In this episode of Healthy Family Project, we talk to Sally Kuzemchak, our official registered dietitian and the voice behind, all about balancing the holiday sugar rush.

Sally shares general rules for incorporating healthier foods into your holiday celebrations, how to focus on the holiday activities rather than the food, and how to get back into the swing of things post-holiday.

Sally is a registered dietitian, author, and mom of two boys. She blogs at, a “no-judgement zone” for feeding families. She is the author of two books, The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids, a guidebook to the best whole foods for kids, and Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families.

An award-winning reporter and writer, Sally serves as a Contributing Editor for Parents magazine and a blogger for WebMD. Her writing has been published in magazines including Prevention, Health, Family Circle, Eating Well, Fitness, and Shape. 

Sally received her master’s degree in dietetics from The Ohio State University and resides in Columbus, OH with her family.

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Want to skip straight to a hot topic? See time stamps below. But of course, we recommend listening all the way through!

  • 3:01 How to create balance during the holiday season
  • 5:14 Holiday excitement outside of food
  • 9:12 Healthy holiday swaps
  • 14:01 How to get back into the swing of things post holiday
  • 22:13 Halloween treat alternatives
  • 24:15 What does a healthy family mean to you?

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Transcript for Episode 37

This transcript was produced by Otter.Ai. Please forgive any misspellings and grammatical errors.

Welcome to the healthy family project by produce for kids, covering the hot topics in the world of health,
food and family with a dose of fun. Today we welcome back our Registered Dietitian here at produce for
kids Sally Kazem check a registered dietitian and mom, Sally blogs at real mom, which is a
no judgment zone. We love that all about feeding a family with simple recipes, picky eater strategies and
lots of reassurance for us, families, parents, guardians that we are doing a okay. Sally is regularly
contributing to our blog at produce for kids calm and has some recent posts that you definitely need to
check out. One addresses protein kids, and then we have another that focuses in on after school snack
ideas that don’t ruin dinner. Because we all know that’s an ongoing stressor. Even if it’s not after school,
even if it’s on a weekend, and you’re coming up on the dinner time, but your kids are super hungry. Just
really some good tips to keep in mind. So that you can enjoy dinner as a family but also not have a child
that’s having a complete meltdown while you’re trying to get dinner on the table. Sally is here today. And
we’re going to talk about balance around the holiday season. So right now we’re moving into Halloween.
We’re in the Halloween month. I love Halloween. So this is a fun time for me. And then really we’re into
this holiday marathon Halloween really kicks it off and and so we thought we’d get on today and talk
about the holiday sugar rush that kind of surrounds this time of year on into the new year. So let’s talk to
Sally, we’re going to find out if you should be giving out those mandarins to your trick or treaters? Or do
you really risk being that house? There’s definitely more that we’re talking about today. But just
something kind of funny that that I’ve that’s been a topic here in our house where I want to give out the
mandarins for Halloween and my children are riding against that. So I’m really excited to hear about how
not to go overboard during this time of year. But still enjoy the fun of the season because we all know
that that’s what’s important. So let’s chat with Sally. Welcome back to the healthy family project. Sally,
we’re excited to chat with you today. We all love the holidays. Tis the season with all the fun decor and
tasty treats. But if you’re not conscious of it, it’s easy to go overboard with the sweets and indulgent
meals. How do we create some balance around different holiday meals or holidays throughout the year?
I still want to enjoy the foods and let let my kids enjoy them as well. But maybe not have the entire month
of October be daily Halloween sweets. What are your thoughts?
Yeah, I think it’s definitely a problem because it does seem like from Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas
Hanukkah, it’s we often treat those holidays as like many weeks long events, when really most of them
are just a day. And of course, Hanukkah is more than a day. But still, we sort of just make it just turn it
into weeks and weeks of build up. And you know, I don’t know, in your store. But in my store, there had
been Halloween candy there on the shelves for weeks. So years ago, I started something with
Halloween, which is that I buy our trick or treat candy, either the day before trick or treat or even on the
day of trick or treat. Because in years past, you know I would buy in a couple weeks out so I could you
know quote unquote, you know, have it ready. We would all end up eating it and then yes, or and rebuy it
and I’m sure that’s why they stock it, you know so early, no worries. So I’m going to do that. But I just find
that if I do something like that it’s easier to feel fine about the actual holidays. So the same goes for other
holidays, they’re not a month long, they’re not six weeks long, they may be only one day or a few days.
So that really helps me keep it in perspective. And you know, sure there’s going to be you know, a few
parties and events in the weeks leading up to that holiday. But I feel like we can feel less freaked out
about those foods in general if we sort of contain it to that day.
I like that and it’s hard for me because you know I love holidays and you know I have a bin in my garage
maybe too much gonna throw it that that out there completely, maybe one or two bins for every holiday.

