The holiday season is stuffed with ample opportunity for savoring once-a-year treats. There are Christmas cookies, candy canes, and whatever the hell a “sugar plum” is. Some of the goodies, including gingerbread men, seem pretty much made for children. Others, like hot roasted chestnuts and booze-laden sponge cakes, feel out of bounds. But eggnog occupies a unique place in the holiday treat hierarchy. The homemade versions amped up with bourbon are an obvious no-go for kids. But what if the booze is taken out? Is the thick stuff that just arrived on the grocery shelf next to the half-and-half okay for children?
When it comes to older children, the answer is a bit more complicated so it’s best to start with the babies, who shouldn’t be exposed to the stuff. “Babies under the age of one should only drink breast milk or formula,” stresses pediatric dietician Melanie Silverman. “If babies are given cow milk before the age of one, this can cause intestinal bleeding. Breast milk and formula are easier to digest and have the correct amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to optimize growth.”
Have a homemade nog recipe that ditches the dairy? There could still be a problem with raw eggs. The ingredient poses a significant danger to little kids and children who are immunocompromised because it can harbor salmonella.
As kids get older, their immune systems stabilize and most become capable of digesting dairy. Eggnog becomes a potentially reasonable treat as kids hit the 18-month mark (best to leave a bit of a buffer). But that doesn’t mean parents should start pouring pasteurized nog like water.
“According to the American Heart Association, kids ages 2-18 should have less than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day,” says Silverman. “Eggnog has a good amount of sugar in the drink that could bump a kid’s intake for the day. The fat can also be high if a large dose of cream is part of the recipe.”
That said, even nutritionists like Silverman have to admit that high-calorie and high-fat foods are part of eating during the holidays. So stressing about fat and sugar isn’t the way to go. She recommends to just think about alternative treats, noting that there’s no reason to introduce a drink that kids may not be exposed to outside the home anyway. “There are plenty of other delicious holiday foods for kids,” she adds.
Silverman also suggests making sure that both kids and parents are staying active during the holidays. A bit of running around can help to mitigate the harmful effects of all those big meals. But, as she also points out, it’s worth remembering that family meals — specifically family meals uninterrupted by technological distractions — have massive psychological, social, and even health benefits for kids. So if you’re child is going to drink eggnog, the best way to go is to sit next to them (ideally in front of a fire) and make a moment of it.