10 ways to raise a fuss-free eater

Is your fam­ily din­ner ta­ble a bat­tle­ground ev­ery night? Fol­low our ex­perts’ tips for pos­i­tive and fun ways to en­cour­age your child to adopt healthy eat­ing habits. By Khulekani Madlela

Friday - - Living -

We all want our chil­dren to eat well and grow up strong and healthy. And yet all too of­ten din­ner time can turn into a broc­coli-themed bat­tle as you try to con­vince your lit­tle one of the mer­its of a non-chips-based diet. But while some level of fussy eat­ing is nor­mal, be­ing too picky with food can lead to nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies that could im­pact their de­vel­op­ment, lead to eat­ing dis­or­ders later in life or – at the other end of the spec­trum – re­sult in obe­sity.

“All of th­ese can se­ri­ously en­dan­ger your child’s health,” says Mar­jolein El­iz­a­beth Ver­schut, nu­tri­tion coach at Dubai Her­bal & Treat­ment Cen­tre. It’s well doc­u­mented that child­hood obe­sity fig­ures are grow­ing quickly in the UAE, with 30 per cent of Abu Dhabi school­child­ren over­weight or obese*, which can in­crease a child’s risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, pre­di­a­betes, sleep ap­nea and low self-es­teem.

While obe­sity is easy to spot, both nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies and eat­ing dis­or­ders are of­ten not di­ag­nosed un­til a child falls ill, and both can af­fect en­ergy lev­els, de­vel­op­ment and school per­for­mance.

So,while you might never raise a staunch Brus­sels sprouts fan, it’s im­por­tant to en­cour­age your lit­tle one to main­tain a healthy at­ti­tude to food to stay fit and strong. We ask the ex­perts for their tips and tricks...


Stock up on healthy food

“Par­ents should ed­u­cate their chil­dren on when to eat, what to eat and how to choose healthy op­tions,” says nu­tri­tion­ist, Hala Bargh­out. This means keep­ing the cup­boards filled with a va­ri­ety of tasty but nu­tri­tious meals and snacks so that your chil­dren have more op­tions. Swap crisps and choco­late for slow en­ergy-re­leas­ing foods such as dried-fruit rolls, raisins or nuts.


Don’t force them to “clean the plate”

Force-feed­ing your child will only turn meal­times into a war zone. “Re­spect your child when he or she tells you she’s had enough. Re­move the plate when ev­ery­one else at the ta­ble has fin­ished, and don’t use hard words or pu­n­ish them by with­hold­ing the dessert or a snack,” ad­vises Ver­schut. Chil­dren are good at know­ing when they’re sat­is­fied, but if you force them to “clean their plate” they can lose their abil­ity to reg­u­late what they eat, lead­ing to overeat­ing and obe­sity, says Dr Vamshid­har Gu­dichuttu, pae­di­a­tri­cian at Life­line Hos­pi­tal, Jebel Ali.


Make meal­times fun

If your child re­fuses to eat cer­tain foods or is re­luc­tant to try new ones, don’t de­spair. “Kids are more likely to eat if they see it as a fun ac­tiv­ity. For in­stance, you can cut fruit into funny shapes with cookie cut­ters,” says Bargh­out. She also ad­vises play­ing the rain­bow game with your chil­dren, where you count the colours of the fruit that they eat. To make it more fun, Bargh­out rec­om­mends record­ing the scores and stick­ing them to the fridge. Dress­ing up sand­wiches with faces and shapes made from veg­eta­bles and fruit is an­other fun way of get­ting your child to eat well.


Get sneaky

“If a par­ent can sneak in veg­eta­bles, fruit or legumes into their child’s diet with­out al­ter­ing the taste of the dish or drink, then it is a great way to get a fussy eater to eat more healthily,” says Bargh­out. Add an av­o­cado or nuts to a smoothie, or make sauces and soups us­ing veg­eta­bles and fruit.

Mix­ing in veg­gies with their favourite foods can also help, says Mar­i­lyne Lopes, char­tered phys­io­ther­a­pist at KUUR Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre, Dubai. “If your child likes pizza for ex­am­ple, add ar­ti­chokes and rocket salad to the top­ping to in­crease their veg­etable in­take.”


Catch them young

When you start giv­ing your child solids at six months, try to of­fer va­ri­ety to get them used to dif­fer­ent tastes and flavours. When they get older and eat din­ner with the rest of the fam­ily at the ta­ble, Ver­schut ad­vises let­ting them taste ev­ery­thing you eat. “A child who is in­tro­duced to food this way is highly likely to de­velop into a tod­dler with var­ied tastes,” Ver­schut says. When din­ing out, don’t limit them to the chil­dren’s menu – let them ex­per­i­ment and or­der some­thing from the adult menu.


Keep them hy­drated

Good hydration helps young­sters’ bod­ies and minds per­form at max­i­mum ca­pac­ity, and can also help them dis­tin­guish be­tween true hunger and thirst. Ex­perts rec­om­mend en­sur­ing a high fluid in­take en­com­pass­ing wa­ter, milk (which con­tains cal­cium and vi­ta­min D), co­conut wa­ter (which is low in sugar but high in potas­sium), smooth­ies (which re­tain more fi­bre than plain fruit juices) and her­bal teas. Add a slice of or­ange or lemon to flavour wa­ter if your child doesn’t like it on its own, Bargh­out ad­vises. If your lit­tle one is al­ler­gic to dairy “try soy, al­mond or rice milk. Make sure you get the cal­cium-for­ti­fied al­ter­na­tives,” says Bargh­out.


Adopt a ‘no for­bid­den foods’ pol­icy

Hav­ing a strict ban on one type of food tends to back­fire, mak­ing chil­dren want the for­bid­den food­stuff even more than be­fore. “Ex­plain the sit­u­a­tion to them,” says Lopes. “They should know what con­sti­tutes healthy food and what can be eaten only oc­ca­sion­ally such as cakes and cook­ies.”


Don’t use food to re­ward or pu­n­ish your child

Food is a ba­sic need and chil­dren should be con­fi­dent that what­ever they do, they will be pro­vided for, says Ver­schut. When you use food to make a child feel bet­ter (re­ward) or bad (pun­ish­ment), chances are they will im­ple­ment this strat­egy in their adult life and it could lead to an eat­ing dis­or­der or binge eat­ing, which is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with obe­sity, Ver­schut warns. The big­gest re­ward a par­ent can give their child is at­ten­tion. “Play with your child, talk to them, take them to a nice place and read bed­time sto­ries with them. To pu­n­ish them you can take away priv­i­leges,” ad­vises Ver­schut.


Be a good role model

Chil­dren nor­mally ob­serve and copy what, how and why their par­ents eat, says Dr Gu­dichuttu. Par­ents can serve as role mod­els for healthy eat­ing by lead­ing by ex­am­ple; for in­stance, buy­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles and healthy snacks, eat­ing a va­ri­ety of healthy foods and ad­her­ing to fam­ily meal­times.


Limit screen time

Re­search re­veals that chil­dren are more likely to snack on junk food while watch­ing tele­vi­sion. It’s im­por­tant to set rules and cut down on the time your young ones spend watch­ing TV, play­ing video games or us­ing the com­puter. Bargh­out rec­om­mends us­ing some of the free time for ex­er­cis­ing. “En­gage them in fun phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties like swim­ming, jog­ging or go­ing for a walk. If chil­dren see you ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly in­stead of slump­ing in front of the TV, they are likely to join in and ac­cept it as part of their daily rou­tine,” she says.





‘ChildChil­dren are more like­ly­lik l tot eat t if they see it as a fun ac­tiv­ity’

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