Developing healthy eating habits for kids often takes more than just asking them to eat what is prepared.
‘Healthy eating habits’ is a very critical project once you have kids. ‘Healthy eating habits for kids’ is a project that needs 4 to 5 times attention and concentration everyday for it to become self sustaining. Welcome to parenting!
Often parents dread the thought of developing healthy eating habits for kids. While some are lucky to have kids who finish meals without much difficulty, there are others who constantly worry about the quality and quantity of their kids’ meals. Healthy eating habits for kids would also help them not to fall sick frequently and boost the immunity simultaneously.
While feeding kids is not a cake walk (or can we even associate this term with kids and food at all?!), here are some parenting tips to make it more manageable.
Face it – healthy eating habits for kids cannot be achieved overnight! As I said earlier, this project is very critical and would need your patience, planning and discipline to set a daily routine for them. It could look like a very exhausting process at the beginning, but you will see the results when the kid accepts – ‘this is what we eat at this time’.
The daily routine need not be very mechanical. For example, setting a rhythm would look like having only rice, dal, veggies for lunch and not some chips just around lunch time. Rhythm needs to be maintained unless for reasons like traveling, not keeping well, festivals etc.
I know there are many firsts and milestones with kids. The first time they crawled, walked, talked, grown out of diapers, eating on their own etc. Often parents get so overwhelmed that they start praising too much and offer rewards like candies and toys if they eat on their own.
While it is hard to conceal such happiness, try not to make it a habit and thereby conditioning the child. Instead start with small servings and credit the child on making it a shining plate/bowl. Being able to finish the entire meal on his/her own should itself be a matter of achievement.
We are fortunate enough to have a pleasant weather throughout the year in most parts of the country. We need to make the best use of this fact and let the kids play outdoors, at least for an hour everyday. All the running around, jumping, climbing etc would be fun and as well tires them enough to be hungry. If the child stays indoors all the time and there is not much physical activity, we cannot actually say anything about the child not eating well. Along with the meals, we should also be able to prepare a hungry child.
When you feel the child is ready to eat on their own, give the process enough time and effort. It would be messy; they are bound to throw tantrums and definitely will not go as per your plan, but just don’t give in yet. If the child refuses to eat well for lunch, don’t resort to some bread and jam or some other fast foods immediately.
Start with small portions of nutritious meals, have patience and increase the quantity gradually to improve the healthy eating habits for kids.
I know many of us switch on the TV while having meals. However it is not a great idea especially when kids are around. They might just eat few more spoons to make you happy but it is also setting a difficult to break, unhealthy routine.
Keep the screen and meal times separate if you cannot do without offering some screen time. For starters, you can tell a story while your child is having a meal instead of TV/tablet/mobile phone. It is important that the child understands the concept of sitting in one place, eating on his/her own, while enjoying the flavours and being cognizant of what and how much is being eaten.
Make food a good part of everyday to stimulate all their senses.
Are you going to the vegetable market? Take your kids along. Are you cooking? Ask them to pound with mortar-pestle, squeeze the lime juice, water the mini terrace vegetable and herb garden, wash the veggies, mash the potatoes, crumble the calcium rich paneer, mix the cake batter during baking, set the table, de-seed the pomegranate, clean the kitchen counter, pluck the grapes etc. – and the list is endless.
The more creative you are, the more you can get your kids involved in cooking. Due to reasons like demonetization, never ending Bangalore traffic and seeking only organic vegetables, I tend to order my veggies and fruits mostly online. It is my child’s weekly activity to sort the vegetables/fruits, put them in different bags and to store them in refrigerator.
In most families, kids are fed first and then the remaining family has dinner. While this sounds good only in the baby stages when you introduce solids, at some point you should make the baby a part of family meals.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a family meal together. It is a bonding time of sharing food and thoughts and enjoying the whole process. Kids observe how his/her mommy and daddy are eating – who are eating well on their own. This might take some time to seep into their little head, but steadily they get the idea of eating together by sitting at one place till the meal is finished.
If family meals are tough to achieve everyday due to busy schedules, then make sure that at least one meal per day is made as a family meal with either mummy or daddy giving company to start with.
When you have kids at home, it is more about how parents inculcate healthy habits and it is just not limited to food. It is about what we eat, when we eat, how we eat because a little guy is watching you all the time and would consider you to be a role model.
Any healthy habit that you want to set it right for your kids should start from you. A parent should be ready to unlearn and start learning things yet again along with children. The more sorted the parents are, the more sorted is a child’s rhythm, and a healthy rhythm is all she/he needs during childhood for that strong foundation for future.
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Image source: By National Cancer Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons