Healthy beginnings: How to start healthy eating for children early
What does your dinner table look like? Are your breakfast scenes all about convincing the kids to finish their veggies off their plate and have ghee instead of processed jam, and ketchup with their Rotis/Paranthas? And for God’s sake, eat without watching YouTube cartoons on your phone? Well, healthy eating for children today seems like a far-fetched dream with all forms of junk and processed options you wish didn’t exist in the supermarkets at all. Right?
“She doesn’t like Beets. Radish neither!”
“Chutney? Huh, all he wants is mayonnaise even with the Dosas. (Sigh)”
“I pack *ABC* fruit juice in their bags, because they’re just not going to eat fruits; no matter what!”
These, as parents, have also been our desperate yet brazen sentiments towards the foods our children eat and drink.
Diving into the past decade, where most of us are rummaging through illustrious careers and really busy schedules, frequent eat-outs and food-ordering apps have almost become a modern day savior. Not to ignore the number of processed foods and ingredients we hoard in our pantries.
No matter how cliche and redundant this may come across to be, healthy eating for children at an early age is a quintessential aspect of raising them. That’s because the ‘super-convenient’ and haywire eating styles of today are largely responsible for lifestyle disorders, most of which manifest into growth issues, childhood obesity and Type-2 Diabetes, hormonal concerns and heart ailments at a ridiculously young age.
Not many of us want to be aware of the fact that currently, India stands 2nd in the world for childhood obesity. And this stat is certainly not something to be proud of. Is it?
As we keep getting into a flap over cultivating healthy eating for children, here are 7 easy ways to craft a supportive environment for your children to eat healthy early on in life. Yes! Cutting through tantrums, WITHOUT any yelling or nagging scenes at the table. 🙂
As per research studies, flavors of foods that pregnant & lactating moms ingest are passed on to the baby via the amniotic fluid during gestation & later, through breast milk.
So, one can almost deduce that infants & toddlers are very likely to be familiar & hence more receptive to the taste of foods that the mother has been habitual of consuming. Hence, as a passive method, it would be recommended that breastfeeding moms eat and drink nutrient-dense foods.
Likewise, fathers are equally responsible for imbibing & supporting a healthy food culture at home and beyond for the children.
If you always give in to your kid throwing fits at you guys for not buying him or her some random junk food from the stores, remember one thing. Here, it’s more about this erroneous habit that you’re unintentionally nurturing than the piece of junk your child is going to have for that one time.
Be a Role Model
At the same time, there’s nothing as effective as being an example of yourself.
As the adage goes, children feel inspired to learn from SEEING than LISTENING.
Well, so far, that has worked quite nicely with our 6-year-old daughter. We rarely stock our snack dabbas or the fridge with oily savories, chips, ‘fruit’ juices, and their likes. Instead, we always keep dry fruits, nuts, homemade energy balls, and fresh fruits handy so that she can choose anything among these healthy options, whenever she feels the urge to snack upon something.
The Family Table
No matter how many times we roll our eyes to the saying that screams, “A family that EATS together, STAYS together”, it’s got a relevant vibe to our daily lives.
Let’s be honest here.
What plight does a typical dining table witness these days?
You have the elders (mostly the parents, and not the grandparents of a joint family) scrolling through their phone screens while unmindfully tossing every morsel into their mouths.
Getting your baby (or even older kids) to sit with everyone is one of the most consummate ways to encourage a healthy eating environment for them. So if your baby has started on solids, do consider investing in a high chair for him/her. This subconsciously signals their mind to learn that eating is a ritual that is associated with a certain time of the day in a certain corner of the house. As your children grow, make it a habit to gently give a lunch or dinner call for everybody at home so that they get adequate time to pause or wind up whatever work there were into and join the meal.
In the meanwhile, try to serve their favorite sides on their plates which will motivate them further to sumptuously enjoy the nutritious platter they’ve been served. Try maximum for the ‘favorites’ to be healthier, homemade versions.
While all that is helpful, ALWAYS stick to a SCHEDULE related to snacking and meal timings. This is significantly important in helping young children develop a healthy appetite, avoid random hunger pangs and crankiness due to hunger.
We all have either been that FUSSY and PICKY EATER in childhood, or have children who seem very much the same now. Don’t we?
I’d only say one thing about this.
DO NOT Give Up!
Pursue this with patience.