So I really get into the holiday spirit. I mean my husband said October 1 I have to wait to do Halloween
decorations but I can tell you some things have already snuck into snuck out onto the porch So besides
all the fun sweets, what are some other ways to get kids excited about different holidays like Halloween
without it being all about the food,
I think it’s so fun that you love to decorate for all those holidays. And I find my kids love that, I think even
more than the food. And I really feel like in general, like parents sometimes can, can obsess over the
food. But I think for kids, a lot of the fun of the holidays is not about the food. So for instance, I’ve
volunteered to organize or at least help out with class parties for my kids for like the last 10 years. And in
all of those years, it’s become very clear to me that the kids are not very interested in the food, they are
way more interested in just the general fun of the holiday. So they just love sort of the specialness of it.
Like it class parties, it’s the games and the crafts and the activities that I feel are always way more
popular than the food. And I’ve seen parents agonize over the food and spend hours on you know,
intricate homemade food items that the kids kind of like glance at. And then they’re excited about the
game they’re playing or, or whatever it is. And for real little ones, like kindergarten first, second, third
grade, I’ve actually found one of the most popular activities at the class parties is like reading a
Halloween themed book out loud, and the kids just sit there and they are just, you know, so so excited
about just not having your regular school and doing something special. And it’s not about the food. And I
just think that extends to so much of the holidays, like my kids are so excited when all the decorations go
up. And, you know, I just think that there’s so much more to the holiday. But But I I think it’s unfortunate
that so many parents just spend so much time stressing about how am I going to handle the food? How
do I keep my kids in control around the food? When really when you sit back and think about it, it’s not
the food that the kids are most excited about with the holidays?
Yeah, you’re right. And it’s funny, you mentioned the books because I totally forgot about this. But I put
away the Halloween books, the Christmas books, you know, I kind of, okay, here they are, I bring them
out. And so it’s a kind of a special time of year, especially for my third grader, although my eighth graders
still even though she doesn’t want to admit it loves this kind of stuff, too. But I bring out those books just
at that time of year. And that’s kind of that’s a great idea. Yeah, that’s what we read. And then once the
holiday is over, they kind of you know, get put back away. And then also like the crafts and games I know,
at you know, Michaels always has such a great little section and usually like 50% Off 40% Off. And so we
were actually just there this weekend. And my third grader was so excited. She’s like, alright, what
Halloween, what can I get to build or you know, she actually this weekend, which is was kind of
interesting, made a whole collection of skeleton mermaids. So there you go. I mean, I feel like there’s
anything out there. And I too, like to after the after a holiday passes. I’m a big fan of picking up especially
like those craft things. My daughter was laughing when we pulled the Halloween bend down. Cuz she’s
like, there’s nutcrackers like that I could paint in here. And I’m like, I don’t know how those gotten up in.
But yeah, so pick those up. So once we get to Thanksgiving like that, we’ll move those to the
Thanksgiving, Ben, because then once Thanksgiving passes, it’ll be time for you to paint the nutcrackers
but a little too early for that right at this moment. So
yeah, that’s it. That’s a really smart idea. And if you if you are one of those room, parents who does class
parties, it’s great to pick all that stuff up after the holidays, you know, the paper blades and whatever else
there is the decorations, the crafts, that’s a great time to snag those for the next year.
Yes, for sure. So I definitely still want to enjoy some of the classic treats and holiday dishes. But it doesn’t
hurt to introduce some healthy swaps into the mix. Do you have any healthy tips for celebrating
Halloween, Christmas or even Valentine’s Day? And what are some general rule of thumb that you can
apply to any holiday celebration where food seems to be a big focus.
So like I mentioned before, I think containing the holiday as best as you can is smart and just thinking
about it as one day and maybe some parties surrounding it. So if you’re headed to a big celebration,
where you know, there’s gonna be a ton of food, a ton of sweets, and your kids are going to be eating a
lot of sweets. I like to make space in the day for that by laying off sweets the rest of the day or even the
day before. So just a little reminder to kids by saying something like you know, we’re going to this big

