“If you make me eat cabbage, I will die!” my 6-year-old daughter wailed when I mixed cabbage with peas at my lunch table. The ultimate horror! But then, she’s hardly the only child to declare mortal danger from cabbage. Others eat only white food, won’t go near nutritious veggies like spinach or beans, and even make ‘yucky faces’ on occasions of having to eat salads or curd along with their meal.
In fact, there is an increasing recognition of eating disorders within the multicultural Indian population according to a study in Indian Academy of Paediatrics. Though most fusspots among children are common, and tend to lessen with age, you probably still feel that you should do something if your child is living off Domino’s Pizzas and MacD burgers every other day. Here are some tips to tackle pickiness and encourage healthy food choices for your child -
Get Over with the Power Struggle
The parent is often at wit’s end when children try to control their worlds and doing that through food comes naturally. Yet, these challenges are a normal part of life and you can’t force your child to do anything, lest make them force-feed a morsel — so stop trying. Let go the emotional provocation. Stay Cool.
Simply offer healthy and varied food on her plate – and eat them yourself. She can eat hers, or may choose not to, but you’re showing her how.
Establish an Environment that Encourages Kids
Even if it means he tries out only a single morsel of food, encourage your child for it. For example “It’s great that you tried mommy’s soup” sends a signal of positive reinforcement, and encourages kids to try new foods, without sounding pushy.
Another way is to pitch them in – let them pick out items at the grocery store, and enlist their aid in the kitchen. Children feel important when they are asked to help out and are more likely to try out the finished product.
Snacking In-Between or Not
If your child wants to eat in between, or consumes only a small portion at any given time – fret not!
As the size of their stomach grows, so does time between meals. By one year, most children are eating 6 times a day; toddlers tend to eat every two to three hours (or 5-6 meals), while preschoolers go 3, or even 4 hours between meals. As long as over the course of a week, they are consuming things from each food group, it’s okay if your child doesn’t eat three square meals.
Let them have choices, Be Creative
Many children develop food aversions to certain types of food – some may not like its colour, smell or texture. If your child doesn’t prefer eating meat, or dislikes yogurt, do not press further. Your child can still get all the protein he needs from: pulses, eggs, fish or soya so that he or she isn’t deprived of its essential nutrients. Similarly, we all know that greens are rich in vitamins like A, C and K, but the same vitamins can be found in other foods such as carrots, egg yolks, sweet potatoes and fruits like apples and citrus foods.
You can also prepare interesting food choices such as his favourite crackers, layered with mixed with cooked veggies, and a layer of cheese baked over it. Or, how about a mini-tuna or sandwich wrap with lettuce and tomatoes; or sneak in the vitamins by making yogurt smoothes with strawberries and bananas. As a parent, there are many ways to camouflage and incorporate the healthy stuff to tip-toe around food aversions and/or your kids ‘yucky’ faces.