For those of us trying to stay healthy – Easter can be a nutritional minefield. Here’s a few tips to help your family stay (at least a little bit) healthy over the Easter festive season.
Is it possible to celebrate Easter and keep it healthy?
Of course, but it’s all about moderation. Chocolate and hot cross buns can definitely be a part of Easter celebrations, but, as always, it’s also important to keep eating the healthy stuff (vegetables, fruits, fish, lean meats, legumes nuts, seeds, dairy, wholegrains).
Which is the best chocolate to buy for yourself and your family? What should you look for/what should you avoid?
Ideally, look for a chocolate that lists cocoa as the first ingredient. Dark chocolate (with the highest percentage of cacao) is best both in terms of antioxidant content, as well as sugar content (basically, the higher the cacao content, the less sugar the chocolate will contain). How much chocolate would you recommend consuming?
There is no nutritional requirement for chocolate (we tend to have more than enough sugar and fat in our diet already). The reason we tend to love, adore and crave chocolate so much is because it taps into our three strongest innate taste preferences – sweet, salty and fatty tastes. As a species, we have evolved to crave and seek out sweet, salty and fatty foods. Chocolate hits this taste trifecta.
The fact that chocolate’s melting point is generally between 30 and 32 degrees Celsius (and therefore literally melts in our mouth at body temperature of 37 degrees) makes the palatability of chocolate even more desirable than almost all other foods.
In fact, because chocolate tastes so delicious, and taps into our innate taste preferences, it actually triggers reward systems within our brains (the same areas triggered by addictive substances). Bundle this up with the beautiful coloured shiny wrapping on our Easter eggs and we can set ourselves (and our kids) up for an absolute sensory overload.
The take home message here is to be mindful of how much chocolate you, and your kids, actually eat. Similarly – be mindful of the modern tendency for retailers to extend out festive seasons. Traditionally as kids, the only day we actually used to receive Easter confectionery was Easter Sunday and hot cross buns were really only made and consumed in the week or so around Easter. These days, hot cross buns hit the shelves of supermarkets in the first weeks of January, with shiny chocolate Easter eggs appearing not long after.
Any suggestions for making Easter a fun day for kids/family that doesn’t rely on chocolate?
Kids (and adults) should enjoy chocolate at Easter time if they want to. Just be mindful of how much you actually eat and also how generous the Easter Bunny really needs to be. Don’t confuse the amount of chocolate as a reward for children. Some chocolate is absolutely fine, but some fresh seasonal fruit along with it doesn’t hurt either (and you can always eat it, even if the kids don’t).
Is it a good idea to make your own treats rather than buying them?
If you have the time and motivation, regardless of the food, it’s almost always preferable to make and prepare your own food. That way, even if it contains sugar, salt, fat etc. you actually have an understanding of how much of these there is actually contained in the food. Research constantly confirms that foods prepared outside the home (food manufacturers, restaurants, cafes etc) will almost always contain more sugar, salt and fat (because these are the flavours that make foods taste good) than the same food prepared at home. Taking time to cook with kids is an incredibly valuable health and life skill.
Any other tips for making Easter a healthier holiday?
Get outside and get active. Enjoy each other’s company. If you can, try switching off and not checking emails and / or social media for a few days. Take time to prepare and enjoy meals with friends and family.
Note: This blog post is an edited version of a health and lifestyle article written by media nutritionist Kristen Beck for the Manly Daily Newspaper.