8 golden rules to make your child eat better

Posted on June 21, 2019 at 11:35 AM

The most common topic of discussion at young mother get-togethers, and social functions is invariably about feeding. More specifically, about how the children don’t eat, how fussy they are with what they want to eat, how it takes hours for a child to finish a meal, about how skinny or overweight they are becoming and so on. Many mothers are at their wits end, having tried everything suggested by elders and peers. They end up spending hours running behind a child, coaxing, cajoling and sometimes even bribing or threatening the child to eat. Such disharmony and stress can easily be avoided by following some rules when initiating feeding, and changing the rules of feeding in children who are giving you trouble.

RULE #1 - The child is the boss!

The more a child is forced, the more he/she is going to resist. Any compulsion is usually met with rebellion. Any food forced down the throat promptly comes out, putting to waste the meticulous effort put in by the mother (or grandmother)! Therefore, make it a point to respect the child’s wishes. Stop when the child says enough, and postpone the meal if the child says NO. There is absolutely no harm done in letting a child to miss a meal or two, the subsequent hunger makes the child relish the food, and realize the fact that “if I don’t eat, I will get hungry”

RULE #2 - No distractions during feeding

This literally means “NO ELECTRONIC MEDIA DURING MEALTIME”. Eating in infants will be initiated only on a ‘high chair’, and meals will be served to children only at the dining table or in the kitchen. Older children will eat on their own, and demands to be fed or the TV to be switched on should be met with firm refusal. Similarly, infants should not be taken to the balcony, garden etc. for distraction during meals. And for it to be followed by the little ones, this rule should apply to everyone in the house!

RULE #3 – Feed the child in sitting position

Feeding of infants should always be undertaken with the child sitting, where gravity helps retention of food, rather than with the child lying down, as there is a risk of vomiting and aspiration of food into the lungs and ears in this position. A sitting child is more aware of his/her surroundings, and actively participates in the feeding exercise.

RULE #4 - Space out the meals

Give your children sufficient time to get hungry. Do not follow a rigid meal regimen, and insist that the child follows it like clockwork! Spacing out meals, and allowing your child to miss a meal if required, will give sufficient time for the child to digest the previous meal, and get hungry enough to eat the next. A hungry child needs no appetizers or distractions!

RULE #5 – Bring in variety

Nothing is disliked more by children (and infants) than the prospect of eating the same food repeatedly. If your child does not like rice, serve him food made from wheat, ragi, corn etc. Some kids like spice, while others may have an inclination for a sweet tinge in the food. Make sure each meal has a significant portion of fruits and vegetables (the more colourful, the better), and after the age of 1, dairy products like milk, cheese and paneer. Non-vegetarian food can be introduced by 8 to 9 months, if culturally indicated.

RULE #6 – Let the child eat on its own

As soon as the infant is sitting steadily, offer finger food on a plate (a concept called baby led weaning). Slowly introduce a spoon, so that the child develops the dexterity to transfer larger amounts of food into the mouth. Tolerate the initial mess and apparent disinterest. Let eating be a complete sensory experience for your child where he/she sees and hears the food being prepared, smells the interesting ingredients, feels the different textures with their little fingers before actually tasting the food in the mouth. This hand-mouth co-ordination is important in developing future skills like handwriting, drawing etc. Older children, above the age of 2, should compulsorily feed themselves

RULE #7 – No snacking in between meals

Eating high calorie snacks, biscuits and sweets are the commonest reason why children are not interested in their regular meals. These junk items provide them with empty calories, enough to meet (and usually in excess of) their daily calorie requirements, but are of very low nutritional value. A single packet of chips, can provide up to 500 calories, almost 1/3rd to 1/4th the daily calorie requirement of a young child. Throw out all the chocolates and cold drinks from the fridge, do not store ice cream in the freezer, and avoid bringing fried items home. Substitute them with healthy fruits and vegetables, that too only at meal time.

RULE #8 – Delay gratification

Parents are often guilty of trying to satisfy their child’s every whim. An infant is breast fed the second it starts crying. When the child complains about the food cooked for dinner, pizza is immediately ordered online. A small tantrum on the road earns the child a whole bar of chocolate! A lot of research over the last few decades has pointed out the demerits of such ‘instant gratification’. An example of this is the “Marshmallow test” of 1960 and 70s. Learn to say ‘NO’, and let your children experience that bit of unhappiness in the safety of their own family. They come out realizing that the world didn’t end because they didn’t get what they wanted!

Human beings are set apart from other animals by their superior intelligence and analytical power. But sometimes we tend to dissect and de-construct problems a little too much, and thus complicate matters further. Feeding of children is one such matter which will benefit from our non-interference. Let hunger be the main drive for eating in children, and let the child decide how much to eat out of the food provided. That is what the mother of a young one in every species other than ours does!

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