Some school cafeterias in Japan allow school students to make their own menus based on nutritional values. Students stick to them and help each other to serve and clean up. And all this is not done as part of any assessment process. What a great way to build a healthy and honest Human Resource. This means healthy food habits can be acquired by young ones if they are introduced at the right age in the right manner. If you want to avoid the meal times from becoming a battleground for you or your child and you are prepared to change your attitude to food, here are some easy strategies to make your young ones try all varieties of healthy food.
Strategies to introduce healthy varieties of food to children
1. Don’t be too fussy over your child’s food choice:
Remember you can’t expect your child to like all foods. If s/he tries everything and then rejects some odd food, it is still a positive sign. Your aim must be to increase the variety of food as soon as the child is introduced to solids. Remember for a one year old, denial/ choice to eat may be a way of asserting his/her budding independence. Don’t press the child to eat what they obviously dislike. But don’t give in to pressure to give them what they want every time. If they refuse to eat what is offered, simply remove it without a fuss but don’t offer any replacement. Continue to encourage them to try new flavours.
2. Choose their plate and spoon carefully:
You will have to spend more time at the table with the baby, in the beginning. You may have to lure the child to the dining table/the high chair. So choose their crockery-cutlery with some care. Buy something small, colourful and with pictures of their favourite animals, cartoons or colours. Something which they can hold and which doesn’t break. There are cute dishes with vacuum available in the markets which ensure that the plate doesn’t fly and spill the food off the table.
3. Don’t overload the plate:
Small plate equals to small portions. A child’s portion of fruits/ vegetables is roughly the amount the child can hold in one hand. Increase the amount as the child grows. So, if the child starts the day with an apple, eats a few grapes in the morning and drinks a vegetable soup/ shorba in the evening, you have achieved the target for the day.
Remember, it is very irritating for the child to be given huge piles of food and you expecting them to eat everything. Give them manageable portions and let them learn avoid wasting any food. If they are hungry, they will ask for second helping; which is better than rejecting the complete overfilled plate.
It is often the key to tempt your child to try new foods. Remember that advertisement featuring Juhi Chawla where a child comes back from school and asks his mother who puts a “Baigan” in a pizza? All of us have done this: trying to hide the greens in the home-made burgers and pastas to make the child eat them. Keep doing so. Present healthy snacks in unusual ways, such as chopped fruit and nuts in little pots or mini boxes. Chop fruits and vegetables into fun shapes and serve them with some cookies, wafers or biscuits. Make it a treat through variety and originality of presentation.
5. Colourful Presentation:
Children love colours. So be sure you vary the vegetables and fruits, mixing up colours. Children also love to eat vegetables and fruits raw, so make colourful vegetable straws and fruit dices or smilies for their lunch boxes. For your fussy toddlers make a weekly plan with their consent based on the colours, say Mondays will be Red day, Tuesdays will be Green Day and so on. Let them decide which food item of that colour they would eat. They won’t break their own promises, and even if they do, it’s alright. Give them other options of your choice.
6. Be Creative:
Creativity helps to get your children to the dining table and also to make them finish whatever you put on their plate. Remember what I said before, start early and it will help you always. So, as soon as your child turns one, introduce varied tastes to your child. Experiment with different types of food items- sour, sweet, dry, curry, fried, steamed, salty, hot, cold, smooth, and coarse. While you experiment, take time to prepare them for new tastes. Once you know their likes and dislikes, try to creatively adjust the unwanted veggies to their favourites. For example, my daughter doesn’t like methi (fenugreek) and beetroot, so I puree it and put it in the cutlets and paranthas. And my daughter loves eating those red paranthas thinking it is tomatoes.
7. Involve children in shopping to cooking meals:
Just as Apni Mandi (Weekly Community Markets) in the Tricity (Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali), many cities have Weekly Farmers’ Market where fresh vegetables and fruits are sold at concessional rates. Involve your child in all steps of shopping, starting with making the list to finally chopping the veggies. No matter how young they are, there is invariably some way in which children can participate. Letting your children help you to choose what to buy and cook makes them feel they are also in control.
8. Don’t ban any food:
Although it is an already established fact that fresh food is the best wholesome food that your child needs, sometimes you may have to make them eat processed / tinned food. Avoid excluding any food from the child’s food. Try to keep processed food to the minimum, but do not ban any kind of food. Once a food is banned, it becomes much more desirable. Avoid making it more attractive by not cooking it at home or eating outside. Instead, introduce and assist the child to choose healthy food over the processed food by cooking and eating the same food at home. Also, do not, I repeat, do not use food as bribe, reward or punishment.
9. Don’t discuss/complain about your child in front of your child.
Do not give food more attention than it needs in the house. Avoid commenting on what your children eat or discuss their weight or calories intake in front of them alone or in public gatherings. (Remember that old Indian superstition: Nazar lag Jay). Take it seriously.
10. Avoid stereotypes:
Generally, we make clear distinctions between daily food and party food. The meals in the lunch boxes and meals at home are served without paying attention to its presentation. On the other hand, the party food is always more delicious, less boring and always good-looking, although it is fairly unhealthy. Change this difference. Make the daily meals also a treat for their eyes and stomach. Do not just pile and pack the food, make it interesting by adding some sauces or vegetable strips to it. If you offer sandwiches, make them fingers, pinwheels or in other shapes to encourage children to try them and keep using different healthy fillings as possible.
By making even small changes to your child’s diet, you can make a big difference. Putting in the effort at this early stage really does have its rewards and can influence the quality of your child’s whole lives.