By Dietitian Manoli Mehta
Founder of Tattvum – Discover Wellness
You might worry about whether your child is eating enough. Or you might be worried that your child is eating too much and above a healthy weight.
It’s normal for children’s appetites to change from day to day. Sometimes your child might want to eat a lot – just make sure that you fill him up with healthy food. Other times he might not want to eat. If your child doesn’t want to eat, try not to force her or offer food rewards. Forcing her to eat teaches her not to listen to her appetite.
Some of the most important aspects of healthy eating are portion control and cutting down on how much fat and sugar your child eats or drinks.
It’s important to remember that your kids aren’t born with a craving for French fries and pizza and an aversion to broccoli and carrots. This conditioning happens over time as kids are exposed to more and more unhealthy food choices.
However, it is possible to reprogram your children’s food cravings so that they crave healthier foods instead. The sooner you introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into your kids’ diets, the easier they’ll be able to develop a healthy relationship with food that can last them a lifetime.
Whether they’re toddlers or in their teens, children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most.
To encourage healthy eating habits, the challenge is to make nutritious choices appealing. Some things that you can do are:
- Guide your family’s choices rather than dictate foods. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available in the house. This practice will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices. Leave the unhealthy choices like chips, soda, and juice at the grocery store. Serve water with meals.
Eg. Try eating a multigrain paratha/ thepla with curd and potato subzi for a healthy lunch.
- Encourage your children to eat slowly. A child can detect hunger and fullness better when they eat slowly. Before offering a second helping or serving, ask your child to wait at least 15 minutes to see if they are truly still hungry. This will give the brain time to register fullness. Also, that second helping should be much smaller than the first. And if possible, load that second helping with more veggies.
- Eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Try to make mealtimes pleasant with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding or arguing. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.
- Involve your children in food shopping and preparing meals. These activities will give you hints about your children’s food preferences, an opportunity to teach your children about nutrition, and provide your kids with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help prepare.
- Encourage your children to drink more water. Over consumption of sweetened drinks and sodas has been linked to increased rates of obesity in children.
Tip: You can encourage drinking fruit infused waters and fresh fruit juices instead of sodas when they feel thirsty.
- Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV. Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness, and may lead to overeating.
- Focus on overall diet rather than specific foods. Kids should be eating more whole, minimally processed food—food that is as close to its natural form as possible—and less packaged and processed food.
- Disguise the taste of healthier foods. Add vegetables to a chicken stew, for example, or mash carrots up with mashed potato, or add a sweet dip to slices of apple.
Eg. Pesto/ red sauce pasta with veggies like corn, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli etc.
- Cook more meals at home. Restaurant and takeout meals have more added sugar and unhealthy fat so cooking at home can have a huge impact on your kids’ health. If you make large batches, cooking just a few times can be enough to feed your family for the whole week.
- Make healthy snacks available. Keep plenty of fruit, vegetables, and healthy beverages (water, milk, pure fruit juice) on hand so kids avoid unhealthy snacks like soda, chips, and cookies.
Tip: When you children get hungry for a evening snacks, you can try giving them; handful of nuts with a vegetable frankie or cheese slices on graham crackers with sliced apples/ orange pieces.
By teaching your children healthy eating habits, and modelling these behaviours in yourself, you can help your children maintain a healthy weight and normal growth. Also, the eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.