Feb 24, 2017

The most important child nutrition tip for parents

Hibiscus tea
My little one teaches me something new about parenting and child nutrition almost every single day. Having grown up in a traditional South Indian household, I have noticed that the default food that is fed to toddlers and pre-schoolers is “dal rice” (paruppu saadham). It is nothing but rice and boiled thuar dal mashed together with ghee. I tried giving the same to my daughter from the time she was around a year old. She hated it completely and would make funny faces. I had tried multiple times for around a year or so but no luck. Though she is not a fussy eater, she just didn’t like it. I didn’t worry much since she was getting proteins from curd, cheese and other lentils.

When she turned 5 years, I served her the dal rice for lunch one day. She devoured it and said, “it’s yummy”. After that, it has become a regular now and dal rice features once every 3-4 days.

The lesson that this experience taught me is "Don't give up on healthy and nutritious foods. Keep trying”.

My daughter loves all kinds of fruits and when some of my friends notice it, they say “My son(or daughter) doesn’t eat any fruits. Maybe, an orange occasionally. Good to see D is eating papaya/pineapple”. I hear the same kind of response for foods like ragi idli - “My son wouldn’t like the colour”. Most of the times, we just assume that our children wouldn’t like healthy foods. Maybe, we might have tried 3-4 times and then just gave up. My only suggestion is “Don’t give up. Keep trying”.

The foods that children love when they are 2-3 years old would be completely different than the foods they love when they are 5-6 years old. For instance, D used to love ladiesfinger sabzi when she was a toddler. I remember making it almost 2-3 times a week. But now she just refuses to eat it. She used to hate potato earlier but now she loves it. Their taste patterns and preferences keep changing as they grow up and it is up to us as parents to continue to feed healthy meals as a conscious activity.

There are two ways by which you can implement this important principle of "Don’t give up. Keep trying".

Methodical approach:
1) Keep a log and track your child’s meals for a couple of weeks. Try serving different kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains and lentils. Note down which ones they loved (and asked for a second helping), the foods that they hated.
2) For the foods they hated, schedule a calendar entry to try the same after a month or so. Note down their reactions. Are there any changes in preferences? Has the acceptance rate increased? Maybe, they don’t mind trying a bite or two.

I know it sounds like a lot of work but believe me, it is not. A little extra effort goes a long way in inculcating healthy eating habits in young children.

Benefits approach:
Talking to children about the benefits of healthy foods really helps in increasing their acceptance. I remember telling D that hibiscus tea is good for the heart. Now whenever she sees a hibiscus blossomed in our balcony, she plucks it and asks me to make tea for her.

When my husband had severe cough a few months back, she advised him, "pineapple is good for your throat, abba. Eat pineapple”
When her teacher had throat infection, it seems she asked her to take “tulsi concoction” :-)

Involve children in meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Talk to them about different foods and their benefits in a language they can understand. Young children may not understand vitamins and minerals but will be able to relate to the body parts - “papaya is good for your eyes, dal will help you get muscles, watermelon will keep your body cool” etc.  Last but not the least, set an example by avoiding/reducing packaged, ready-to-eat foods yourself.

We are living in times where attractive packaging and advertisements of processed junk foods are luring our children away from healthy eating habits. Let’s take charge.

Hope you would try these two ways. If it works/helps a teeny tiny way, I would be thrilled to hear. Do share your experiences/comments below.

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