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How to make kids eat without a fuss? Teaching kids these healthy eating habits will help them all through life. Here are 10 tips:
Before teaching your kids to eat, it is important to take a step back and analyse your family’s eating habits. What is the role of food in your family? Do you have a family mealtime? Do you shop for and cook food as a family? It is important that you introspect about your food habits before you start teaching your child about your food. Are you a good role model?
Talking about food with your child when you are introducing first solid food to her helps to create an interest in the child’s mind. Common vegetables/fruits (e.g., carrots, banana, apples) and cereals (e.g., rice, wheat, barley, oats) are good to begin with. Introducing a wide variety food within a short time span may confuse a child and can be overwhelming for their tummy. Each passing year you can keep adding a few new items thus creating a colourful food palate by the time they turn 5 years of age. Allow them to choose their favourites when shopping, ask for their opinion when you cook, ask them to set the table by the age they turn 4 years of age.
Some children have a cautious approach towards life; they may be unwilling to experiment. They may not be keen on trying new types of food due to its unknown texture and taste. Some children may eat smaller portions or less frequently than others. It is important that you understand your child’s temperament and her appetite. Also remember, a tired, over-excited, upset or sick child will not be able to eat well.
Children should be able to eat on their own from 1-2 years of age. Encourage them. They will make a mess in the beginning and that is part of learning, as parents we need to accept this. We also need to teach them to respect food and not play or waste it. Stories about how humans learnt to grow food, how much a farmer needs to work to grow rice or wheat, seasonal fruits and vegetables can make them aware about what they are eating. With time, you can introduce your child with knife-and-fork or chopsticks and teach them how we use different cutlery for different cuisines or forms of food. This will help when you take your child to restaurants.
A routine of 3 meals and 2 snacks per day can keep a child up and running for the entire day. Implement rules like ‘meals only in the dining area and not while watching television’. Family mealtimes are good for small kids to observe and imitate adults. Avoid too many instructions during mealtime. Eat mindfully in their presence, they will take the cue. It helps if you cultivate a habit of cooking at least one meal per week as a family. Children learn the process of preparing a meal and they relish a self-cooked meal. A child above 3 can help with baking, mixing, washing, and measuring under adult supervision.
Chocolates or instant noodles are readily accepted but many children don’t like regular healthy meals. Overdoing it and obsessing about nutrition can overwhelm children. The trick is to indulge them once in a while with junk food. You can have designated “junk food times”and make them responsible for their food choices. You will be surprised to find that they quickly learn to relish a salad as a side dish with a burger.
Let your children explore new kinds of food through food programs on television, books and games. Give them ideas for art and craft projects to do with food. They can make tablemats or a menu card. Take your child to supermarkets, corner shops and fruit vendors. Indulge in role-play as chef, parent, waiter, shopkeeper, farmer, or baker. Many online games on food can be interesting for both of you. Ask your primary school-goer to read the labels on packaged food and discuss alternative sources for the ingredients. Ask them simple questions like, a packet of cornflakes contains iron, but how else we can get the same mineral?
Collaborate with your child’s day-care, discuss what kind of food they offer to your child, and ask for tips. You can occasionally be part of their breakfast or evening snack-time and see how your child behaves and eats among others. You will be surprised. Arrange picnics or baking club activities at home and help your child figure out that food is also a part of social activity.
Fussy eating habits create anxiety among parents. This leads to a vicious cycle of coaxing, bribing, nagging children to eat their food, ending in a power struggle and frustration for both adults and children. To avoid the daily struggle, some parents opt to feed their children as old as 7. Avoid these situations. Talk to them instead of switching on the T.V. Some parents try to hide the vegetables in soups or daal, or end up leaving out some essential nutrients. Find substitutes instead. Try salads with dips, or soups with croutons. For lactose intolerant kids, forcing them to drink milk is not an option; try tofu or soya milk instead.
Be patient when your child is learning to eat. Don’t expect to make your kid eat all the broccoli or prunes at one go. It takes at least 20-25 times for a child to start liking or accepting a new food. So patience is the key. I made a pact with my 5 year-old that even after trying 5 times if she didn’t like the taste of a food, I would not force her again. That has never happened. By the third or fourth time, she has accepted a new food item. Keep portions small and encourage kids to take additional helpings. Be relaxed during meal times. Food is our basic need; it should not be introduced by force.
These are my tried and tested tips to take the stress out of mealtimes. How did you teach your kid healthy eating habits?
*Photo credit: Olivier B (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
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