Kids Refusing to Eat Healthy? Start by Raising a Happy Eater
Flipping through her Instagram feed, 13-year-old Samira starts feeling ravenous.
She barges into the kitchen to find her mom. But her mom is busy with a client call.
Frustrated, she glances inside the fridge and finds nothing to eat in the well-stocked fridge.
It is an ironic situation where kids spoilt for choice, hunger, and dissatisfaction rule supreme.
Angry debates and discussions often happen over mealtimes when kids demand something new, different, and exotic every time.
Samira’s mom, Neha Sundarajan, an interior designer, tries her best, but Samira is unhappy. “I am overwhelmed about to cook as nothing I cook is to her liking”, Neha shares.
Today, we are constantly bombarded with information on food and healthy eating.
Even a young child knows that health depends on what you eat.
Green vegetables, sprouts, salads, fruits, and lentils are important. Still, when it comes to eating, most kids want junk food with empty calories.
Nutritionist and Dietician Avni Kaul shares, "it is quite normal for children to like something one day but dislike it the very next, or to say ‘no’ to new foods, and to eat smaller or bigger portions on any given day."
Children become finicky eaters for reasons like sensitivity to any taste, smell, or texture, or develop behaviours by copying their parents' fussy eating habits, she explains.
Sometimes patterns develop due to nagging, reprimanding, punishing, or rewarding the kid’s eating habits.
With constant monitoring kids often rebel and refuse to eat whatever the parents insist.
Reasons for Unhappy Eating
Fussy eating could be due to physical and mental reasons.
Hormonal imbalance, unhealthy diet, stress, anxiety, irregular sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise are a few common reasons.
As emotional eating often triggers the feeling to eat anything, the mind often looks for easy options.
As Fast Food is quick and uncomplicated, kids prefer it to satiate their hunger, explains Avni.
Professor Karen Le Billon and the author of the book, "The 7 Secrets of Raising Happy Eaters: Why French kids eat everything and how yours can too!", suggests - taste training with a simple goal to help you teach your child to enjoy being a healthy eater.
Teaching a child to eat may sound strange as we assume that eating just happens, "But kids can learn - and can be taught -to eat well" she explains.
Karen has reviewed many articles on the Science of Taste which explain how and why we develop food likes and dislikes, how taste is related to other senses, how it evolves over our lifespan, how both kids and adults can be taught to like new foods and how games can help kids to get over "food fears" and become eager eaters.
Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, says in an article, "Eating habits are just that: habits. And habits can be not only taught but changed".
Many reasons are attributed to the Fast-Food craze. Attractive advertisements showcasing 'cool' kids and their parents, instant or quick-cooking, and peer recommendations are a few.
Food photography on social channels exhibits food in a manner that makes you hungry and is difficult to resist.
“Fast-Foods are often high in carbohydrates, salt, and sugar. This releases dopamine which further encourages the children to eat more portions of similar foods”, explains Avni.
Home-cooked meals with fresh ingredients aren't overloaded with sugar, salt, commercial cheese, and condiments.
They do not release dopamine and generate a feeling of happiness that gradually becomes an addiction.
These foods can become comfort foods and a child might eat these without being hungry.
"The aim of feeding a fussy eater must be to try new foods and to keep food from being a reason for a battle”, Avni shares
Raising Happy Eaters
When a child enjoys healthy meals, he will automatically be a healthy eater. Nutrient deficiencies can also cause craving says Avni.
"A constant craving of sweets indicates a deficiency of magnesium, chromium, and tryptophan." When you relish the taste of natural taste of food the simple home -cooked meals are eaten happily.
We need to understand that eating habits are just habits that need to be changed and not taught is the first step towards raising a happy eater.
“Set a routine and stick to it. Once the kid is eating meals (by the end of the first year), make a routine of three healthy meals and two healthy snacks each day."Avni Kaul, Nutritionist and Dietician
Happy Healthy Options
Serve finger foods like cucumber, carrot, radish sticks, or boiled cubes of pumpkin, sweet potato, orange, apples, pears with tangy chutneys, herb dips, or chat masala.
Keeping a bowl of fresh salad with hung curd dip with black pepper, salt, and fresh mint leaves can lure even fussy eaters.
Make mix veg muthiyas and serve them with dips.
Lead by example as parents you need to eat healthy food and that too happily.
Stock the fridge with healthy options – Coconut water, lemonade to satisfy the thirst instead of sweetened juices.
Home-baked goodies with natural ingredients, roasted groundnuts, seeds, and nuts are healthy alternatives.
Tips and Suggestions
Begin early: Start giving your toddler plenty of fruits and vegetables. Set realistic expectations and follow your kid’s appetite.
Create a weekly menu with one family’s favourite dish in every meal: Cook the same meal for everyone, changing the menu according to the family’s preferencs.
Follow food groups for balanced meals: To make it simple, try one-pot meals or combination dishes like vegetable khichdi/idly, or spinach dosa/chilla.
Involving your kid while grocery shopping conveys that his opinion matters.
Eat together and lead by example and make mealtimes fun.
Do not make the dining table and mealtimes war zones: Avoid unpleasant subjects and arguments. Avoid lecturing the kid on his choice of food.
Never bring up the discussion about body weight, height, complexion, or any other physical attributes.
Reduce the consumption of processed or instant food and artificial beverages over a period.
Let your child cultivate a taste for natural food and drink. Once he starts liking he will be happy to switch.
Have a schedule (outside food only once a month).
Dialogue is the key: Educating kids towards making healthy choices works wonders. Happy mealtimes make happy eaters!
Parents should take efforts to make mealtimes enjoyable: All cultures suggest practicing gratitude and blessing the food before consuming.
A grateful heart is a happy heart!
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting, and travel.)
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