9 healthy ideas for your family’s holiday Elf on Shelf, Mensch on Bench

It's that time of year when the Elf on the Shelf and the Mensch on a Bench, the magical elf's Hanukkah counterpart, return. Leading up to Christmas, the elf heads back to the North Pole to tell Santa Claus about the adventures of the day. Each morning, the scout elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun.

The mensch (a Yiddish word that means a good person, a person with integrity and honor) arrives on the first day of Hanukkah. (This year, Hanukkah begins on the night of Sunday, Dec. 2 and continues through Wednesday, Dec.10.) Similar to the elf, the mensch, infused with holiday magic, watches over the family, appearing each morning in a different spot. Families give him the Shamash candle when they wake up each day. Each evening, if the kids have behaved, he easily lets go of the Shamash candle. If they've misbehaved, he holds the candle tight, and the kids might not get any presents that day.

In addition to these magical dolls monitoring good behavior during the holiday season, the elves and mensches can encourage healthy habits — from eating fruits and vegetables to engaging in different physical activities. In fact, some of these elves and mensches love oatmeal for breakfast and do yoga to exercise.

This year’s Elf on Shelf usually returns this week, with many returning on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Strong4Life has put together a list of all sorts of ways the elf and mensch can encourage healthy habits. Here are nine ideas for fun and healthy adventures to get you (I mean the elf or mensch) started:

Elves and mensches love fruits and vegetables. Your elf or mensch can strike a pose on the kitchen counter surrounded by colorful raw veggies. Maybe the elf uses an erase marker to write a message on a nearby window or mirror: "Santa loves his fruits and veggies!"


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Elves and mensches love yoga. Your elf or mensch might say "namaste" with a nice, big morning stretch and yoga pose. Get sluggish kids going by having them do "child's pose" each day before school.

Elves and mensches enjoy healthy snacks. Your elf has taken a dive into a healthier snack, such as a bowl of popcorn! Next time you're watching a family movie, remind kids that you're replacing that box of candy with something more nutritious.

Elves and mensches like to lift weights. Everyone knows elves are champions of strength. How else would they be able to carry around so many presents?! Santa makes sure his elves stay strong, so he gives them straws to use to drink plenty of water and milk. Inspire your child to do the same!

Elves and mensches love to race. Your elf wants to sack race! He supplies big paper sacks so your kid's other toys can race. Let kids decorate their sacks, then race them to the finish line. Next, it's your kid's turn to race!

Elves and mensches love to get outside. Whether riding bikes, jumping rope or walking the dog, elves and mensches enjoy being active outside. Hook the elf's hand to Fido's leash and write an "Elf-Gram" asking kids to take the dog for a walk because it's good for him — and them!

Elves and mensches love oatmeal. To prove it, yours can pour some oatmeal on the kitchen counter and make a snow angel.

Elves and mensches can share recipes. Your elf may want to show kids what he or she likes to eat at the North Pole. Maybe the elf conveniently leaves a recipe for "Santa's Favorite PB&Banana Wraps" on the kitchen counter.

Elves and mensches love physical challenges. Have you heard about the elf that left an Elf-Gram that reads, "I did five pushups last night. How many can you do?"