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The Linkage Between Playing and Eating During Holiday Times

Sarah itzhaki, PhD. Clinical Nutritionist & owner of Toys’NTales, specializes in family therapy for overweight management using toys & games

One for all...

What’s in a good game or toy? A variety of play options for one. What’s in a good food item? I dare say the same. How’s about a potato? This brownish, not-so-appealing-to-the-eye, vegetable can be made into a variety of dishes, most notably in this upcoming holiday season – mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and Christmas or Latkes (deep fried potato pancakes) for Chanukah or simply mundane French fries. These dishes which stem from the same food item differ so much that many may like one version and not the other. There is a taste bud for everyone. Crossing over to the toy department, yet keeping in-line with the motif is the renowned Mr. Potato Head, that wonderful classic toy for all. Every child at any age may spend hours playing with this all-time favorite, constructing real faces, silly faces, role-playing, everything goes, there is no right or wrong. My daughter has a blind friend who enjoyed playing with this toy envisioning faces through the tips of her fingers.

… And all for one

The very foundation of a healthy child, both of body and mind, lies upon fulfilling his needs. The requirements for a sound child development cannot be answered by consuming one type of food or playing with one toy; only a wide variety of play-stuff and food items can provide the entire array of necessary nutrients. Nutrition and play also complement each other, as a balanced diet, sensitive to the body's needs, encourages play and learning. Dr. Toy’s Smart Play Smart Toys(1) is a wonderful place to read an in-depth review about the play needs of all children.

Moreover, play can serve as a way to learn about a balanced and rich diet (a great variety of toys and games are available on this topic)(2), the kind that connects between the needs of the body and the mind.

A well balanced holiday table will therefore provide food items from all food groups, turkey for protein, potatoes and corn for carbohydrate, soup and salads for vegetables, cranberry sauce for fruits.

But don’t over-do it

moderation is the key word. Research shows that the amount of food we consume is positively correlated with the number of types of food there are on the table, many types and you overeat. I once took my nieces to a large toy store allowing them to choose their birthday presents out of the endless variety on the shelves – we left empty handed. Nothing at all is the-other-side-of-the-coin of too much. So there you have it, food-wise or toy-wise, overwhelming options results in a meltdown.

Yet, another plus of moderation … it’s easier on the pocket.

Know when to stop

you know when you overdid it a minute too late, unbuckling your belt once you’re about to explode from all the yummy holiday delights, or when your overplayed child bursts into tears. The trick is to stop that one moment before.

So happy together

The family meal, just like a family game, serves as a basis for the development of a well-provided and happy child as family members spend time together, converse about the day, laugh, share and play.

Yet, do you know that eating with company increases your food intake by ~ 100%? Take note, the average American may eat as many as 4,500-6000 calories on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day! (3) There goes one pound and more in a single day…. Oh yes, one Sufgania (the jelly donut for Chanukah) equals no less than 400 calories mostly from fat, ergo its Hebrew name which means absorbing (…oil).

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So how about cooking a dish which combines play and food containing all the pros of each eliminating the cons for the sake of the most prevalent concerns of our era – overweight and holidays!? Let’s spice up the holiday meal with games that may steer us to the lighter side of the holiday (light as in glow, fun, and bellybutton) by making us more aware of the sense of this elusive satiety.

Picture my plate

Who has the most colorful plate? Arrange your food into a picture, take a photo, upload it to my web-site and share… oh, yes you can eat it too.

No seconds for minutes

set the timer, start to eat, you can’t have a second serving before 20 minutes are gone by and the buzzer goes off. Talk, laugh, place your fork down between bites, chew well, feel the taste, savor the aroma. Are you really hungry still?

Coordination game

Left handed people eat with your right hand, and vice versa, it may be impolite and messy, but, hey, isn’t that part of the fun? Plus it slows you down for sure. Who keeps at it the longest?

Winner comes last

the last person to finish his plate is the winner.

These games are not only fun, they connect you to your family, make for funny conversation and most of all connect between your mind & body by slowing your food consumption enough so satiety may travel from your belly to your brain. That way you may have the cake and eat it too.

Indeed, play, much like nutrition, is a means to nurture body, mind and soul. Nourishment, hunger-satiety, feeding, sympathy – these are all appropriate terms for describing our needs in relation to the world of play and nutrition. Happy holidays!


(1) Stevanne Auerbach (Dr. Toy). Smart Play Smart Toys. Educational Insights. 2004.

(2) Cooking games for children

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