Let’s face it: Feeding children can really be a challenging task and no matter how much time you spend in the kitchen, the verdict might always be the same- ‘not hungry’, looks bad’, ‘ or ‘will eat later’. Which one do you get to hear may simply be the luck of the draw.
Still, enthusiasm for good food can be infectious. Children who eat well and don’t fear variety are most often part of households where cooking and sitting down to meals is part of family life. They take adults as their role models and are more likely to imitate their eating habits.
This collection of tips is designed for both picky and adventurous young eaters. The suggestions given are provided to guide the parents of fussy toddlers, picky school goers and stubborn teenagers alike. Are we not all trying to find ways to encourage healthy eating habits among our children?
- Start by stopping comparisons– Just because your neighbor’s child eats a plate of salad with each meal and never fusses about chicken sandwich with green fillings does not mean that yours would also. Instead of trying to force baked beans and fruits into your child’s throat, give them ample freedom to choose the food and also the amount to be eaten..! Now that of course does not mean that we allow them to have bagful of wafers and French fries , just because they choose them…the idea is to add joy to eating and making meal times fun times rather than forcing healthy and nutritionally sound foods on their plates. Buy bright colored dish wares, cut interesting shapes and sizes for sandwiches, give funny names to dishes or arrange foods on plates in a creative pattern.
2. Distract them- Hand over a sheet of paper and a few crayons or a pencil to your toddler or read out a story book to your pre-schooler to help divert his attention and make meal times, fun times.
3. Avoid giving options– Once on the dining table; you need to ensure that your child is served the same dishes which have been served to everybody else. Avoid including too many ‘this or that’ in your menu. If the child refuses to eat what is served, hoping to get something of his choice as a snack later, try converting what you had made for dinner to a snack. The chances that the child would eat that snack is pretty bright since he is already hungry and has the pleasure of knowing that he had actually refused the meal served earlier. It works for the parents too as they can avoid meal time battles and convert the same meal into a snack and serve later.
4. Don’t completely refuse the entry of Fast Foods in house- Avoid branding fast food as ‘bad food’ or create a big uproar about it. Treating it just like any other food item and convincing your kids that these foods can be had but only in small proportions and only after finishing their snacks is advisable. Keep them reserved only for special occasions, rather than banning their entry into the house, which can end up making their desirable quotient higher.
5. Involve Children in Shopping for healthy foods- Grocery shopping with children induces their involvement in selecting and later cooking the meals, so the chances of the meals eaten by them go up.
6. A food should never be used as a Reward or Punishment-
It is a common tendency of parents to treat kids with chocolates or punish them by withdrawing their favorite food from the menu. Avoid this behavior complelety as food should ideally never be used to shape behavior or build character. These usually don’t work out in the long run as the message which goes out is that you may misbehave, but you can not eat your favorite food or in away misbehaving is acceptable till you agree not to have a particular food.
7. Minimize serving drinks or juices during meals- The kids most often fill themselves with these drinks and then refuse to eat later. Water is always a better fluid choice for drinking than carbonated beverages. If you wish to give the juices (in between meals), ensure that they are freshly extracted or 100 percent pure juice.
8. Eat Together and be a role model by Setting Examples-It is of utmost importance that you yourself eat healthy and display good dinning manners if you want your child to do so. Practice what you preach and they would imitate you!
There is no pleasure like the pleasure of watching your child eat. Go ahead and try the possible permutations to get your child to eat.
Written by Panchali Moitra for Parenting India magazine.