By Amita Bhardwaj
The time for the child to start making his or her own food choices is typically also a time for a host of power struggles. If not handled correctly, meal times can soon become a time when as a parent you start to bargain for every bite. Above everything, it is important to remember that toddlers are learning to navigate their world and that culinary choices are typically one of the early aspects where they want to exercise their choices. Here are some tips that will come in handy so that you do not land up negotiating, one bite at a time:
This is not to say that the toddler should decide the menu each day. However, it will help to offer healthy options to the child from which he can make his or her own choice. In fact, a range of healthy options will help in developing the taste buds and the inclination towards exploring different kinds of food, a habit that will stand them in good stead throughout life. Your toddler doesn’t like those beans the first time around? Don’t stop serving them and instead re-introduce them at an appropriate time. Also serve small portions and encourage your child to try a bite without nagging or forcing. Food preferences are typically established early in life and it is therefore important to not give up on nutritious food. Sure, the child may like chips and coke better, but if you don’t stock them at home, you minimise the chances of the child taking to junk food early. Instead, offer a range of healthy alternatives for the child to choose from.
Do not pressurise the child to eat
Often, in our parental love, we forget an important thumb rule, that children are more in touch with their natural appetite than adults and will more often than not, eat enough to remain healthy. Force-feeding therefore doesn’t serve any purpose, other than to destroy the child’s natural appetite. In fact, adults with food aversions can often trace them to the fact that they were force fed a certain type of food back in their childhood. It has been seen that pressuring children into eating may actually make them eat less. An experiment where one group of children were told to “finish their food” and the other allowed to eat as much as they wanted, showed that the children who were asked to finish their food, actually landed up eating less than the ones who were left to themselves.
Both threats and rewards may not work
Using dessert to entice the child to eat spinach or punishing him for not eating it, may not work as a long-term strategy. If anything, it turns meal times into negotiation sessions. Instead, offering choices and keeping the overall mood positive during mealtimes helps the child develop a healthy relationship with food.
Offer right-sized potions
As parents we tend to err on the side of overdoing the portions. Remember that for a child small portions are less overwhelming, especially if it is a food that he or she doesn’t quite like.
Allow the child to feed himself
Finger feeding at about 9-10 months and eating with utensils by 15-18 months typically works well for children. Try not to worry about the mess the child creates or the time that he or she takes to finish the food. Remember that by allowing them to be in charge, they are learning to recognise their own hunger cues as also learning the mechanics of self-feeding.
Have family meals together
Make meals a family affair with the child’s place at the family table. Seeing the parents and siblings eat healthy is a natural way to encourage the child to eat well. Similarly, toddlers are likely to eat healthy if they see their peers doing so. Opportunities of healthy eating with friends should therefore be grabbed.
Stick to structured meal times
It will work best to have fixed meal and snack times, so that the child doesn’t take to eating on demand all day and hence does not recognise when he is hungry or full.
That’s quite a bit of food for thought, isn’t it?
(The writer is VP-Curriculum, Footprints Childcare)