidays and family reunions. However, if your child is showing signs of sustained low mood, depression or anxiety, please seek medical advice.”
Keep your nutrition on track
Of course, Christmas time means seasonal temptations galore. But you don’t have to throw your healthy eating habits out the window until January! Here, gastroenterologist DR ANDREA RAJNAKOVA and nutritional consultant VERONICA CAVALLINI of Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder Clinic share their top tips for staying on track with your nutrition, even during holiday festivities.
#1 Plan ahead
Even though planning what you’re going to eat doesn’t seem flexible at all, it’s crucial if you want to stay healthy during the holidays. Without planning ahead, it’s very easy to run out of ideas of what to prepare. This usually results in eating unhealthy food. “A good weekly plan will help you to indulge only on the day of celebration itself, and not throughout the entire holiday season,” according to Dr Andrea and Veronica.
#2 Eat five portions a day
Eating five smaller meals a day without omitting any food groups – carbs, for instance – can help prevent overeating. It’s all about focusing on small portions and food quality, say Dr Andrea and Veronica.
“Eating healthy carbohydrates packed with good fibre like wholegrain products, and avoiding simple sugars, can be very helpful to reduce food cravings.
#3 Go for fresh fruit and vegetables
Packing your meals with different colours of fruit and vegetables will ensure that you’re getting a variety of nutrients from them. Dr Andrea and Veronica suggest eating at least half a plate of vegetables during meals, and fruit during snacks.
“Additionally, it might be useful to snack on some fresh vegetables or have a salad a couple of hours before gatherings. This way, you’ll feel full faster, and eat less amounts of food at the restaurant or party.”
#4 Eat the immunity-boosting nutrients you need
Eating nutritiously and getting the right immunity boosting vitamins can help improve our response to infections. Fruit and vegetables like guava, papaya, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, kale, peppers, spinach and tomato can provide vitamin C, and a range of other vitamins and antioxidants that can help protect your immune system, say Dr Andrea and Veronica.
Zinc also impacts the immune system, and can be found in meat, shellfish, dairy, bread and cereals, nuts and seeds. The same goes for vitamin D, which can be found in oily fish.
Additionally, tuna, salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring and sardines are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have important anti-inflammatory properties that affect immunity.
#5 Drink more water
Drinking water helps you to stay hydrated and remove all the toxins that can be accumulated with a less healthy diet over this holiday period. Additionally, drinking water can help to avoid temptation and overeating.
Dr Andrea and Veronica suggest starting lunch or dinner with a glass of water. “This will help to fill up your stomach and better control the amount of food you’re eating immediately after. It’s a good way to avoid taking that second portion of dessert and eat less.
#6 Replace traditional recipes with more nutritious ones
We’re used to cooking traditional recipes for Christmas lunch and dinner, and many of these are high in carbohydrates, sugars and fats. In order to reduce the total energy load of the meal, we can alternate highcalorie recipes with healthy salads and vegetables.
“This is a good strategy so that you won’t feel the frustration caused by completely avoiding your favourite dishes. It can also reduce temptations by replacing them with healthier options. Bear in mind, however, that calorific foods have to be eaten in small portions.”
#7 No leftovers for breakfast!
Even if there are leftovers of cakes and pastries, try not eat them every morning for the weeks following the festivities. That being said, don’t purposely buy extra portions of food for your holiday dinner so that you’ll have tons left over to finish. Instead, start immediately with your usual breakfast routine, advise Dr Andrea and Veronica.
“Choosing healthier options for breakfast is key. After all, the food you select in the morning may affect what you eat during the entire day!”
#8 Prepare healthy homemade snacks
Stock your house with homemade healthy snacks so that you’re not tempted to eat sweets and unhealthy foods all day long. Preparing something easy like yoghurt with fruit, or popsicles made with blended yoghurt, mango or banana for the kids, can make all the difference. Other healthy snack ideas include:
- Guacamole with tortillas
- Sourdough bread or rice crackers with nut spread
- Vegetable sticks with hummus
If you’re on the go or outside, good snack options include the following: cheese cubes with some grapes; banana or blueberry porridge fingers; homemade popcorn; a handful of nuts and seeds; nuts and dried banana, apricots or figs; and some small coconut date balls.
Of course, if you can’t follow all of these tips, just try to get back to your healthy diet as soon as you can, and exercise more in the meantime, say Dr Andrea and Veronica.
“It’s important to keep in mind that fasting is not a good practice after you’ve over-indulged. Instead, have healthy foods and smaller portions in the following meal.”
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