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Ideas for a happier and healthier Thanksgiving

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  November 27, 2013 09:49 AM

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turkey thing.jpgThanksgiving: it's a mixed-blessing kind of holiday.

Yes, it's great to have family time, and Thanksgiving is a big holiday for that. It's also great to eat yummy food, and Thanksgiving is, more than any other holiday, about food. But we Americans have a way of overdoing things, and whenever you get families together, or travel, stress is possible. So as a pediatrician, here are some thoughts on how to keep a bit healthier, and keep a bit of perspective, as we all start cooking and/or driving:

Actually think of some things you are thankful for. Yeah, I know, it's corny. But hey, it's actually called Thanksgiving--we can't let the opportunity pass. So give some thanks--and make your kids do it too. Whether it's before dinner, or first thing in the morning, or before you go to bed, spend some time saying out loud what you are grateful for. As I've written in lots of blogs before, we are never anywhere near grateful enough--and reflecting on good things can help a mood made grumpy by cooking, driving or problematic relatives. 

If you have to drive, play the games you used to play growing up. Most Thanksgiving travel is by car, with more than half driving at least 100 miles, so there's time to kill. Instead of relying on electronics, play some games together. Like I Spy, or License Plate Bingo. My father and I used to have fun pretending that the letters on license plates were acronyms. YJL could be Yellow Jumping Llamas. QST could be Quick Short Tumblers. You get the idea. We used to have a blast (this is one that works for older kids as well as younger ones). Make up stories with each person adding something, or sing songs (I'd steer away from 99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall--bad messaging and really boring).

Enjoy eating, but stop short of gluttony. The estimates I've found for how many calories each person consumes on Thanksgiving range from 2500 to 4500....whatever the exact number, it's too many. The idea shouldn't be to eat as much food as possible--that rarely works out well. Be healthier, and set a good example for your kids: keep quantities reasonable, and make sure there are veggies on your plate (preferably a lot, but any is good). Speaking of setting a good example...

Don't just sit around all day. Go for a walk. Play an active video game if it's too cold for that, or clear some space on the floor and do some family dancing. Just get moving somehow, and make sure your children do too. As for other good examples to set, and your mental health...

Remember that the success of a relationship, or a family visit, can sometimes be measured by the number of bite marks on your tongue. Take a deep breath, and let it go.

Don't drink and drive. In my researching of Thanksgiving facts, I found one claim that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving beats out New Year's and Christmas for alcohol consumption. I have no idea if that's true (does the anticipation of the holiday really drive us to drink?), but given all the driving that happens on that Wednesday, it made me nervous. Please, be safe. 

Celebrate traditions--including untraditional ones. Traditions can be comforting, and can bring people together. Easy is best. My kids love watching the Macy's parade in their pajamas--and watching a movie after dinner with their cousins (when everyone is too full to move). My husband and I like listening to Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" while we cook. If it's not a fun tradition, ditch it. Do what makes you happy--there's no point in repeating things that don't. Which ties in nicely with my final bit of advice...

Cut yourself slack. Yes, you want to make things nice for your family and guests. But ultimately, I don't think anyone really cares if your house is spotless, if your kids are dressed perfectly or if the mashed potatoes have any lumps. If anyone does, that's their problem. Enjoy yourself and your family. That's about the very best example you can set for your children. 

Have a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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