The most favorite and most discussed topic of all times and of all mommies….!!
What better way to start the new year with a topic that is so close to our hearts. What your child eats is big area of concern.
Children lead such an active physical life and therefore often do not have time neither inclination to eat elaborate meals that parents would like them to have. I often have mommies going crazy thinking about their child’s nutritional needs.
As a parent, it can be challenging to get kids to eat healthy. Most of the times, I see kids happily munching away chips and biscuits. With both of the parents working, it is easier to put in some packaged food in your child’s snack box rather than going through the laborious task of preparing something nutritious when everybody is in a rush to go to their respective offices. Most kids are therefore not getting a healthy balanced meal and as a result, most of them are overweight or obese (with incidence as high as 1 in every 3 kids).
Let me give you a common scenario which I face almost daily in my practice:
A 5-year-old kid, came to my clinic for some cough and cold. The mother showed concern about the kid being very picky with his food. She was worried that he has not been putting on enough weight over the past 12 months. As per her, mealtime had become a nightmare, with either the kid running around or the kid holding on the food in his mouth for minutes. He was not interested in trying new foods, and preferred drinking milk and juices throughout the day.
Does it sound like your story?? Don’t be surprised!! Its happening to almost 7 out of 10 families.
This is a considerable parental concern, and superficially assuring parents with a mere ‘there is nothing wrong with your child’ may leave many feeling frustrated, and risk compounding parental anxieties.
Dietary habits are shaped at a young age and maintained during later life with tracking over time. Eating behaviours established in childhood persist, with implications such as fussiness and poor dietary variety, or high responsiveness to food cues and increased obesity risk. Although eating behaviours and child weight are difﬁcult to modify directly, parental feeding practices are potentially a good target for interventions to prevent unhealthy eating patterns and developing excess weight in children. In simple words, you as a parent can help establish healthy eating behavior and modify unhealthy eating habits of your child.
There is no great secret to healthy eating. Remember that small changes every day can lead to a recipe for success!
So how to make them eat healthy, without putting in too much of effort. Following are some of the time tested and proven tips used and advised by health professionals all over the world. Try to incorporate at least few of these into your and your kids daily routine and see the difference.
A. Be a
- Role model – This is the first and the most important step. Make sure you yourself eat healthy, wholesome foods and get plenty of exercise. Be consistent; this should be a permanent part of your lifestyle. SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. Children imitate adults. If you won’t eat healthy, you can’t expect your kid to eat healthy.
- Gatekeeper – You have the power to monitor and control what your kids eat or the exercise they get. YOU’RE IN CHARGE. Parents inﬂuence how children’s intake patterns are set, both directly and indirectly, adopting overt and covert control. Overt control includes both restriction and pressure to eat. Covert control includes strategies such as purchasing only healthy foods for the home and avoiding stores and restaurants that sell unhealthy foods. The child can detect overt control, but not recognize covert control. But be sure to avoid restrictive feeding practices. Too much interference can lead to either overeating or no eating at all and it has been found to be a risk factor for excessive weight gain.
- Taste-setter – You can influence your kids’ appreciation for the flavors of healthy food early on. START THEM OFF RIGHT. The likelihood that a given food will be offered is often linked to the likes and preferences of the parent. If parents themselves have a narrow diet, many foods will not appear on the table on enough occasions to allow for sufﬁcient exposure or for positive role modelling, which has been associated with increasing children’s acceptance of new foods and intake of healthier foods. Researchers have found that children tend to require up to 15 exposures of a new food before it is “trusted” and thus tasted and a further 10 to 15 exposures to bring about a liking of the food.
- Advocate – Push for positive changes in child care, schools, and your community that support healthy eating and exercise. KIDS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HEALTHY.
B. Change their diet: Coming to their actual diet plans, following are some of the measures which can be incorporated in your daily life.
- Use healthy, wholesome foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy) that are nutrient dense. Serve a rainbow of choices (red, orange or green fruits and veggies). Limit empty calories in form of sugary, processed, and fast foods.
- Use GO, SLOW, WHOA as a guide:
- GO foods – Low in fat, sugar, and calories and high in nutrients (e.g., fruits and vegetables). GREAT TO EAT ANYTIME.
- SLOW foods – Higher in fat, added sugar, and calories (e.g., breads, pancakes, fruit canned in syrup etc.). SHOULD BE EATEN LESS OFTEN.
- WHOA foods – Very high in fat, added sugar, and calories while low in nutrients (e.g., candy, soda, French fries- labelled often as junk food). EAT ONCE IN A WHILE IN SMALL PORTIONS, BUT DON’T RESTRICT COMPLETELY, so that they truly will be treats! Do not keep junk foods in your fridge or cupboards. Caffeinated drinks are a big no ( e.g. include tea, coffee, soda, energy drinks etc.) because they produce dependency.
