“I don’t want to eat this!”
“I’m not hungry!”
“I will eat only if you give me an ice-cream!”
Mealtimes with a child can be as challenging as a negotiation battle in the boardroom. And a fussy child can push you to become irritable and lose your cool. But there are always ways to create a turnaround, and turn the fierce little negotiator into a friendly ally.
Here are a few steps:
- Keep fixed times for meals:
Children need to get used to routines, especially about meals and bedtime. Make it a point to ensure that your child sits with the family, even if s/he is not hungry. It is also a good idea to keep a designated place where all of you have your meals together, whether or not you have a simple dining table.
Serving meals in the bedroom to please a stubborn kid tends to encourage them to be more demanding.
- No screens at the dining table:
This is a universal rule for all families of all ages. Keep your phones away while you eat, and keep the tv switched off. Watching any screen while eating will distract your child from chewing and swallowing food mindfully. It also takes away from precious family time and conversations.
- Involve your child:
Children love being considered important and are happy to engage in the cooking process. Depending on the age, a child can be ask to clean/ wash/ mix or garnish.
Older ones can help with chopping and even cooking the easier dishes.
You can ask your kids to decide the menu for the next day or the weekend, by giving them some fixed ingredients that they must not forget to include. Get creative by printing out the menu and posting it on the fridge, for the family to see. Take turns and give each other ratings.
- Serve small portions:
Kids don’t need to be forced to eat, and their choice to say ‘no’ should be respected.
Plus, younger kids get overwhelmed if too much food is served at one go. Instead, give them small portions, and allow them to refuse, if they’re full.
Younger children, especially, tend to be bored easily. You can reinvent the same food with new flavours, shapes and colours. Eg. by adding beetroots to your idli / chapaati dough or shaping your puris like stars and boats, can add more fun to a child’s eating experience. A smiley decorated on a sandwich can bring an equally big smile to their faces.
Even simple ‘poha’, ‘upma’, ‘pulaao’, ‘dosas’ or even pizza toppings can have so many variations, with different ingredients or garnishes.
- Try new recipes:
The internet has opened up a world of recipes and chefs sharing their favourite, time-tested ideas with the world. Look for ideas that you can try with the same / similar ingredients.
Start with simpler recipes, instead of elaborate ones so that you are not discouraged after a few attempts.
When you visit family and friends, ask them to cook their own specialities. This will introduce your kids to new flavours and cuisines, and help them have a ‘let’s taste something new’ attitude towards food.
- Bargaining with desserts is a big NO:
Parents sometimes negotiate with desserts, in order to cajole a child to eat the whole meal. But, that gives the message that they can demand something in return for eating their meals.
Instead, keep desserts for the weekend, and try and make favourites, which are also healthy. Fruit with custard, pineapple ‘sheera’, fruit smoothies, homemade banana-oatmeal cakes, or cookies with ‘ragi’ and ‘naachni’ are a much better sweet option.
Dessert as a reward for anything sends the wrong signals, so serve it as part of your weekly routine.
Yes, children are definitely going to be tempted by sugary, high calorie, not-so-healthy sweets every now and then. Indulge them once in a while, so that they don’t feel they’re being deprived of the fun.
Chutneys, dips, pickles and jams
Indian cuisine is rich with recipes of chutneys, pickles and dips. By serving those that your child enjoys, s/he can enjoy mundane food without a fuss.
- Be the change you expect to see in your child:
As a parent, the child is observing what you do, not just what you say. That’s why you should set an example of healthful and mindful eating.
Lastly, getting a child to become a conscious eater is not a day’s task. It takes a while. There are days when your son/ daughter will be an obedient angel, and on other days you will feel like a parent who has failed. The key is to not be so hard on yourself. Just go easy, and keep trying different things to figure your own way. These are simply ideas and suggestions, but eventually somethings will work beautifully for your child and you can stick to those.