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Having a toddler at home is challenging enough, and if the toddler is also a fussy eater then life can become really tough. Here are some tips I can give.
I too have gone through a lot of hard days, bad days and really long days, trying to get my little one to finish his meal. I still remember a particularly exhausting day when I spent almost an entire day preparing one dish after another, as my toddler kept refusing everything.
Better sense and lots of trial and errors helped me realize a few things, that I am sharing here for moms who are sailing in the boat I recently disembarked from!
AVOID adding sugar or salt to the food of a child who is less than a year old. Mom’s milk (and formula milk if you are giving that) has the required amount of both. Also, spiking the taste of purees, kheer or khichdi by adding sugar and salt will only develop their taste for ‘tasty’ or ‘chatpata’ food. These kids would always demand food which is good for the tongue, but not so for the health.
Let them first develop the taste for fruits and vegetables in the raw form. Later on once that is set, you can always add a pinch of salt when they are over a year old. Jaggery or dates are good substitutes for sugar.
Set a specific time for all meals. Children really like structure. They enjoy and expect a certain routine, and that helps the mother as well to maintain a little order in an otherwise chaotic life.
But routine should not mean that a same kind of food is served everyday.
I once read somewhere that a lady was worried because her toddler had given up eating. On asking what she served him, she replied that for all three meals she gave him daliya! Not even an adult can eat the same thing thrice a day everyday, so how will a variety loving kid tolerate it?
Once or twice a week I make sure that I give my two year old pancakes or kheer for lunch. This not only breaks the monotony, but also makes sure that he does not start hating dal chawal – the staple lunch meal. So add a lot of variety, change and reinvent.
This is a very important rule to follow with little kids. I have always been baffled by how people give Maggie and chips to babies as young as 6 months old. And not so surprisingly, most of the times the same people complain that their child eats nothing except junk!!
Extreme of everything is bad, and one can really not avoid these things completely. But please do avoid until you can, and most importantly until they don’t get the hang of eating simple dal chawal, sabzi roti. Junk food is comfort food, we too indulge in it sometimes as adults, but when I was a kid we rarely got our hands on Maggie or soda. And I’m only grateful to my mom for being so strict about it, because now I can understand the importance of good natural whole food.
Not giving them junk food also implies not eating in front of them, because you cannot be saying one thing and doing something totally different. Neither does my kid see me eating chips or noodles, nor does he see them stocked in the fridge, so he hardly asks for them. But that does not mean that I don’t give him any junk at all! Once in a while after a hearty meal I let him munch on a piece of chocolate, or eat a big scoop of ice cream. Again, moderation in everything helps!
Sometimes kids do not eat because we feed them. Yes, you read that right! Because they are want to assert their independence, getting fed and refusing morsels becomes a power game for them.
Let them eat by themselves even if it means a mess on the floor or the dining table. Messes can always be cleaned, but if they eat by themselves they explore the texture of the food and set their own rhythm of eating. Also, sometimes when we feed them we do it in a hurry, giving little importance to the speed with which they can chew and swallow. We see feeding them as a task that has to be gotten over with. Instead, let them experience and learn to enjoy the eating process by themselves.
Most often I hear moms say things like, “my child does not eat this or that” in front of the kid. What happens when we talk about our kids in front of them about a specific thing, is that they do it more. Only because they are being discussed, and which kid does not like to be the subject of conversation?
On the contrary some kids do not like to be discussed at all. So if their parents make their behavior the subject of conversation, the kids repeat the behaviour deliberately, as a sign of defiance or protest.
So bottom line – stop discussing your child’s unwanted behavior in front of them, instead, discuss it with them.
Everybody has strike days, when we don’t feel like eating. Your child has them too. May be because they are teething, or it’s too hot or too cold or just because they don’t feel like it. Let them just be during those days. They will come around, as nobody can stay hungry for too long!
The last but the most important pointer – learn to respect their NO’s. If a child says he does not want to eat, accept it. Even if he has had one spoon, or nothing.
Once they realize that you take their opinions seriously, they will use their judgement wisely. Keep the food back. Let them ask for it or take it themselves later. Do not nag or force feed, else they will develop a dislike for meal times. Remember, bhook mithi toh bhojan meetha!! (A hungry person enjoys their meal best.)
And as my last word, I’ll say that let them play vigorously, so that they are hungry when they come for a meal, and see them eat well.
First published by the author on Facebook
Image source: pixabay