When I became a parent there was one thing I knew for sure, I didn’t want a fussy eater on my hands. I wanted to inculcate healthy eating habits in my kid. Moreover, I wanted to be able to travel with him without having to carry around a bagful of food for him.
I have been through enough health issues to know what you put into your body as food is what it gives back to you in terms of health, vitality, and energy.
As my son turns six and people ask me the secret to his balanced eating habits, I know I got it right somehow. It’s not always easy, but the rewards are totally worth it. An added benefit, he’s a complete foodie now and doesn’t just love his staple dal and vegetables; he’s also a big fan of sushi, Chinese food and he’s always willing to try something new!
Here are a few tips that helped me raise a food aficionado –
Build an appetite: ‘Times they are a-changin’, sang Bob Dylan many decades ago, but it still holds true today. More and more I hear people talk of how their kids are addicted to iPads and laptops, often I see young children being fed in front of a screen, saying that they just don’t eat otherwise. I beg to differ. From the time that my son was 6 months old, we spent considerable amounts of the day in the park. The result? He had a ravenous appetite. He would eat whatever I put in front of him, within twenty minutes. So whether it’s the neighborhood park or a sports class, getting the children outdoors and active is the ideal way to build an appetite.
Regular meal and snack times: Kids thrive when there are firm yet loving boundaries and routines in place. A fixed time for meals and snacks every day lets my son know when it’s time to eat. While he can’t read a clock yet, his body clock is completely tuned in.
Provide a variety of healthy food: Planning in advance has always helped me make sure he gets a balanced diet. For young kids, nutrition needs to be spread across the entire week and not just a day. So if he’s had a play date or a pizza party one day, I don’t need to stress because I can squeeze veggies into his meal the next day. It also helps to mix-it-up and prepare different dishes so he doesn’t get bored.
Involve children in meal preparation: My six-year-old loves being in the kitchen with me. Whether it’s while whipping up a cake or chopping veggies, he wants to be part of it all. For me, it is very important that he grows into an independent, self-sufficient adult and cooking his own meals is a big part of that. He already feels a great sense of accomplishment when he makes rotis for us all!
‘Sometime’ foods: For the first few years, it’s super easy to make sure your kids don’t eat food that’s lower on the nutritional scale. After all, they’ll only eat what you give them. I took full advantage of that time and fed my son bitter gourd for lunch and vegetable sticks for snack time! But as he went out more, to school and birthday parties, I had to ease up and let him also have what I like to call ‘sometime’ foods. A couple of times a month he can choose from chips and pizzas and other such delights.
Re-hydrate: Water keeps our systems running in mint condition. My son likes to count how many bottles of water he’s finished each day. He loves refilling his thermos from the earthen pot in summers.
Eat as a Family: My meal times changed when I became a mother, to suit my son’s. Not only did it make me healthier, it helped both of us bond. My son didn’t see an iPad till he was 4 and if I had to resist the temptation of putting him in front of a screen; it meant I had to be there. We started having our meals together and continue to do so as often as possible.
Parents as Role Models: It is true that children learn most through imitation. If parents want to raise healthy eaters, they must lead by example. That’s why it’s said that children push parents to be their best selves. There’s no better time than now to eat healthy, drink plenty of water and exercise. I know that being a mother has made me healthier than I ever was before!