party. Tomorrow there’s going to be tons of sweets there. And so we’re going to skip dessert tonight or,
you know, this morning we’re going to have eggs instead of French toast because we’re going to this
party there going to be tons of sweets or whatever it is. And I think saying that in a really neutral way. It’s
not a punishment or it’s not, you know, something bad. It’s just reminding kids about balance that way
Don’t feel like you have to, like follow your kid around the party, and you know, monitor what they eat. I
see that a lot at parties, and it always just sort of makes me cringe a little. Because I really feel like,
parents don’t need to spend their energy doing that. And it’s much more enjoyable for everyone.
Everyone could just have a good time. So, and I think we’re a school is concerned, again, putting the
focus of the class parties on the activities and not the food. I think for Valentine’s Day, I always
encourage people to avoid the candy Valentine’s, I think it just introduces some sort of unnecessary
sweets into the day. And also many schools are discouraging those because of allergies. But yet some
parents still bring them in, even though the school has asked not to, you know, and making sure your
traditions involve more than food or, you know, if you realize, Wow, all of our traditions involve food, we’ll
start some new ones that don’t involve food. But, you know, I do want to say that, like special foods are
part of the holiday. And that’s okay, so you had mentioned, you know, some healthy swaps, and that is
totally fine. But I don’t want people to feel like they have to healthify everything and, and feel guilty about
those special holiday foods, because food is part of what makes holidays special. So for instance, my
mom’s Christmas fudge she only makes at Christmas time I love it. So when I make that recipe, I do not
mess with it. I don’t swap you know, I don’t put chia seeds in it or something, I make her budge. And the
day after Thanksgiving, when were my in laws, my kids have leftover pie for breakfast, that’s just like a
fun tradition, the morning after Thanksgiving, and they do it once a year. And I don’t, you know, I don’t
care at all. I think it’s fun. It’s it’s something that they kind of remember. And it only happens once a year.
So I think that you can, you know, manage the holiday and manage that food and you know, provide
some balance and structure and but also recognize that it’s okay to love those special foods. And it’s
okay to have those, because they are part of the holidays.
Well, it’s funny you say that because our team, we we were shooting recipes last week. And you know,
we’re in the fall zone in the holiday zone. So we focused in on on some of those things. But we had a
conversation about the things you just can’t mess with. So I get you on that where it’s like, we love your
practice for kids, we love the healthy swaps we love if we can make something healthier, you know, let’s
do it. But there’s just a couple things, especially when it comes to holidays, you know, where it’s
something in your family that has been made for years, or something that you grew up with? And you
just look forward to it. And so we kind of had a little we shared around, like, what are the things that like
you just can’t mess with? Like, we’re good?
Yeah, and I think like when you when you provide that balance around those foods, you know, by maybe
eating a little bit lighter before the party or whatever it is, I think then you can be like, okay, there are one
or two things on this buffet table that are so special and holiday related and I only get them here or you
know your relative’s house and you only get her you know her special dish once a year then I think feel
like you can eat it and not not worry about it and you know, eat a portion that feels satisfying to you. So
yeah, you can definitely leave room for those special things like it.
Alright, so we’ve established that was work potlucks, community events and all the extra treats that
seemed to be laying around during a holiday, it’s easy for one holiday celebration to carry into the weeks
prior to the holiday. How do we get back into the swing of things? You know, once once we reach that big
day? What do we do with all those leftover dishes, or the candies or the sweets without being wasteful?
Well, I think it’s really important for grownups and kids to zero in on what they truly enjoy. And as I said,
Make room for those things and kind of prioritize those things. Because like, I we’ve all been to like a
party and eaten something that didn’t taste very good, but we just ate it to be polite, or taken a second
helping of something because we felt like we should or whatever it is. So you know, or eaten eaten
Christmas cookies that are like, No, this isn’t my favorite right now you should always really save, you
know, hold out for your favorites. So there’s a way I actually do this at Halloween with with my kids. And I
didn’t make this up, but it’s called the Switch switch. And so it involves your kids setting aside some of
their trick or treat candy for the Switch switch who comes and takes it during the night and replaces it
with something like $5 or a little toy or whatever. But your kid must want to do this. So you can’t just be

