Feeding fussy kids can be frustrating, but you needn’t be intimidated by the everyday challenge. Here’s how you can make mealtime less stressful
One sunny afternoon at a park in California, Nalina Ramalakshmi was with her children at their school’s play day. During lunch, the mother of two observed how, like her, most Indian parents kept running after their kids to feed them, whereas the Americans were more relaxed. “Part of it is tradition. Unlike the westerners, it is absolutely normal for us to be worried about our children’s meals,” says the founder of parentcircle.com, a website that brings together parents, educators and child experts on a single platform.
According to a recent research at Duke University’s psychology and neuroscience department, picky eaters can grow up to be depressed and anxious. Most toddlers around the age of two go through a phase of being notoriously finicky about food. This is a normal part of their development and is partly due to food neophobia (fear of new foods). So what do you when you are stuck in a situation when the kid refuses to anything, but crisps and candies?
GET TO THE ROOT
The medical reasons for being a fussy eater are few, says Dr Soonu Udani, Consultant Paediatrician, PD Hinduja Hospital. They could range from swallowing issues to more serious neurological disorders. A visit to the doctor can rule out these doubts. Udani advocates food autonomy. “Let them choose what they want to eat, instead of always giving them what we think is right. Allow babies to explore taste and textures. Permit selffeeding instead of filling foods into their tiny mouths,” advises Udani, who often requests parents to alter their behaviours instead of cribbing about the baby’s.Keeping a growth chart often comes handy. “If your kid falls under the right percentile, stop comparing how many less rotis he is eating as against your cousin’s baby. It’s okay. Let them be,” says Udani.
ALLOW THEM TO CHOOSE
Children, after all, too want the independence to choose what they eat, just like adults. Let the child decide what and how much to eat. Don’t force feed. Skipping a meal often means they’ll make up for it the next time.
“Instead of expecting your child to eat a whole bowl of rice and dal at lunch, you could offer small quantities of a variety of finger food that they can hold in their hands and eat by themselves -some cheese, rotis, a little fruit, paneer, and veggies,”says Ramalakshmi.
What worked for her was involving her kids in food preparation. “From choosing and BUYING the groceries, to measuring the ingredients, to rolling out the rotis and cutting the veggies when they were older, my little chefs enjoyed eating their own gourmet food,” she adds with affection.
BEGIN FROM THE BEGINNING
With the constant nag for sweets or refusing to eat veggies, mealtime for kids can be dreadful. “Food is meant to be enjoyed.This, however, is totally missing in fussy eaters who look at food as a chore that they wish they could avoid,” reckons Gurgaon-based Ajita Seethepalli, professional Child Sleep and Food Habits Consultant. “Children are not born to be fussy eaters and neither is it genetic, it is just a habit they develop over time.”
In the 90 per cent of the cases Seethepalli deals with, parents complain their child was a fussy eater even before hisher first birthday. But like any unpleasant habit, this too can be corrected. Babies will only have the opportunity to eat what is offered to them. “What parents offer to eat and how they offer it to their children will largely impact what their children will eat and whether or not they will be fussy about it,”says Seethepalli.
Taste buds develop from a young age, so it’s a good idea to introduce your kids to a range of nutritious foods. “Once they appreciate the joys of a crisp juicy apple, why would they eat processed food?” says Madhuri Iyer, author of The SuperMom Cookbook. “On a recent train journey, my nine-year old refused white bread, because it got `stuck up’ in her mouth. She was used to nutty, fibre-rich whole-wheat bread, and the gluey white bread simply wasn’t working for her,” she adds.
TRACK THEIR SLEEP CYCLE
According to Seethepalli, kids who are fussy or those who gravitate towards unhealthy foods choices, also have poor sleeping habits. She says, “In such cases, simply improving sleep habits can have a major impact on the child’s eating habits. Parents must check their child’s sleeping patters and ensure that heshe is consistently getting adequate sleep for their age.”
MAKE IT FUN
Make the process of eating an enjoyable one for them. What worked for Iyer as a mother was to build fun and fantasy around the food. “My kids ate broccoli because they believed they were giants eating up a forest of trees,” she shares.
Keep distractions such as the TV, phone or the iPad at bay as your child’s brain will be unaware of the taste, textures and the quantity of the food eaten. Instead, as Iyer recommends, surround them with familiar toys, or happy music, and try to eat together as a family. That way, kids always have pleasant associations with meal-times.
DON’T PASS ON FOOD ANXIETY
Establish a relaxed routine and eat at least one meal a day with your child. Offer them little of whatever you are eating to encourage them to at least taste the food. It’s okay to not like it.
“You too serve as a role model. If you are fussy about the foods you eat, or push aside the spinach on your plate, your child is likely to do the same,” says Ramalakshmi.
It’s also important for parents to not transfer their anxiety onto the child. “Don’t watch over them as they eat or force something down their throat. Instead, feed them new dishes, especially when they’re hungry, so they’re more receptive to trying different stuff,” suggests Iyer.
“Make a range of chutneys and sauces that will help you whip up instant snacks and mini meals,” she prescribes.
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