…and all the other things you’ve tried to get your fussy toddler to eat his meals. M&B gets the child experts to help you manage your munchkin’s munchtime better
Words Poornima Nair
Visuals Akshay Kulkarni
Model Nishchal Awatramani
Are you having trouble feeding your toddler? You painstakingly prepare the ideal meal, with the right amount of veggies on a plate, try to get him to taste healthy food, but he’s just not interested. The more you try, the more irritated he gets and when you adamantly feed him, the food ends up on the floor. You are trying hard to keep your cool, but it’s your child who is now throwing a fit… she wants that yummy McBurger for lunch and won’t stand for anything else. Poor mum, what do you do? We asked two child experts to help you out. Dr Rahul Verma is consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at the Bombay Hospital and child psychiatrist Dr Pervin Dadachanji is author of Recipes for Parenting: A guide to parents of 6 to 12-year-olds.
WHAT IS HEALTHY FOOD?
RV: A balanced diet which would provide the recommended dietary allowance, rich in not only proteins, carbohydrates and fats but also in minerals and vitamins would be considered as healthy food. A skewed diet, with excess of one factor and a deficiency in others, is unhealthy. For example, rice, daal, chapati and vegetables form a healthy portion, while only potatoes or bread and cheese may be considered unhealthy.
PD: Healthy food is what gives your child all the nutrients the body requires. That is, all the six food groups: carbs, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and water. According to me, this balanced diet should not be gauged on a daily basis with children, but on a weekly or perhaps even a monthly basis.
WHY ARE FOOD HABITS CHANGING?
RV: Due to a disappearing extended family and absence of grandparents, there is a lacuna in knowledge of a conventional diet pattern for the children. Also, thanks to the double-income-single-kid (DISK) phenomenon, kids are getting more pampered. Tired parents give in to the concept of fast foods which are convenient and easily accessible. Absence of a fixed dinner time contributes to changing food habits too.
PD: There is more variety in foods which are available to all. The good old daal-chaawal, sabzi- roti have been taken over by pasta, pizza, falafel, burgers, etc. Parents are also more aware of different types of food, so they expose kids to these foods, which in turn makes the kids crave particular dishes all the time.
WHAT TO DO IF MY CHILD JUST WON’T TOUCH VEGGIES? OR THROWS A TANTRUM WHEN HE IS FORCIBLY FED?
RV: A child will not like vegetables if they don’t taste or look nice or the same stuff is offered to them often. Variety is the answer to this dilemma. Vegetables, when cooked well and not forced upon the child, may be better accepted. Also, if a child finishes his portion of vegetables, then a suitable reward may be offered to reinforce the task. Bribes, however, may not be acceptable.
PD: Veggies are the most overrated food ever. By all means, give him raw finger veggies like carrot or cucumber slices, etc. But fruits have ALL and more minerals and vitamins than our overcooked vegetables, so if your child loves fruit you can forget about the vegetables. If you still insist that he should eat veggies, disguising them in a paratha (such as a cauliflower-stuffed paratha) can also be tried out.
IS IT OKAY TO FORCE FEED MY CHILD!
Force feeding will introduce major power struggles and battles between child and parent. The key is to give your toddler more independence while she eats. Let her feed herself even if she messes up the floor and table. This makes her feel more in control. Give her small amounts of food so that she does not baulk at the quantity and then give her more after she finishes the initial amount. If she does not eat, take away the plate instead of shoving food down her throat or running after her and give the next meal when it is due. No in between crisps or biscuits. And always give food to a child when she is hungry.
HOW DO I INTRODUCE MY TODDLER TO THE GOOD STUFF?
RV: Offer variety and avoid force feeding. Instead, always take food in your plate and watch your child come over inquisitively to taste it. Always offer food when your baby is hungry and, most importantly, avoid television when feeding your baby.
PD: Research has shown that a child has to be exposed to a new food 10 times before he even deigns to try it. So introduce a new food several times, offer it to your child and accept a no for an answer. She may decide to try it sometime. Also, give your child the option that if she does not like the new food she can spit it out. I tried this with my kids and it worked wonders. At least they would try some. Also, If a child sees her father relishing the spinach, she may attempt to have it but if she sees him avoiding it like the plague there is no way she would try it.
HOW CAN MY SPOUSE OR I PLAY A MORE ACTIVE ROLE?
RV: Most importantly, spend time with your child. Most parents come home after a tired day and expect their child to quietly sit down, polish off their plates and go to sleep. Doesn’t happen! Also if a baby is not hungry, force feeding will only make them bring the food up again or throw a temper tantrum. Parents need to be together at the dining table and make dinner time sacrosanct.
PD: By not force feeding and by not making an issue about food at the dining table. Meals should be enjoyable for everyone concerned.
WILL PHYSICAL ACTIVITY HELP HIM EAT BETTER?
RV: No specific exercise schedule is recommended. However, a child must be encouraged in his normal activity and play time. This will not only promote good health but also encourage normal development.
PD: All children need exercise. Usually, a toddler moves about a lot so gets his share of exercise. But going to the park to play every day is a good thing for little kids. Structured activity is not very necessary at this point. So there’s really no need for regimented classes or sporting activities. M&B
A study published in the US Paediatric Journal, found that food advertisements on cartoon channels directly influence children. These advertisements linked food with fun and happiness and were easily able to attract young minds, quickly turning them into consumers. So be warned; limit TV time!