like Sorry, this switch which came to me last night like right. Your kids have to be you know, on board with
but what that teaches them is to value what they really enjoy. So my kids go through their candy at the
end of the night and they you know, separate out the stuff that they love and the stuff that Either they
really don’t like or it’s just like, yeah. And then that is the stuff that goes to the switch switch. So I think
teaching kids to put the value, what they really love is a is a good lesson, in my opinion, and I think it’s,
it’s a skill that they can use for life. So I know that, um, you talked about about being wasteful. And, you
know, with Halloween candy, like I do not recommend throwing it away, I do hear a lot of parents talk
about how they let their kids have added for like a day, and then they throw the rest in the trash. And I
think it’s really important to think about that about whether that’s a smart idea, because I think when we
throw things away, because we don’t, we’re worried about our kids worried about trusting our kids around
that or worried about our kids getting out of control. We’re telling our kids, we don’t trust you around it.
And that can lead to shame, it can lead to them hiding candy, sneaking candy, I have definitely heard
from parents who say, you know, I found a bunch of candy wrappers under my kid’s bed or whatever.
And it’s because, you know, because we don’t give them a chance to figure it out for themselves. We we
give our kids the message that like this is dangerous, you can’t be trusted around it. And, and I do
believe you know, with any of these holidays, figuring out food part of that is going overboard, maybe
getting a tummy ache and understanding how food affects our bodies. So a tummy ache on Halloween,
or after a holiday party or whatever is okay. And it’s a really great teaching moment to talk to kids about
why they have the tummy ache. You know, maybe you know, maybe it’s, you know, why do you you ask
your kids why do you think you have a tummy ache and you know, if it’s, you know, me I eat too much
candy, and you can talk about yeah, sometimes that happens when we eat when we eat too much candy.
Now I think like for very young kids, like toddlers or something, I can totally understand taking some of
that candy away taking some of the sweets away, like say taking them to work with you or donating them
to the troops. But for kids who understand what’s going on, I would really encourage I’d really discourage
people from from tossing it or, you know, throwing things away and telling your kid basically, I don’t trust
you with this.
Right? So you mentioned donating. Do you have so you said donating to the troops? I feel like I need to
do some research and link up for people in the show notes like options, because I know, we don’t want to
throw it away. But if we do this, which which where do we like where does it go? Because, yeah, I want to
eat it myself because I will.
Right and some dentists do like a buyback program. And they probably donate it to the troops. I know
some food pantries will take it. I don’t I’m sure there are links online about how to send it, send it to the
troops. I know that’s a popular thing to do. But just make sure first that your kids are okay with that if they
are not okay. You know, it’s okay. If your kids say, I don’t want to get my hands, right. Like they walked up
and down the street for two hours to get that. And you know, we told them this is Trick or treat, go get
candy and then to turn around and be like, Well, no, I you know, pick five pieces. I get the rest i To me,
that’s not really fair. Um, and I think your kids can learn some really good lessons by by letting them
figure that out.
Yeah, that’s a good point. Actually. We had a community picnic recently, and my older daughter and I
was left filling both of us saying, Oh, my goodness, what just happened to us? It was just such a hodge
podge of food. I mean, good food and some healthy some not so healthy. You know, and lemonade and
iced tea and just everything was there. And so I think we overdid it a little bit. But both we kind of had
that conversation together. Like, okay, note to self for next time, you know, maybe kind of remember how
we’re feeling at this moment. And she was laughing at me because she’s like, Mom, you’re you don’t
usually overdo it. Like, I know, there was just so much there. And I wanted a little bit of everything.
Yeah, it happens. I had this really funny moment with my younger son. We left a birthday party once and
he was probably about five or six and he said, Oh, my stomach hurt. My stomach hurts. I think I had too
much juice and I said, Oh yeah, maybe he said why didn’t you let me have all that juice? It just made me
laugh. But you know, you learned a lesson that day. It’s like you drink too much juice sometimes. Yeah,
you can get a stomachache from that.

