If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?
Do you find your children fussy over meals? Like, you try everything possible on this earth to get them to eat, but all you can manage is maybe a bite of an apple or a sip of milk or maybe bread and Nutella (which no doubt will leave you feeling guilty!!).
I would feel really bad if my child goes to sleep on an empty stomach. And much thanks to mine and his stars, there have been very few occasions when that has happened. Of course, when Du is unwell we don’t push him to eat and he does eat quite less. We give him something bland and light on the stomach and once he’s back fully powered and energized, he gets back to his usual eating routine! 😀
But I know parents who complain that there isn’t anything on this planet that the child likes and it is a herculean task to get some food down for the kid. Well there are a few tips to overcoming this dreadful situation.
1. Meals or eating time should be a family affair.
This sounds really impossible with today’s job patterns and busy schedules. The parents have meals separately. The maid might be the one feeding the child. Or maybe the child is just asked to eat on his own. Just as I would like somebody to pamper me and feed me, a child craves 10 times more for it. So rather than asking him to eat on his own or somebody pushing food down his throat, it would be so different if everyone sits together, shares food, talks lightly, enjoys and has fun while having a meal. The child is drawn to the aura at the dining table and would look forward to spending time with everyone. There are a lot many lessons learnt at the dining table also. Apart from table manners, the child learns sharing, how to eat different foods, how to use foods in combination, how not to waste food, and then the usual conversation the family has.
2. Do not force
It is totally okay if the child doesn’t drink a glass of milk or has an egg everyday. The world or his world isn’t going to end. The first fact that a parent or a child taker should understand is that the child has likes and dislikes too. Even if he/ she is just 6 months!! I see my 7 month old son preferring chocolate over gruel (Of course I don’t feed him chocolate! A lick here and there, maybe! But still, I see him jumping at the sight of chocolate! ).To me, it was a learning! That a child who knows nothing other than the taste of breast milk is preferring something over something. So if your child is refusing to eat something, be mature enough to ask him/ her what she would like then, rather than reminding him/ her of a time-out or a punishment corner. There are times when you have to put your foot down and be stern on insisting them to have a meal, because, at 2 or 3 years, all they think of is play, play and play. So a reminder is nice, but not forcing them to have it. It would also be helpful if you enquire early enough, like while planning your meals, whether your child (maybe as young as 2 or 3 years) would like such and such food or even ask him as to what he/ she would like, you know like taking their opinions into consideration.
3. Bring variety into daily meals
Anything which is routine is boring. The only thing that should be routine is ‘meals 4 times a day’. If you can pull it off, stick to healthy meals, otherwise, 80% healthy + 20% junk is also okay. The same cereal, the same idli-dosa, the same rice-dal or the same soup is going to get any child to walk away from his meal. It is not the child’s fault. Now, an adult might want to say- ‘but this is how we had it in our times!’, which is absurd. If you had it, well and good. But your child, who is another individual doesn’t want to have it. And you have to respect it. It isn’t really all that difficult to incorporate variety foods. After all, we live in a world with many-many-many options. A few surprises here and there would definitely catch your child’s attention and would definitely bring him/ her to the dining table. Most kids are fussy about cow’s milk. Try alternatives like rice milk or almond milk or soya milk. Your purpose is served. They get their calcium. Plus they are happy coz they aren’t drinking cow’s milk!!
4. Do not serve something that you wouldn’t eat
I’ve seen a lot of mothers blending food to give to their infants. Like rice with veggies or even rice alone. Or cooking fish with just salt and turmeric powder (like you give it to a cat??). Before you get ready for the hassle to feed your cutie pie, do pop a bit into your mouth and see whether you like it! To me, all this tastes horrible. Infants, after 6 months (only breast milk till 6 months, they say!) do start chewing and eating. So you really don’t have to mash something beyond recognition. Just that it shouldn’t be too hard for the baby to bite and swallow. Would you eat something cold and left open? (The only cold food I have is ice-creams and maybe salads!) So how do you expect a baby or a toddler to eat something that you’ve left on the table for hours. They will not like it, for sure. And the next thing is that they are going to throw up if you force it down their throat. So always serve food with love. If you want to reserve something for later, keep it in an air tight container. If it’s something that can be heated, heat it up a little and serve it. Vegetables, if cooked well, can be squished with a finger slightly. Just so that the baby can bite it well. Not that you put it in a blender and just destroy it!
