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How to make holiday traditions work for–not against–your family

I grew up in the '80s and '90s when Special K commercials were 'pinching inches' and low-fat diets were all the rage. From an early age I was very aware of weight and was interested in knowing the 'right' way to eat to ensure I would be ...

Don't let holiday traditions make your family miserable

"Tradition is a guide not a jailer." – W. Somerset Maugham

Food traditions around the holidays are part of the glue that keep family and community bonded together. But when tradition stops serving you, it may be time to take a fresh look.

When I was growing up, our family holidays were very much centered on food. For four or five days before and after an actual holiday, there was continuous preparing and eating of food.

I absolutely love the indulgent atmosphere of the holidays and eating really wonderful, special foods. I noticed over time that the tradition became less and less about the special foods and more and more about the abundance of food. When the focus was placed on the amount of food instead of the quality of the food, the whole atmosphere of getting together and spending time with one another changed, too.

This is an example of tradition getting off track. Yes, we were still gathering around food and the making of food but the quality and sense of connection was reflected in the lackadaisical approach.

Signs your holiday food traditions have gone off track:

  1. Frozen and pre-made foods outweigh the homemade stuff.
  2. Quick and easy becomes your mantra.
  3. Very little thought or time goes into the menu and preparation.
  4. Very little family involvement goes into the making of the meal.
  5. You feel rushed.
  6. People eat and run.

Traditions are serving you and your family when:

  • Good feelings are cultivated.
  • Memories are created.
  • Laughter is shared.
  • Thoughtfulness is used.

My family had gotten off track and thoughtless about our food traditions. We mindlessly gathered, mindlessly prepared food and mindlessly ate it. As an adult reflecting back, I can see how this has effected not only my own sense of security and connection within my family but also my nieces and nephews. When you give little value to the food that nourishes your body, you are unconsciously under-valuing yourself and your family.

Tradition is important but thoughtfulness must be used. According to Psychology Today, the best traditions may be those we invent. Traditions are a reflection of your core values and teach the next generation. Take the time to discuss and decide what is important to your family. Is it time to tweak old traditions or create new? How do you want your holiday traditions to reflect important values to the next generation?

When it comes to eating not just around the holidays, here are a few tips to help bring the thoughtfulness back in:

  1. Don’t have time to make everyone’s favorite dish? Instead of making every favorite food every year, put the favorites on a rotation schedule, enjoying some one year and others the next.
  2. Share the load: delegate family members to make certain time-consuming dishes. That person can take the time and care needed because they don’t have the whole meal to concentrate on.
  3. Write a menu with the help of your family: choose one or two high quality, delicious appetizers; choose one main dish and three or four side dishes that can be focused on for quality and flavor; instead of a pie for each person, make one or two very special desserts.
  4. Include an outdoor activity: a long hike, pick-up football game or a holiday 5k.
  5. Do as much of the preparation together as possible.

These tips will not only bring the thoughtfulness back into the day, but will help to prevent a food hangover the next day.

Happy holidays: May your days be filled with joy, connection and great food!

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