Parenting: Tips to Ensure Healthy Eating Habits in Children

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Oh! My child is a poor eater? This sounds like a cliché, no doubt, but happiness is akin to good health; no wonder we wish good health and happiness to all our loved ones. Good eating habits from the very beginning give great energy levels and a healthy body and mind. Let’s tread the initial phases in our child’s life when food is introduced and habits are formed & parenting plays a role.

We usually find healthy food recipes from many sources. Well, this article provides you with tips to arrange ways and means to inculcate a habit formation in your little one to relish healthy food.

The Food Fuss

We begin with the pediatrician’s nod to introduce fluids, fruits, semi solid and solid diet. We look so convinced till the time the food time table is on paper but the practical aspect sees us caught up in a whirlwind as the food fuss creates havoc in our life. We try to incorporate tips and suggestions from the experience of mums in the neighbourhood, our mums, grand mums and aunts. Then we have the web world or the internet family, books and newspaper articles that talk about baby food, baby health and baby tastes buds. The result is an over possessed mind that creates an upheaval.

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Who Creates The Fuss?

Here I wish to share my own parenting experiences and early realizations. I would hover over little Tanya with a bowl of baby food. My body language was jittery and I expected my little one to sit like Buddha and eat without moving much, listen to me and follow my instructions. At other times my unpreparedness spoiled everything as I would give her a banana till the time her khichdi would cool down. Well! I realized that my baby was listening to my jittery ways and was simply confused with my incoherent instructions. I was expecting a seven month old to sit comfortably and eat as I jumped about, creating a noisy disposition. What a circus it was! Then one day the moment little Tanya whimpered a bit because of hunger; my husband asked me to get her food.

Tanya spotted the bowl and showed a lot of excitement. Quickly my husband coaxed her to settle down as he shaped his body to become a recliner and began to feed her. He silently fed her the first few spoons. This helped our little one to satisfy the strong hunger pangs. Next when she settled down a bit, he began to talk to her. His sweet nothings kept her intact on his lap as she responded and also continued to receive spoonful of food in-between.  Oh! I sat like a pupil, absolutely dumbfounded at the miracle of a peaceful demeanour the duo exhibited. Like a magnanimous teacher, my husband gave me a chance to feed our baby in the same manner and it happened. The moment she wriggled out; her dad just left her and did not force feed her. Moral of the story is: As mums we huff and puff to create a fuss. Be natural, be prepared and be calm.

Let’s explore the various stages in the baby’s life which if understood well can actually make meals and parenting an enjoyable treat  … a promise for a healthy lifestyle.

Six Months – One Year

Follow the advice of the pediatrician. We generally start by introducing rice-gruel and move on to mashed bananas, vegetable soups etc. Children of this age group generally communicate their likes and dislikes effectively by spluttering or spitting and smacking their lips. In the beginning small amount of food should be introduced. Moreover it has been experienced that babies begin to splutter but slowly learn to appreciate the taste. Introduce slowly and one dish at a time for the baby. Like this we get to learn the preferred tastes. Taste the food before feeding to the baby so that you learn to know the baby’s taste buds. Also don’t be in a hurry, prepare food in advance so that you serve it to the child at room temperature. If Citrus fruits are to be avoided as they can cause allergies then mashed bananas and apple puree with honey are great healthy foods that are relished by babies. Egg yolk is considered safer and whites are best avoided as per the doctors.

A Word of Caution (parenting tip)Any symptoms like vomiting, fever or rashes or even gastrointestinal infections need to be reported as they may be hints of some food allergy.

One Year – Two Years

This phase is a bit taxing as children begin to show independence and have a wider variety of food to pick from. This is also the phase when little ones learn to throw tantrums to eat what they want and most of the time what they wish to choose may not be the ideal choice. Packaged fruits or any other fruit juice,potato chips, cold drinks, small eats like namkeens etc should be done away with. Yes! All these items are junk food.  The junk may take care of hunger pangs instantly and  pamper the taste buds but in reality give empty calories and are not nutritious as compared to the goodness of home cooked fresh recipes. Meals should be prepared a little in advance as we tend to give a convenient food item due to the unavailability of a meal.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This age group start eyeing nuts, raisins and candies and pick fistful of the same to stuff their mouths all day long. The little ones swallow some, don’t chew the rest properly as they are not equipped with the right set of teeth to grind and above all do not show any interest in proper nutritious meals. Why would they? The solution is to keep nuts away, to grind them for nutritious recipes of snacks like cakes; desserts etc. and be in readiness with  healthy food for the three main meals .i.e breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A word of caution (parenting tip) : nuts, raisins etc can lead to choking hazards. During outings we need to be careful even with popcorns that can choke the little one in no time.

Three Years – Four Years

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This is an interesting phase wherein children learn to taste new varieties at school. From home baked cookies to cakes, from upma to stuffed parathas… your children will come up with great demands. In fact you will realize that what the child normally rejects at home is savoured in the school environments with peers.

 Take the initiative to introduce a food time table in school. This initiative introduces the child to healthy eating habits. Group dynamics is miraculous and children learn to relish fruits, vegetables and a whole lot of healthy food. In no time you will exchange recipes with other mums from different socio-cultural backgrounds. Wow! This promises variety in your kitchen and a healthy life style. Begin with small groups and keep contact with mums around so that you share healthy recipes and ensure a unique plus healthy menu at the same time.

A Word of Caution (parenting tip): Do not give pointed forks in the tiffin box on fruit days as it is difficult for the teacher to take care of so many children during the lunch time. At times children end up injuring themselves or others with unsafe cutlery. Use baby forks and spoons which are blunt.

Five Years & Above

Children grow to have great appetites. Avoid junk food at all costs.  Here mums need to be firm and take initiatives to introduce healthy food habits. One such initiative is ‘Friends Club’. Yes! Invite little ones for a small get together. By this age they are generally independent and like to be with their friends. Let them make cards or narrate stories. Creative activities should be followed by snack party. Introduce paneer and cheese sandwiches, salads, soups or healthy drinks like lemonades, fresh fruit juices or buttermilk. Be a little creative and decorate the fruit or salad plate to attract children. All of these recipes are easy to make. They aren’t very time consuming and savour the little ones taste buds. We did this when our kids were small and they looked forward to all such events. Some learned to eat chapattis without a fuss and some others learned to have mixed vegetable pulav without leaving out the veggies. Pulses, rice, dosas and mixed vegetable cutlets …. just everything was relished by them. Children are always more fussy with their own mums. They gobble up all food items when their peer groups are around. Fix days for such events so that it is convenient for all.

Image courtesy of nixxphotography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remember! Daily home cooked nutritious meals gift health and energy levels to our babies. Unhealthy or processed snacks lead to life style diseases like obesity, diabetes etc. Habit formation calls for family meals wherein the entire family sits to eat nutritious meals.  As a mum you are nothing less than a domestic Goddess who cooks with a dash of love, nurtures her family and takes care of their health. Don’t stuff junk in your refrigerator if you really want to give health benefits to the whole family. Spread happiness and energy levels through healthy food. May God bless you and your family with good health and happiness! Happy Parenting!!

 

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