3. Serve age appropriate food: Offer food appropriate for the child’s oral motor development. Match calorie intake and portion sizes to your child’s age and activity level. A general rule of thumb is to offer one tablespoon of each food per year of the child’s age ( or equivalent to your child’s fist). A bigger serving can be offered, according to the child’s appetite.
4. Feed to encourage appetite –
(a) Schedule their snack timings: Serve small meals and snacks at consistent times of the day, with 2–3 hours between each meal and snack time, allowing the child to become hungry before the next meal. Young children feel most comfortable with scheduled mealtimes. Keep a tab on predinner snacking and don’t allow grazing.
(b) Offer milk, nutritional beverages, soup or water at the end of the meal or snack, and not before or along with, in order to prevent filling their stomachs.
5. Keep the snacks interesting but simple. Go for healthy swaps. For e.g. lotus stem chips instead of potato chips, ghee roasted fox nuts with a pinch of chaat masala, hung curd instead of mayonnaise, whole fruit instead of juices. If you look, you will find many more interesting ways to introduce healthy and nutritious food for your child.
6. Use healthier methods of cooking (e.g., grilling or baking instead of frying).
7. Connect kids to their food by:
- Introducing them to new, healthy foods
- Make a small garden in which they grow few of the vegetables on their own.
- Allowing them to help with food shopping ( let them be produce pickers)
- Allow them in food preparation (age appropriate, non-dangerous) so they can understand what goes into their meals and maintain healthy cooking habits as they grow up. Children learn about food and get excited about tasting food when they help make meals. Let them add ingredients, scrub veggies, help stir or bake.
8. Talk to them about the benefits of healthy eating in a manner and language appropriate for their age. Instead of boldly condemning their bad food choices, guide them about good choices. There are lots of books available which teach importance of healthy eating.
9. Systematically introduce new food –
- Provide some of the child’s favourite foods together with a small amount of new food;
- If the child refuses a new food, offer just one bite of the new food without tricking, hiding, bribing or forcing. If the child continues to refuse after three attempts, do not force the child. You can attempt to reintroduce the new food after a few days or weeks.
10. Protect the time you eat with your kids –
Children who dine at regular family mealtimes get better nutrition, perform better in school, and bond better with their families. Enjoy each other while eating family meals together. Talk about fun and happy things. Use family mealtimes as an opportunity to teach healthy eating habits and good table manners to children.
11. Read nutrition facts labels: Most of the so called nutritious foods are not healthy. Read labels to find out their actual nutrition values.
12. Limit duration – Keep an eye on speed of eating.
(a) Eating should begin within 15 mins of the start of the meal;
(b) Meals should last no longer than 20–30 mins;
(c) When the meal is over, all food should be removed and only be offered again at the next planned meal. Caregivers should not become a short order cook.
13. Restrict dining out: Who does not love the freedom from daily cooking? But don’t make it a regular habit. Restrict dining out for special occasions only. Occasional indulgences do no harm.
14. Avoid offering sweets as a reward: Giving foods, especially those high in fat or sugar, as reward, is a frequent parental practice. Studies have shown that repeatedly presenting snacks as a reward increases children’s preference for this kind of food. Food is a powerful reinforcement, and it maintains the behaviour on which its delivery or acquisition is dependent. Giving a reward can result in increased preference for the reward food and decreased preference for the food that was initially promoted.
15. Avoid distraction –
- Seat children at a table for meals and snacks. A comfortable position for eating is one in which the table is at the stomach level of the child. Therefore, use a highchair or booster if necessary for preschoolers.
- Avoid allowing television, tablets, toys or electronics at mealtimes, as this takes away the experience of eating. It may seem easy feeding with help of these but it establishes a pattern, which is then difficult to change when they grow old. Instead, engage children using food or by allowing children to self-feed. Change their media diet – limit TV time to 1–2 hours of quality programming per day and monitor Internet use.
- Make time to play or be active with your kids – set aside 60 minutes every day to play catch; go for a walk, jog, bike ride, or swim; or whatever sport your kid is interested in. Make sure your kids get enough activity to balance the calories they take in.
- Give them gifts that encourage activity – sporting equipment, active games, or enroll them in community sports teams.
- Remember that children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you. Walk with your kids as much as possible – to school, after dinner, or instead of watching TV.
- Move around at home with your kids – yard work, gardening, or work around the house.
Feeding a kid is both a science and art. For it to be successful, it requires some nutritional knowledge by the parent to ensure that feeding practices and foods, as well as the amounts of calories offered, are appropriate.
If practiced right, it can result in wonderful outcomes in form of healthy and happy kid leading to happy you.
Eat healthy, Eat right !!
“ Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food- Hippocrates”
Dr Garima | themoppetsclinic 🙂
1. cdc.gov/healthyweight/children and ChooseMyPlate.gov
2. Factors Inﬂuencing Children’s Eating Behaviours: Scaglioni et al; Nutrients 2018
3. ABCDE approach: American psychological association