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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Why do traditions give holidays meaning? They remind us what is important.

A family is walking in the snow to cut down a Christmas tree

What traditions are most important to you, your family, your community, and your audiences?

When you think about the holiday season, as well as holidays throughout the year, traditions are a big part of what creates holiday meaning and memories. Someone’s traditions speak loudly of their priorities.

What are traditions and why are they important?

Traditions are customs passed down from generation to generation and express one’s values and cultural heritage. Traditions are meaningful in many ways. They help us understand where we come from and are part of our identity. They communicate what is important to us.

The family pictured above may have a new or long-practiced tradition of an annual outing for cutting down a Christmas tree. The values it expresses include family time, being in nature, and the smell of fresh evergreens.

What traditions do you use to celebrate the holidays? Lighting candles, baking cookies, holiday gatherings?

A previous post discussed the role of holiday traditions and which ones are my favorites. Check out Holiday Traditions to keep… skip… or break.

Let’s look at why traditions need to be part of our conversation when communicating about food and nutrition.

When communicating nutrition, remember to talk about traditions.

As we communicate about food and nutrition, especially during the holidays – whether we are working one-on-one or with groups – we must pay attention to the traditions held near and dear by our audiences.

Traditions tell us about our audience’s values and culture. What foods are included in their celebrations? Most major holidays have traditional foods that your audiences associate with their family’s or community’s celebrations. Be sure to learn what those traditional foods are and how they are prepared and eaten.

Be curious without being critical. Ask with sincere interest and a nonjudgmental tone. In a one-on-one encounter, use a prompt such as, “Tell me about your favorite food traditions during ____________ (holiday).” A similar prompt can stimulate discussion in a group setting as well.

When seeing a nutrition professional, audiences have a common fear that their traditional foods will be made off-limits. They need to know that their traditions can be kept.

Honor food traditions.

Don’t expect or even suggest that audience members will need to eliminate their traditions. Elimination is rarely necessary. Assure your audiences that traditions are important and should be honored.

When an audience learns that their traditions will be honored, they may be quite open to making small changes, if those changes are ones that don’t impact how the food tastes, looks, or fundamentally adheres to the tradition.

They may be willing to modify how a traditional recipe is prepared or how much or how often the food is eaten to be in alignment with their health goals, but only if their traditions can still be honored.

Communicate clearly that all foods can fit. Sometimes foods fit best by savoring smaller portions, sometimes by adjusting ingredients, and sometimes by adjusting the portions of other foods eaten alongside.

Many websites and cookbooks provide ideas for reducing sugar, fat, sodium, common allergens, and more in recipes. Sometimes the result is just as tasty as the original. Sometimes not.

When flavor, texture, or another sensory quality suffers, eating a smaller portion can meet the same goal without compromising quality. Let the audience decide which approach to take.

Holidays, and the foods we use to celebrate, are one of the simple pleasures of life. They represent family, friendship, faith, fun, and more. Keep traditions alive. Honor them.

“Traditions touch us, they connect us, and they expand us.” ~ Rita Barreto Craig

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