It is that time of year when sugar is everywhere. Fruit cakes and peppermint bark. Frosted sugar cookies, candy canes, chocolate gold coins. Holiday parties with butter cookies, figgy pudding, and hot chocolate. Gingerbread houses, Linzer cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and pecan snowballs.
As a parent trying to help my kids make healthy choices about how much sugar they eat and to teach them about balancing sweet foods with those that provide a well-rounded nutritional profile, this time of year presents a real challenge.
But rather than avoiding those delicious desserts altogether, I've decided to deploy a different strategy. Instead of denying my family - and myself - these treats, I've worked to build tradition around them.
Here are three ways I use sugar to build tradition with my kids.
Instead of buying frosted sugar cookies from the grocery store bakery, we have a cookie decorating party. Even if you don't make it entirely from scratch and opt for buying pre-made sugar cookie dough and frosting from the store, cutting, baking, and decorating cookies together will be a memory your kids will cherish forever.
If you bake your cookies from scratch, prepare for a mess. Let your kids spill, taste the batter, lick the frosting bowl. And then let them help you clean up! In pre-COVID times, we would let the kids invite a friend for even more merry.
PRO TIP: Have a plate of veggies, olives, cheeses, and/or sliced meat sitting out before the cookie decorating begins. Your kids just might fill up on those before over indulging in frosted cookies. Our favorite sugar cookie recipe is below!
We've also created an annual tradition of making and decorating gingerbread houses. This actually started when I was in college with my own dad ... we would design, bake, and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. I loved doing this with him - and since there were no little ones running around we actually had time to engage in this activity from start to finish.
Now that my kids are old enough to make them but young enough that I'm not yet ready to bake and assemble a house from scratch I buy a pre-made kit and let them go to town. Again, the time we spend together is more important to me than stopping them from eating a few cinnamon drops as they decorate their house's chimney.
PRO TIP: Have the houses assembled before everyone sits down to decorate. Most assembly instructions have you build the house and then wait several hours to ensure stability.
Advent Calendar Chocolate
As a kid, I loved those advent calendars that had you open one flap each day from December 1 to Christmas Eve. I was always in awe of the advent calendar that is shown in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and never really liked the ones that had a single chocolate behind each window. Also, when I had my won kids, I didn't want each one of them to just have a chocolate each day ... that felt like a missed opportunity.
So I decided to make our own version by buying 24 little boxes with lids, stuffing each with an activity (or treat) and hanging them on a twine. The kids know that the box labeled "1" will have the note "write letters to Santa" and that somewhere in the 24 days they will be asked to "take a hike with hot cocoa", "make and decorate gingerbread houses", "wrap presents for your cousins", and that some times the box will have some Hershey's kisses for each of them. Again, I wanted to build a tradition, not just each chocolate because we're board.
PRO TIP: Keep chocolates spread out from the gingerbread house making, cookie decorating, hot chocolate drinking days and make sure that some of your advent calendar activities don't involve food at all.