Do you feel that your child turns into a screen zombie at meal times? Well, you don’t have to hang low or feel terrible. You aren’t the only victim of toddler ‘meal blackmail’. We spoke to a number of nutritionists to find out the reasons behind the rise in number of fussy and picky eaters. Here’s what most had to say: “Toddlers are the major target group that express this type of characteristic. With the changing lifestyle and erratic eating habits, children have become selective towards certain food groups. They tend to have a distinct food preference, and prefer not to try new food preparations.”
But, you can turn this around easily. All you need is the seed of a creative idea and some out-of-the-box thinking to make meal times ‘fun’. And, you can do this by actually DEBUNKING the adage, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’!
- 1. Make New Exciting
Yes, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Children are often reluctant to try new foods, and tend to reject them right away. But, you can go a step further by with these easy tips.
Serve small portions along with their old-time favourites. Give your child some easing-in time by allowing them to smell, touch and finger lick the new food. This will encourage them to taste, and maybe even appreciate it right away. Follow the same trick to re-introduce earlier rejected food items.
Make your plating creative; use coloured plates with small pockets for curd or dips, and also try serving food in different shapes such as florets, geometric patterns or heart shaped fruits and veggies.
Incorporate food from all groups. This means, if the child dislikes any one of the food items, then try to introduce an alternative from the same food group.
Involve your child in grocery shopping and even during cooking. This will help them develop interest in food.
- 2. Meal Time is Family Time
The age-old rule of having family mealtimes is one of the best solutions to tackle fussy eating patterns. The reason being: Children often look at their parents or elder siblings as their role models. They tend to eat just like everyone else on the table. Also, family mealtime is a great way to introduce other healthy habits such as:
Washing hands before and after meals to avoid infection
Dropping unpleasant experiences during meal time
Explaining one benefit of nutrition or health
Introducing rules that will make mealtime special and fun for everyone
- 3. Avoid Empty Calories
Calories made only with sugar or fat are known as empty calories. This means these calories are not healthy for your child. These calories are often found in foods like biscuits, cola drinks, chocolates, ice creams and other junk items. You can break the fondness for these empty calorie foods quite easily, with these pointers.
Try not to introduce these food products almost completely
Keep these food items in the fridge or cupboard – basically away from your toddler
Give them healthy, yet easy-to-make, snacks such as sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, laddoos, groundnuts, instead of biscuits or other junk
- 4. Keep kids away from external distractions
In addition to fussy eating habits, today’s parents are often seen struggling with the concept of ‘screen-time’. This is the time spent by a child staring at mobile phones, computers and television screens. Exposure to such distractions causes the child to either overeat or under-eat, thus leading to ill-nourishment during the growing age. This further leads to mindless eating practices and poor health benefits. You can avoid this with some simple measures:
Try to minimise your usage of these devices around your toddlers as much as possible. This way, they won’t be tempted to indulge in any screen-time
Recite a story and make them visualise pictures of the narrated story
- 5. Set Realistic Goals
Remember, when it comes to setting boundaries, as a parent, you shouldn’t worry about your child’s judgement. This is because drawing too much attention will encourage them to further misbehave. Here are some ways to keep your goals realistic but effective.
Engage children in food preparation. Give them some simple tasks like sorting veggies, preparing sandwich, packing their own tiffin box, serving food and so on. These tasks will ensure that the child opts for healthier options and takes more interest in food
Allow your child to eat as much as they would like. A child’s appetite keeps changing, therefore avoid forcing your child to eat more; let them eat enough as they tend to suffice their requirement.
Play task games. Assign a task that will motivate them to have a particular food preparation.
Lastly, do not compare a fussy kid with their sibling or friends. Kids are very sensitive to emotional behaviour; nurture them with utmost care.
Author: Megha Terse, Senior Nutritionist