Tips on cultivating good eating habits from young
WHETHER you have a picky eater or a child who will happily eat everything, it is best to cultivate good eating habits right from start. A child who is trained to eat well balanced, nutritious meals from a young age, will retain this habit for life. A child who isn’t given sweets for snacks will reach out for an apple or banana instead. A child who isn’t used to soda will show a preference for water or fruit juice.
Here are some tips on how to do this.
Observe proper meal times. Young children do need to eat meals more frequently than an adult. Mid-meal snacks are important so that they will get enough nutrients for their growing bodies. You can slot in a mid-morning snack, teatime treat and supper but avoid the random offering of food to a child apart from these meals. Snacks can be a cookie, milk and crackers or even fruit.
Don’t worry if a child eats poorly during a meal or snack as the next meal is only a couple of hours away. Nature dictates that a child will not starve to death voluntarily. Do create a conductive ambience during mealtimes and encourage the child to sit at the table till everyone else has finished. Eating in front of the television is definitely a no-no. Instead, play soft music in the background as this has a calming effect and helps digestion.
Eat as a family whenever possible. Meals should be a pleasant experience and a time for sharing and bonding. Switch off devices, leave toys in the living room and keep conversations pleasantly neutral. Avoid arguing and yelling at each other. Limit food choices but, at the same time, keep in mind that variety is a key. Don’t ask a child “what do you want to eat?”. Instead, give options like “Would you like rice or potato?” If a child doesn’t want a certain item, don’t rush to the kitchen to prepare something new. Just give the child more of what he/she wants instead.
Offer appropriate foods. Very young children, for instance, may find deep fried foods and nuts too difficult to swallow. Don’t try to offer a different food at every meal or offer only the child’s favourite food. Children need to get used to a certain food, so repeat an offering even if the child rejects it. To start, offer only one spoonful instead of heaping the food on the plate. Be a good role model: When children see parents enjoying the dish, they may change their mind and give it a try.
As you eat, describe what the food tastes in a positive way so that the child may be tempted. Give water instead of sweet drinks. A child who drinks too much juice or soda will feel full quickly and not be able to eat a proper meal. In any case, there is no nutritional value in soda and canned drinks. The next time you go to the supermarket, bring the children along and take the opportunity to teach them about nutrition and making wise food choices.
Allow them to get dirty in the kitchen. Get them to give you a hand, even if it’s just playing with beans, stirring batter or throwing ingredients into the pot. Children with a sense of accomplishment will be eager to enjoy eating the food they help prepare. Don’t insist on a child finishing everything on the plate or force feed if a child says he/she is full. Allow a reasonable time limit of perhaps 30 minutes and, if a child doesn’t want to eat anymore after this time, remove the plate quietly instead of getting angry. There’s always snack time later.
It’s tempting to say “finish your broccoli and you can have ice cream” but don’t! When food is used to bribe, punish or reward and child will get the impression that such “reward food” is more desirable than the rest. Above all, keep calm and don’t make a fuss about your child’s eating preferences. Too much coaxing will only make both the child and parents unduly stressed and turn mealtimes into battles. This article was contributed by Himalaya Healthcare Malaysia