Here’s one reason not to give your kid a second holiday cookie: sugar compromises the immune system. These four tips turn the season of rich treats into an opportunity for healthy food.

Between the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie and Santa’s plate of cookies, can we just give peas a chance?

The holiday season is a bounty of delicious treats for a reason. It’s a celebration. But we should also take time to celebrate what is most important – our health. Four weeks of excessive sweets can be difficult on a kid’s growing body. It also can make the challenge of feeding kids a balanced meal even greater. Kids have three times as many taste buds as adults, so certain foods, such as vegetables, can overwhelm their palates. Sweets, meanwhile, are easily accepted.

In short, a veggie medley can be a hard sell when gingerbread men are calling.

It’s okay to let the kids have a few extra treats, but let’s keep it in check. Research has shown that sugar compromises the immune system for several hours after consumption because it makes white blood cells less effective at killing germs. Further, every molecule of sugar we consume requires 50 molecules of health-improving magnesium to be processed. No wonder kids tend to get sick this time of year!

The good news is that veggies are high in magnesium and important antioxidants that improve the immune system. With that much in the balance, it’s worth putting as much energy into eating well as in decorating sugar cookies. Let’s turn the season of good food into an opportunity for healthy food, by incorporating veggies into the festivities:

Vegetables on parade:
Have the kids help you create decorative veggie trays in the shapes of Christmas trees or wreaths. Bell peppers can be cut into stars, cherry tomatoes become Rudolph noses and broccoli florets will look like snow-covered trees. You cahappy-veggie-snowmenn talk about the health benefits of each veggie as you add it to the tray and encourage questions. Not only will the tray be attractive and therefore tempting, it will more likely be eaten by the kids because they had a hand in making it.

Veggie points for Santa: Sometimes you’ve got to lean on the big guy for help. Explain that even Santa, who loves cookies, also loves veggies because they give him the energy to deliver all those toys. The cookies he eats on Christmas Eve are his reward, like dessert. Tell the kids for every veggie they eat, Santa will give them one point on his “good“ list. To get the kids really involved, suggest they draw a picture of themselves with their favorite veggies to send to Santa.

Veggies before cookies: It’s hard to hide the fact that cookies are in the house once you’ve started baking. But that does not mean they have to be on display. Store the cookies in a hard-to-reach place and put out veggies for when the kids return from school. Make a habit of it, and include different kinds along with a selection of all-natural, healthy kid dips. Children are more likely to eat foods that are out and available. The variety, meanwhile, will prevent the veggies from becoming predictable.

Vegetables as cookies: No reason every holiday cookie should be filled with molasses and sugar. Carrots and zucchini are excellent staples for delicious cookies that include natural sugars from the veggies. This recipe for zucchini-carrot cookies gets added flavor from cinnamon. You can ask the kids to help, maybe by mixing in raisins or other dried fruit for extra chewiness. And what the heck, leave a few for Santa.

The holiday season makes for life-long memories, and of course festive cakes and cookies should be part of it. But when serving, remember the effects that sugar has on little bodies. That should help you say “no” to the second serving, and “yes” to more peas on earth.

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