Preparing Your Family for Winter Weather

You've remembered to winterize your house and your car, but is your family ready? Be sure to prepare your kids and your kitchen for snowy days and long winter nights.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
5 min read

Wintertime. Ice, snow, and, perhaps worse, lots of "snow days" with the kids in the house. Are you and your family "winterized"?

Preparing for unexpected campouts in your living room is not exactly akin to preparing for a terrorist attack, but some of the same precautions apply. Ice can put weight on electrical lines and cut off power, so have the following on hand:

  • Flashlights and batteries; candles are not a wise choice, because in bad weather you can have a fire and no one can reach you.
  • Plenty of blankets.
  • A safety kit for your car, consisting of shovel, sand or cat litter for traction, tire chains, booster cables, a cell phone, extra warm clothing or boots, an ice scraper, small tools, winter sleeping bag or blankets, snack food, water, flashlight with good batteries, matches and newspapers, games and toys, zip-top bags (for elimination if stranded), and a 12-volt adapter coil heater that can plug into the lighter to heat water.
  • Salt or sand for treacherous sidewalks.
  • Safe, radiant space heater (no open coils).
  • Fan for fireplace that blows heat into the room and does not suck it up the chimney.
  • Supplies of medication to last a few days at least.
  • The phone numbers of older or disabled neighbors, just in case.

Larrian Gillespie, MD, author of The Goddess Diet , tells WebMD that winter is all about comfort. "Soups, soups," she chants. "You want to stock your larder for those unexpected snow days. It's hard to make a bad soup. Just add the flavor with herbs and spices and avoid carbs that raise blood sugar such as pasta. Instead use barley and chunky root veggies, such as carrots and turnips. If you use meat, cool the soup first and remove the hardened fat, then reheat."

What else should you load up on?

  • Steel cut oats, for oatmeal, Gillespie says
  • Frozen berries. Great in that oatmeal for any meal of the day
  • Peanut butter
  • Tuna
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Canned juices
  • Crackers/bread
  • Long-keeping milk
  • Vitamins
  • Baby food. And don't forget diapers, towelettes, bottles, ointment, and the rest.
  • Pet food
  • Carrots, squash, and apples. Keep apples in the fridge, she says; they last a month that way.
  • Raisins and nuts
  • A slow cooker

The Department of Homeland Security recommends three days' worth of food.

For those long afternoons out sledding, set the slow cooker to make herb chicken. Put rough-cut celery, onions, and carrots in your pot, add pieces of a cut-up fryer, and bring the water up half-way. Cook for several hours. After a day's winter activity, add some barley and salt and pepper and cook a few minutes before serving.

When pent-up kids need a diversion, cut out bread into stars with a cookie cutter and toast it. Let the kids mix up tuna salad out of mayo, dill, and mustard and spread it onto every point.

If the kids are still bouncing off the walls, mix up some fake Play-Doh: 3 cups of flour, 1.5 cups of salt, 6 teaspoons of cream of tartar, and 3 cups of water. Mix the dough until it balls up and can be handled. Then set the "energy bunnies" to sculpting animals and little cars. If you are the brave type, add food coloring.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends dressing infants and children in several thin layers, such as long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, a sweater, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and a coat. Dress children in one more layer than you would wear.

Children who play outside may not notice they are getting too cold or even experiencing hypothermia, the AAP says in its bulletin, "Winter Safety Tips."

This can go for adults, too, says Gregg Boughton, coordinator of the outreach sports medicine program at Gem City Bone & Joint. He's also head athletic trainer at the Laramie City Community College in Wyoming, where it was 20 below zero the day he talked to WebMD. "The first sign of hypothermia is shivering," he says. This means it's time to go inside, he adds.

Adults and children can also get the beginnings of frostbite, which destroys living tissue, without being aware of it. "The first sign is numbness," Boughton says. Skin can appear gray, pale, or blistered along with the numbness, according to the AAP.

Boughton recommends warming slowly -- even in cold water. It will feel warm, he assures. The AAP recommends not rubbing the affected areas. If the numbness persists more than a few minutes, call the doctor.

Other tips from the AAP and Boughton for outdoor winter play:

  • If your child gets winter nosebleeds from dry heated air, get a humidifier. Saline nosedrops can also bring relief. If this persists, consult the doctor.
  • Bathe every other day or every third day, especially in the case of children. Bathing too often can dry skin.
  • Do not drink alcohol outside in cold weather, Boughton urges. "Some skiers bring along some schnapps and make mistakes or don't see they are too chilled."
  • Make sure to stay well hydrated. Cold weather inspires us to drink hot cocoa and coffee, but we still need water, especially with increased physical activity.
  • Also when skiing, unless you have been conditioning, he says, don't head for the Black Diamond slopes. Children especially, the AAP notes, need professional instruction and must have adult supervision. Remember, the real aches and pains show up after 24 hours. You may wake up and not be able to get up, wasting an expensive trip by staying inside the hotel!
  • While outside for long periods, bring a couple of power bars.
  • If anything, dress a little more lightly than you think you should for snowshoeing, Boughton says. "You can work up a great sweat." He also advises wearing fast-drying textiles for all outdoor play. "Gore-tex is the standard."
  • If you have cold-induced asthma, Boughton recommends packing along your inhaler or taking a puff or two before you leave.
  • Is there sun glaring on the snow? It can be intense! Wear sunblock in winter as well as summer.
  • If you snowmobile, never go alone and never pull anyone, the AAP says. Stay on marked trails and travel at safe speeds.
  • Never play outside after dark. "It's getting dark earlier," Boughton notes. "Be home."
  • If a snowy driveway is awaiting you at home, remember all those shoveling-induced heart attacks that happen every year. More scoops, lighter loads.

Whew. When you get home and are about to collapse and the children still are revving for something to do, bring out the board games. You do have batteries for the video games, right?

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.