HOW TO RAISE FEARLESS EATERS
A positive outlook to food will shape healthy eating habits
Over time, we have become more aware of the importance of healthy food choices. It is the quality of food more than the quantity, that has a detrimental effect on our future health, and just as we must focus on quality with our food decisions, it is the quality of our children’s eating habits that sets them up to make better food choices. There are several attitudes we can adopt when it comes to parenting our children’s eating habits. However, it is more important to set them up to learn how to eat well so that they are able to maintain that attitude even in their adult lives. Offer them a variety of foods when they are little: This does not mean that each meal should have 5 entrees for them to pick and choose from. It is much the opposite. Offer them one dish at each meal. However, through the course of the day and week, they should get to try several different vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, and meats. It is safe to introduce meats as early as seven months, especially if non-vegetarian options are on the menu at home. Do not be afraid to let your child try some. Even with infants, upgrade their textures regularly until they are eating table foods, and do not be afraid of what you are exposing them to. Of course, this is once you have ruled out allergies by introducing each new food for three consecutive days. You will be surprised by how much a toothless child is able to chew – their gums harden and are extremely strong. Children get pickier with their meals after the first year of eating. Make sure that by that time they have crossed their first year mark, they have been exposed to several different food groups, flavours and tastes; it will help cultivate their palette and give you an idea of what they really like, once their preferences kick in. Follow their cues: Once they are eating, allow your children to control how much they want to eat, and when they are full. Children who are pushed to eat beyond their satiety point, grow up learning to eat beyond when
they are full, and are likely to have issues with obesity later. When they are turning their head away, spitting, saying no, or not eating anymore, take their cues and understand that their meal is over. If you still feel like they haven’t had enough, you can sit them on the table a little while later and offer something else, but do not panic and force-feed them. Also, try not to immediately offer them an alternative. This will teach them that they may get yummier food by refusing their first meal. One of the things children love to do is put their hands in their food, feel the texture, and even play with it. Encourage it, particularly for early feeders. The better they know their food, the more likely they are to embrace it, and eventually eat it. This will also teach them to feed themselves. Let them play with the soft spoon, and try to get it into their mouths. They will miss the mark at first and ruin many sets of bibs, but eventually will learn to feed themselves when they are ready. Family table: The most important way to set them up for feeding success is by having structured mealtimes as a family. While this is not always practical, it goes a long way in fostering healthy food habits. The fact remains, children are our best imitators. They will not only learn to eat the way we do but will also pick up on what we eat, upgrading their food choices. This also serves as a daily family bonding exercise, especially after children learn to talk and share the high and lows of their day with you. It is necessary to ban electronics, toys and television at meal time, as kids are more aware of their food cues when they are not being distracted. Instead, tell them stories to hold their attention and they will eventually be the ones telling you stories about their life, and sharing with you too. While having set meal times is not always practical, sticking to them when you are home and for the most part, teaches children food discipline. They learn to eat at regular intervals, eat what is prepared for them, and more importantly, they learn to not fill up on junk food and dessert while waiting for their food because meal time is just around the corner. However, this is something that you will have to constantly remind them of because children learn through repetition. Eventually, they do learn to comprehend. Everything in moderation: Have you observed that child who goes to birthday parties and fills up on cake and candy, but won’t eat anything else? Or perhaps the one who steps out of the house and is begging his friends and their parents for candy? I have. This tends to be common among children who are not allowed anything sweet or interesting at home. Sweets are everywhere, and even as adults it is hard for us to control our sugar intake. For children, this is just as hard if not more, since their impulse control
is lower and they do not have our logic and understanding of what is healthy and what isn’t. Instead, allow them to eat the sweets they want, but in moderation. Do not use it as a reward for finishing their meal or homework, because you are teaching them to value the sweet item above all else. Instead, on occasion or when you take them somewhere (or they ask for it), give them dessert in moderate quantities and teach them that they must eat other things as well. This way, when presented with a choice, children learn that they can eat both the healthy and the unhealthy foods, and they even understand what proportions are healthy and acceptable. Preach good habits: Talking to your children about being thin and the importance of weight loss (or your struggle with the same) teaches them to put more value on what they look like, and devalues the importance of eating right. They are absorbing the message of eating less, instead of eating correctly. Instead, tell them about how good, delicious and healthy food, helps you feel better, be more energetic, be on your game, workout, play a sport, or have a sharper mind. But more importantly, don’t just talk about it, live it! They will grow up to emulate what they see you do and how they see you behave. Once our little ones know how to eat, the food choices will come easy. They will be less afraid of trying new foods, and ready for more culinary experiences – all fearlessly, and in moderation.