Humans are habitual creatures. We start making habits from the day we land on earth and continue living around them until the end. Like everything, healthy eating is also a habit – rather a good one. In this post, we see some tips about introducing this habit to our children, so that they cherish it for the rest of their lives.
All around me, I have mothers who complain of their children being picky eaters. It is a word that has come into being in the recent past. Truth be told, I was a picky eater as a child. But no one knew it had a name back then. An example of how my pickiness used to affect my mother when I was young is this: my mom used to make three different dishes in the morning before I went to school. First, the normal breakfast that everyone else in the house would eat that is typical south Indian dishes like dosa, idli, appam, puttu etc. Second, the special breakfast for me, rice gruel/soup (kanji as it’s called in malayalam). Since I loved kanji, it was one foolproof way to make sure I went to school with a full tummy. And thirdly the tiffin to be packed for midday. She used to make either chapati/puri/sandwiches – all my favourites during school years (not the cheese and cucumber type but the ones with masala inside and toasted to perfection). Yeah, call me mean or selfish or heartless. But at that point, I never knew the effort my mom was putting in, to ensure that I was having a balanced diet. Now I know and I really appreciate the effort she has taken. But she was unable to instill in me, the love of food. So now you know that I was a picky eater and it would not have been easy for my mother to make me eat.
There are many theories to why a child becomes a picky eater:
- One theory claims a lack of exposure to variety of food from the early years. Don’t just give them mashed or pureed food, let children try out all textures and flavors from the age of 1 or earlier depending on your child’s interest
- Another theory says some children have a heightened sense of taste and smell, making it difficult for them to eat certain kinds of food
- A third theory claims that children and their body know what nutrition and to what extent it is required. So they tend to reject what their body don’t need
Whatever the reasons or theories behind a picky eater, it calls for a very harried mother. I can imagine the stress my mom would have gone through when I wouldn’t eat half of the things she cooked for me (and mind you, she’s an excellent cook). Luckily for me, my son is a healthy eater *Touchwood*. I don’t know if it’s because I have done something special or it’s just the way he is but here are a few things you could do to get a child excited about food and eating.
- Involve them in the process of selecting fruits and vegetables. Take them shopping to a farmers market (if possible) or a regular supermarket and ask them which vegetable or fruit they would like to eat on a particular day. It gives them the sense of independence and choice which we hold back from children most often. Work your menu around these ingredients and try to incorporate as many vegetables and fruits that you can. We have done this with ours son since he was 1 and half year old and now at 3 and half, he even tells us to buy fish or chicken after enquiring about the availability of each at home. Selecting the fruits is completely his domain.
- Try and involve them in the cooking process. Be it a girl or a boy, a kitchen is a place for all those who need food. The younger ones can help in mixing vegetables or making their own smoothies. The elder ones can actually help in cutting and cleaning. Our son likes helping out in the kitchen, so he helps in removing the skin of onions, mixing the ingredients of a cake, pouring it out into pans, he also helps in setting the table. This ensures that he is also involved in the whole process around food and cooking.
- Let them assemble their own meals. Making funny faces on their sandwich, drawing a smile with the sauce are ways to give children a sense of control over what they are eating. We haven’t tried this yet, but I am sure a little older children would really love to do this.
- Surround them with good role models. Be it parents, siblings or friends of the same age group. When children see others eating healthy, they are inspired to do the same. If you binge on chips and coke in front of your kids, they are most likely to pick up those habits too. Healthy binging can be on fruits and nuts and you can always replace the aerated drinks with smoothies and fresh fruit juices.
- Try to make meal times as fun and light as possible. You may be worried that your child is not eating well, but try not to bring that worry to the table. It will surely affect the way the little ones perceive food and form their earliest and strongest associations about food.
As a wise mother once said,” It is our job to bring healthy food options to the table. It’s their job to decide what and how much they want to eat”.
So what are your tips and suggestions to make our children healthy eaters. Share them as comments to this post and we are all ears.