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Keep your family healthy, safe during the holidays

Q: What can I do to keep my family healthy and safe this time of year? Are there any supplements you recommend?

A: We are headed into the holiday season, a time traditionally marked by spending time with family and friends, eating yummy foods, and celebrating. It’s also a time that may be marred by infections, accidents, and injuries.

There are no supplements that can take the place of eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and exercise, getting a flu shot, and taking safety precautions to help ensure your family’s health and well-being. Additionally, many supplements have not been tested for safety or effectiveness in kids and teens.

Your best bet is to try to maintain healthy habits during this busy time, be present and thoughtful in your activities, and follow some commonsense preventive measures.

Spending time together in the kitchen cooking can be a wonderful way to create memories and tasty dishes.

Cooking is also a great way to teach math, encourage the trying of new foods, work on fine motor skills, and to teach adolescents and teens an important life skill.

The kitchen can also be a dangerous place for burns and injuries if safety precautions are not followed.

To prevent burns, try to use the back burners on the stove and make sure to turn the pot handles away from the front of the stove. Also, try to not place hot food near the counter’s edge. Show kids how to use pot holders to protect their hands from hot dishes, how to turn appliances on and off, and demonstrate the safe use of knives.

Even toddlers can be involved with cooking by washing off fruits and vegetables, helping to pour in measured ingredients, and mixing things with their hands. If kids are in the kitchen while you are trying to cook, create safe places for them to play where they won’t be underfoot.

Holiday decorations are a fun way to add a festive feeling at home but can be a source of injuries.

Some plants that are commonly placed in homes for decorations during this time are harmful to kids. Holly berries can cause drowsiness, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and even death if many berries are ingested. All parts of the mistletoe plant are toxic and can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The Jerusalem cherry produces fruit that can cause an upset stomach and vomiting if eaten. Although poinsettias are not toxic, they are a local irritant, causing a rash and skin irritation, and can also cause an upset stomach if eaten. Keeping these plants, as well as detached leaves and berries, out-of-reach is important. If your child ingests any portion of them, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

If you decorate a tree, place breakable ornaments or decorations with small pieces higher up to prevent access from little hands. Check all strands of lights before placing them on the tree to check for frayed wires or broken bulbs. When purchasing a fresh tree, check to make sure that it is not already losing a needles by tapping the tree it on the ground or shaking branches. Cut off the bottom few inches to help the tree absorb more water and make sure that water is always in the tree stand. Artificial trees should be labeled “fire resistant.”

Holiday gatherings are great ways to celebrate with family and friends and can be done safely with a few precautions.

Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, since doing so can allow bacteria to grow and cause food poisoning. Keep choking foods out of reach and make sure to not leave alcoholic beverages unattended. Never assume that someone else’s house is childproofed. Plan on having a responsible teen or adult watching younger kids at gatherings.

When you have visitors, keep purses and bags safely stored to prevent access to medication or choking objects.

Always use seat belts and car seats while travelling, even if it is only for short distances. Buckle infants and kids securely in their car seats before adding bulky coats or blankets. If travelling longer distances, keep snacks, water, and extra supplies, such as diapers and blankets, for unexpected delays.

Many gifts, toys, and holiday decorations contain small or button batteries. If ingested, they require immediate attention at an emergency room as they can cause serious injury to the gastrointestinal tract. Keep all batteries hatches tightly secured, adding tape, if necessary.

Be well and stay safe!

Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to her at