How to turn con­flict into con­tent­ment at meal­times

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Em­i­lie Gold­stein Mikulla

If you feel like meal­time with the chil­dren is more of a bat­tle of wills than a chance to con­nect with each other and build healthy- eat­ing habits, you are not alone.

Whether you are deal­ing with tod­dlers or teenagers, en­joy­ing a meal with­out hav­ing to fight through protests, ne­go­ti­a­tion and tears can be a chal­lenge that isn’t al­ways easy to tackle with tenac­ity – let’s face it, it some­times re­quires a se­ri­ous dose of hu­mour.

Giv­ing chil­dren the best pos­si­ble start in life by teach­ing them to make smarter food choices can set them up for health­ier life­styles as adults, avoid­ing obesity and re­duc­ing the chances of di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion in the process.

Beyond ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren to eat bet­ter, pro­vid­ing a wide ar­ray of nu­tri­tious foods rich in vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants is cru­cial for their phys­i­cal and men­tal devel­op­ment. Dr Hala Fikri Mo­hammed El Ha­grasi, a con­sul­tant and head of pae­di­atrics at Bur­jeel Hos­pi­tal in Abu Dhabi, says nutri­tional de­fi­cien­cies can not only de­lay bone growth and devel­op­ment, but also men­tal devel­op­ment, with the po­ten­tial ef­fects in­clud­ing a lower IQ, at­ten­tion-deficit dis­or­der and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

“It is im­por­tant for chil­dren to have a var­ied diet be­cause their bodies are still grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing,” she ex­plains.

“Dif­fer­ent foods con­tain dif­fer­ent vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, which the body needs to grow and func­tion prop­erly. A de­fi­ciency in one nu­tri­ent can cause a chain re­ac­tion, caus­ing a de­fi­ciency in another nu­tri­ent. For ex­am­ple, zinc and pro­tein de­fi­cien­cies can de­lay bone growth and devel­op­ment, which can re­sult in long-term com­pli­ca­tions for the child’s growth.”

But how do you per­suade a child who turns up his or her nose at healthy food such veg­eta­bles, fish, grains, pulses or fruit, with­out hav­ing a meal de­scend into a frus­tra­tion-fu­elled event?

“Ed­u­cat­ing your child about the ben­e­fits of cer­tain foods may help them be­come more will­ing to try new foods,” says Ber­nadette Abra­ham, a nutri­tional ther­apy prac­ti­tioner and well­ness coach in Dubai, and a mother of four.

“For ex­am­ple, wal­nuts look like the brain, and are good for the brain. Cel­ery is long and strong like bones and it helps keep your bones strong. Broc­coli helps fight can­cer. Spinach helps build healthy cells.”

In ad­di­tion to shar­ing nutri­tional wis­dom, Abra­ham also rec­om­mends dis­guis­ing fruits and veg­gies by blend­ing them with other, bright- coloured foods such as toma­toes and berries, or turn­ing them into soups or purées.

Other proven strate­gies in­clude sit­ting down to eat as a fam­ily as of­ten as pos­si­ble, of­fer­ing praise for be­ing ad­ven­tur­ous in food choices and cook­ing to­gether.

School coun­sel­lor Amarylis Har­ris says she uses such tac­tics with her 6-year-old son, with good re­sults. “Cooked greens have al­ways been most prob­lem­atic for us,” she says. “Rather than stress­ing about the need to eat broc­coli, we sub­sti­tute for the greens he does like – green beans, peas and mangetout – so that he still has an ar­ray of colours and nutri­ents but with­out meal­time bat­tles. Mak­ing food to­gether is also help­ful. He’s never been a fan of avocado, but when we make gua­camole to­gether he’ll gob­ble it up.”

No amount of coax­ing or tricks will con­vince a child to make wiser de­ci­sions if you are un­able to heed your own ad­vice.

“You can’t ex­pect your chil­dren to eat Brus­sels sprouts if they don’t see you eat­ing them,” says Abra­ham.

“Par­ents can set a good ex­am­ple by be­ing a good ex­am­ple. Eat­ing slowly by putting down your fork in between bites and keep­ing liq­uid bev­er­ages to a min­i­mum with your meal are also healthy habits they can mimic.” Anna Eriks­son, a mother of three boys, aged 3, 6 and 8, sets a good ex­am­ple by steer­ing clear of sug­ary foods and drinks.

“I try to not have un­healthy foods and drinks in my house at all,” she says.

“If they see such things around the house I know there is a risk that when I’m busy, or just tired, I won’t have the en­ergy to deal with the con­flict and will there­fore just cave in. Plus, I don’t think I would be set­ting a good ex­am­ple for them if they saw this stuff around the house.”

Ul­ti­mately, though, there is no easy so­lu­tion to get­ting a fussy eater to try more nu­tri­tious food, and chang­ing at­ti­tudes takes time and ef­fort.

What­ever your style of par­ent­ing – whether you choose to ed­u­cate your chil­dren about the ben­e­fits of healthy eat­ing, im­pose a ban on snacks between meals, adopt a more re­laxed at­ti­tude, or com­bine strate­gies – what works for your fam­ily is the right choice.

Ber­nadette Abra­ham of­fers a learn-to-teach pro­gramme for par­ents who need help with mov­ing their chil­dren to a health­ier diet. Reg­is­tra­tion for the next pro­gramme closes on Tues­day. Visit www.BHealth­ierKids.com

Sarah Dea / The Na­tional

Ber­nadette Abra­ham, a nutri­tional ther­a­pist and mother of four – from left, Is­abella, Theodore, Vanessa and Vin­cent – says blend­ing healthy foods with oth­ers they en­joy en­cour­ages chil­dren to eat health­ier, as does cook­ing and eat­ing to­gether as a fam­ily.

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