5. Eating should be made a habit
From a very young age, like say 6-7 months, when you introduce semi-solids and solids, try to fish out some ‘time’ exclusively for the child. You might not be feeding them a full meal 3 times of the day. But still, try to give them a feeler of a meal time. Eating shouldn’t be something that is done like a pastime. Moreover if you are having home-cooked meals, a child should not be fed at the chef’s (like, whoever is cooking) convenience. On a weekend, you might start your cooking session very late and end up very late. But you can’t expect a child to hold on till then. He/ she should be fed at his/ her time no matter what. So keep alternatives ready always. Another very important tip is to ‘never skip breakfast’. Once the children are age-enough to go to school, breakfast time is the most-dreaded time. Simply because, most often, there is no time to have breakfast and catch the school bus in time. So the only option is to skip. This would be the most careless thing from the part of a parent, I’d say. It is your responsibility (of course, till the child is old enough to do things by him/ herself) to get the child to bed early, to get him/ her to rise early, get him/ her ready for school and of course, give him/ her ample time to have breakfast. This starts their day. Children who have a nice, full breakfast are more energetic during the day. They can concentrate well, they can play well, they are more immune to diseases. So do not make it a habit to skip breakfast. Now, you know why raising a child isn’t all that easy. It is a lot, lot of work!! 😀
6. Do not set new habits during meal times
Many parents get away by feeding their child in front of the TV or getting them outside the house to enjoy the birds and insects and just about everything. This is okay for a day or two. But when this becomes a habit, you will find your child wanting it every time he/ she has a meal. and no doubt they will fuss during meal time once they don’t have it. It would be great if you could get your child to say he/ she is hungry and get him/ her to wash up and settle down in a quiet place and get him/ her to practice to having a peaceful meal. Of course, this doesn’t work always with kids coz they are forever jumping about and playing. But yea, in a while, this will turn into a good habit.
7. Toddler tip
This last tip is exclusively for toddlers. You will find that at around 9-12 months, they want to eat alone. They are eager to dig their hands into the food and mess up and do everything by themselves. Then there is a phase when they totally dislike food (12- 18 months) and want to just play, play and play. Then around 2 – 2.5 years, they like food, but are too lazy to pick up food from their plate and eat by themselves, because they are too busy observing things around, concentrating on their toys more and really doing stuff, than experimenting and exploring. So at this stage, it helps when you try to feed them from your plate. By now, they would be used to your food patterns and food as well. If you try serving food for them separately, they are unlikely to eat. Instead, while you eat, if you feed them a little, they will play and eat, and I’ve noticed – eat heartily!! 😀 Do not worry that this will continue as a habit, because by now, they already know how to eat from a plate. Just that they are too busy with playing (‘lazy to eat’, would be the right phrase)!!
Now, even if you do all this to your best-est capacity, there is no guarantee that the child will eat. Use your rationale to trouble-shoot what is wrong. Children imitate parents or grown-ups. So if you are the kind who digs into junk food, or the type that loves skipping meals, do not be surprised if your little one does the same. You need to have good food habits to instill such into your child. One thing to always remember is that children require constant affection and love. You cannot shower them with kisses while you leave for work and then order them to have food. No it doesn’t work that way. Instead, if you make them feel loved, prepare food with love, talk and play and serve it to them lovingly, I am sure the difference is going to be HUGE. Do not think of food as satisfying someone’s hunger alone. It should nourish his/ her soul as well. Children associate memories, home, love, nostalgia , all with food. So do not mess up a child’s love for food, right from his/ her childhood, because you follow bad food habits.
But then, like they say, ‘my-child-isn’t-eating-properly’ is only a rich man’s problem. The poor man has no choices. He eats everything. Let’s remember to be grateful for every bite we take. Let’s bring up our children with such sensitivity. 🙂