It’s a natural and perfectly normal tendency of young kids to reject foods; particularly the new dishes; sometimes even those that they loved earlier. From my experience, growing children experience rapidly changing tastes & liking. While your son’s or daughter’s growth spurts may happily trigger an increased appetite, the other days s(he) may not even finish half of his/her plate.
It’s a cue for you to try something different or reinvent that food until the liking may return. For example, when my kid got bored of having her Ragi porridge very frequently as a toddler, I chose to give her Ragi milkshakes or Ragi laddoos/ Ragi cookies instead which she lapped up gladly. Hence, this way or the other, RAGI was in!
In the same perspective, I’d suggest you NOT to ever pronounce or describe your child as a ‘picky’ eater or a tantrum monster, to anyone. Though you may have intentions to correct their eating habits with this, the effort is most likely going to spark a more rebellious attitude towards food that you proudly dub as ‘healthy’ and offer them.
Jacks and Jills of all ‘play’
Physical workout is as essential for growing children as much for adults. And we all know children, by nature, have been designed to love and crave free-play time. Let them be. Never say NO when they want to head out and play with their friends. Physical activity improves metabolism, helps in healthy emotional growth, promotes mutual respect and most importantly, stimulates appetite.
So, sometimes when your child vehemently declines to eat a snack, do NOT force or shout at him. Instead, wait until he gets back home to hunt for food like a glutton!
Get them Involved
In order to support and sustain healthy eating for children, encourage them to lend a hand in making those ‘real’ foods.
This motivates them into enjoying the dish more as their participation in the process gives them a new high. I always invite the kid to roll laddoos, flatten barfis, shelling peas, segregating the groceries, etc.
Peer Pressure & Education
Children continuously evolve when it comes to food. Keep this mind.
Moreover, you can never confine your children to home to prevent them from get ‘spoilt’ with choices of unhealthy food items.
Your daughter WILL go to school where at least two or three of her buddies will bring some or the other tasty and appealing junk food in their tiffin boxes. And she WILL feel embarrassed one day for bringing ‘old school’ food. To which you’d be confused whether to give in and pack a junk or two hereafter in her lunchbox hoping it will come back empty.
Similarly, your son WILL have some family member who’d ‘advise’ you in front of him against being so ‘rigid’ about his food choices, and that occasional junking isn’t going to harm his health.
Well, it’s the EDUCATION that your child gets.
Not from the school. But from YOU. About the basics of NUTRITION and GROWTH.
I personally had a healthy childhood followed by an ‘overweighing’ adolescence, a lot of which I owed to my rampant liking to the processed food items I had become fond of and identified as my comfort foods, overlooking my mom’s constant advices.
Nevertheless, after the birth of our daughter, I began a life totally different from the lethargic person I don’t even relate to now. I chased fitness like never before and ever since my kid started solids, I have been extremely conscious and particular about whatever she eats or drinks.
Thus, in my case, I have a gradation of experiences that stemmed from lifestyle and food habits, that I’ve always honestly shared with our kid. Children absorb real life inferences much better than lessons that sound like boring sermons.
Hold on, you may or may not have a Fat-To-Fit story to narrate to your kid for inspiration. That really doesn’t matter.
Show playtime-like enthusiasm while checking their weight and height at regular times of the year. If your child has outgrown his/her growth chart that comes in the medical file, maintain a journal where you can note down their stats in front of them. Whenever there’s an increase, appreciate and cherish them for eating whatever nice food may have been helpful here.
Discuss food labels on food items and explain what possible damage an ingredient would indicate. This is a very effective tip to sustain healthy eating for children.
Of late my kid had taken to liking a packaged juice brand after she got it as a return gift. But I recently sat down to read out and discuss the ingredients’ list on the pack with her. As she gasped at that and curiously asked why the drink was allowed to be sold, she consciously announced that she’d never have that again. And well, it’s been over a fortnight of it being in my fridge!
Talk to them about the diseases that these fancy foods tend to cause in our bodies. Also about their repercussions on hormonal well-being. Tell them whatever you know about empty calories, preservatives, artificial flavors, addiction and stunted or accelerated growth. Discuss the basic nutrition facts of the common fruits and veggies in terms of vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and carbs. Teach them about the role of hydration and why constipation isn’t really a normal spectacle to put up with.
Trust me, all this is never going to go in vain.
And it’s this education that will empower them to tackle peer pressure later on in life. Because, when they know what’s good, they don’t have to be dictated or manipulated into not eating the bad.
I know parenting is crazy, but beautiful. How do you ensure healthy eating for children at home?