That’s funny. That is such a that’s such a great point and funny but I mean it’s true. How do will they ever
know? You know I say this not to get too off topic, but I say this even sometimes about school and
grades and you know when you’re right there beside them making sure every answer is correct and You
know, they never know. And not that we want our kids to fail, but they never know what it feels like to fail
because we’re there making sure they don’t at every step of the way. I felt like once I realize that and let
my older daughter, you know, I kind of took a step back. And when things started sliding, I didn’t jump in
and save the day. And she had to have that feeling of, wow, like, I didn’t work hard enough on this, or I
didn’t put enough time. And so I think it’s kind of the same we have to as humans, we have to feel that
something in order to relate it back and learn that lesson and make better choices.
Yeah, I think it’s way more powerful when your child learns it themselves, versus when you tell them
what’s going to happen. You know, if you don’t, if you don’t study enough, you’re gonna get a bad grade
is one thing, but letting your kid not study and having them experience that bad grade. That’s,
it’s very hard as a parent, it is completely Yes. But I, I came to that in I think it was like sixth grade. And I
thought, You know what, it’s better to feel that now than in high school or like college. Yeah, I’d rather I’d
rather go through that right at this point in time. So anyway, well, so good stuff. So as we start to, I guess,
wrap up our conversation, I did want to ask you your thoughts on not passing out candy at Halloween.
So, you know, opting for pencils or erasers I’m laughing even as I say this, because I told my kids, I was
like, we could pass out mandarins. And they were pretty much mortified about the idea of being like me,
you know, in our in our we have a tight knit neighborhood. So they’re like, Please, mom know that out,
but I really, I know that I feel like if more of us did it, we could create a balance. I don’t know. Am I crazy?
Because my kids think I am?
No, no, that’s not crazy. Although, you know, we all remember the house from our neighborhood growing
up to like, pass out the full size candy bars. It was like everybody knew that house. And we actually live
in a neighborhood where there is a house where they where they pass out full size candy bars, and all
the kids are like, Okay, we’re going there first, before they run out of full size candy bars. No, I don’t think
it’s a crazy idea at all. And I have done it many years. What I actually do though, is I have a choice. And I
find that, you know, I’ll have like candy and then I’ll have you know, a bucket of something else, whether
it’s like pretzels, you know, packaged pretzels, or fruit or whatever it is. And then I find specially like
parents who are bringing around really young kids really appreciate the choice. And some kids truly
would rather have a sticker or they’d rather have an array than whatever you’re giving out. And so I don’t
think it’s a crazy idea at all. If you’re worried about like, mortifying your kids or being you know, that
house with the raisins. You know, giving a choice is always a fine thing. And and I think being mindful of
allergies to is a really as a really good idea. And for parents who are worried about allergies or kids who
don’t feel like reading the label and whatever be having that. That option of like grabbing the pretzels or
grabbing the pencil or sticker is really nice for those children as well.
Okay, so I like that. So having options, I think I’m going to do it this year. Wow. Let everyone know how it
works out. If I’m yeah, let me know boycotted from from trick or treat forevermore. Okay, so something
new. I’ve been asking all of our guests on the podcast, the same questions, just fun to hear people’s
different point of view. So there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s just fun to hear what everyone is thinking.
What do you think being a healthy family means?
So I actually answered this on the lunch packing mistakes episode. But I’m so I’m going to give the same
answer because I was I was pleased with, with what I came up with, and I feel really confident about it.
Okay, let’s hear it again.
I think a healthy family is close emotionally. They feel happy together and good together. They have fun
together, and they eat together when possible. And they support each other in all kinds of ways. All right.

I think that was worth hearing twice. And next time you’re on I’ll probably I’ll ask you again. And we’ll just
keep reiterating that same message because I think it’s that’s really important for us to remember. Well,
thank you, Sally for joining us today and sharing lots of great tips and ideas for families. Before we close
out, can you tell listeners where they can find and connect with you?
Sure, you can find me on my site real mom which is a no judgment zone about feeding a
family and on all social media channels as real mom nutrition.
Wonderful. Thank you so much.
Thanks for having me.
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