By Chef Niklesh Sharma
Every adult has fond memories of childhood and chief among such memories is gorging on snacks. Looking back, most realise that their youth was inseparable from snacking. Yet for many, unhealthy eating habits acquired in their childhood prove damaging later in their lives.
As children grow older, their love for snacks is replaced by a fondness for other things. They may not love snacks as much as they did during their childhood, yet they may snack excessively because of poor eating habits that were not checked at the right age.
Parents concerned about their children’s health know it is essential to teach the right eating habits at a young age. One of the primary concerns of most parents is that their children eat too many snacks during the day. Not eating nutritious meals at the right time and eating unhealthy snacks between meals are recipes for poor health.
There are easy ways parents can ensure their children acquire healthy eating habits. A few ways parents can help children overcome their daily snack problem are as follows.
Stock the right foods
Children can only eat the snacks parents bring into the house. When parents don’t bring unhealthy foods into their homes, their children don’t have the opportunity to eat them, simple.
A kitchen and pantry filled with junk food is too strong a temptation for most children to resist. Parents who stock unhealthy snacks in their house will discover their children throw tantrums when denied such snacks. For children to overcome their daily snack problem, parents should choose to buy healthy foods. Fruits and fresh juice are great substitutes for cookies and soda. Fill a refrigerator with nuts and fresh juice so that when children want a snack, they eat something healthy.
Of course, parents shouldn’t completely deny children’s delicious snacks. They should set aside one day a week when children eat a snack that indulges their sweet tooth, when selecting such meals, its best to choose those made from wholesome ingredients and which contains fruit. A slice of fruit cake or freshly baked cookies are ideal snacks when consumed in moderation.
Let children select the food
Parents should give their children the freedom to select which snack they want to eat. Doing so serves two purposes; children are given the freedom to choose what they want to eat and develop greater maturity. When parents let children choose what they want to eat, children appreciate that they are being treated as adults.
Some parents may feel that letting children choose what they want to eat gives them too much freedom, yet parents who follow the first step and stock food that is healthy should not worry. Children will have the freedom to choose their snack, but they will only be choosing among nutritious items.
Let children waste food
Recently, Indians parents have copied an idea from the playbook of Americans; the idea being that children must finish everything on their plates. When children eat meals, making them eat everything on their plates is a good idea; however, when snacking, parents should give children the liberty to waste.
Unfinished snacks mean fewer unhealthy ingredients inside children’s bellies. So unfinished bowls of ice-cream or leftover slices of cake, far from leading to poor eating habits, satiate children’s sweet tooth and don’t harm their health. When a child consumes enough of a snack, parents should give them the liberty to leave it unfinished.
Cultivate children’s tastes
Children’s likes and dislikes for food begins developing as early as when kids are babies. Parents should encourage kids to sample different kinds of food, especially healthy food. Letting children sample a variety of food will lead them to accept it. Toddlers may need to test food multiple times before they begin to like it. Older children should be encouraged to eat a single bite to judge whether a food is delectable or not. When children develop a fondness for health food at a young age, they are less likely to be tempted by unhealthy snacks.
Let children experiment with food
Children should be allowed to experiment with new food. Yes, they love burgers, pizzas, ice-cream, and hotdogs but this list of food isn’t exhaustive. There are plenty of other kinds of food; on outings, children should be encouraged to try them. When children experiment with food, it leaves them open towards different types of food, making it easier for parents to get them to eat healthy snacks.
Stock up on these healthy snacks
Besides bringing about a behavioural change in children by exposing them to new kinds of food, parents should stock the following healthy foods. Crackers should replace cookies. When served with cheese, crackers are a wholesome snack. Fresh yoghurt can be served when children have a craving for ice-cream. Bread with raisin, fruit loaves, and toasted muffins are tasty and healthy snacks children will love.
When healthy eating habits are ingrained at a young age, children enjoy better health as adults. Complete abstinence from snacks is likely to cause children to eat unhealthy snacks secretly. A balance of healthy snacks and gentle nudges that create a liking for healthy food will lead children to adopt healthier eating habits. Children nudged in such a manner will shun unhealthy snacks or eat them only in moderation.
(The writer is founder of the Academy of Pastry Arts Group)