Tips for keeping the holidays safe, healthy and stress-free

shutterstock_115651108 (1)Stumped about what to give your child for Christmas this year? It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of toy store hype and holiday marketing. The Thriving staff checked in with caregivers from Boston Children’s Hospital to see what they had to say about how to make the most of the holiday season. It’s no surprise that safe and healthful options topped their holiday lists.

The healthiest toys

 “When buying gifts this season, remember that experiences and toys that encourage interactive play are the healthiest. Toys that encourage pretend play (like a cooking set), experiences (like a trip to the zoo) or homemade gifts (like a coupon book—turn in one for a special one-on-one afternoon with Daddy) are all more meaningful and better for development than high-tech toys and screens,” shares Jennifer Gingrasfield, RN, MSN, pediatric nurse practitioner in Boston Children’s Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders.

There’s another benefit to minimizing high-tech toys and screen time. Research suggests excess screen time can contribute to sleep problems, says Gingrasfield.

Ankoor Shah, MD, PhD, from Boston Children’s Department of Ophthalmology, says, “We suggest giving your child the gift of outdoor activities, such as a hike through the woods. There is emerging scientific evidence that more time spent outside in early childhood may lead to less nearsightedness when children get older.”

“The Hunger Games” and keeping kids safe

“Give the gift of safety,” says Eric Fleegler, MD, MPH, from the Division of Emergency Medicine. Thirty-four percent of children in the United States live in households with firearms, representing 22 million kids. But fewer than half [of these] families store their firearms locked and separate from ammunition, and 13 percent store them unlocked and loaded—representing 2.6 million children in 1.4 million homes. “If you own a gun, keep your family safe,” urges Fleegler.

The safest place to store a gun is outside of the home (e.g., [in] a safety deposit box or [at a] shooting club). Otherwise, guns can be safely stored using locked boxes, trigger locks and cable locks. These devices are readily available online and at stores as varied as Home Depot, Walmart and gun stores.

Guns aren’t the only weapon that can harm kids, notes Shah. With the popularity of shows and books like “The Hunger Games,” “Brave,” “Walking Dead” and “Arrow,” there has been a proliferation of toy crossbows and arrows for children and teens. “Unfortunately, these toys are leading to serious eye injuries, and we recommend avoiding them in all age groups,” says Shah.

Healthy snacking

It’s easy to overdo it on cookies, gingerbread and other sweets during the holiday season. Healthy snacks are a great alternative. Nuts are rich in magnesium, healthy fats and fiber. They make a great snack on any day but can also make a great appetizer during the holidays. Try this recipe from Boston Children’s Department of Nutrition.

Spiced Pecan Recipe~ makes 2 cups


  • 1teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1⁄4cup (packed)light brown sugar
  • 1tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups pecan halves


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (163 degrees C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with ample parchment paper or aluminum foil to hang over the sides of the sheet.


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, chili powder, cumin, allspice, cayenne, cinnamon and paprika. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. As soon as the butter melts, add the sugar and soy sauce. Stir until the sugar dissolves, and then stir in the spices and stir to combine.


  1. Add the pecans and toss to coat them in the spiced butter. Cook, tossing and stirring frequently until the butter is absorbed by the pecans, 2 to 3 minutes. Spread the pecans on the baking sheet and bake until the nuts are fragrant and toasted, and the coating is caramelized, 13 to 15 minutes. Let the spiced pecans cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.