“No, I don’t like its taste.”
“It doesn’t smell good.”
“I’ll eat red foods only.”
“Can you make a burger out of it?”
“See! You have hidden peas in it!”
Sounds like your child? Well, you’re in good company. Most kids behave like this in their initial years. There’s peer pressure, attraction to junk food, and sometimes, just mood swings. You want them to adopt healthy eating habits, develop different tastes, and fill their plates with nutrition, but they just won’t let you do that.
Relax! Fussy eating is a rite of passage. Every kid does it at a certain age and leaves it later. However, it turns into an issue when it starts affecting their health or if these tantrums become their nature. So, here are some ideas to get your fussy eater jump into eating healthy foods and enjoying it.
- Make it their happy place
Like most of us, children too associate food with their emotions. If they reach the dinner table in a happy mood with the home smelling appetising, they’ll be more inclined to try new items. If you discuss their homework or their below-average performance in school on the dinner table, or act like healthy food is a punishment for that, they’re never going to love it.
- Set meal times
Setting meal times and eating at the same time every day helps regulate hunger and encourages the kid to eat whatever is served. You could also go a step ahead and design a weekly menu to keep them excited for the upcoming meals which also have a few cheat meals.
- Ignore the tantrums
Some kids create a fuss just to get attention and as a parent, you know when that’s happening. So, it’s wise not to oblige them by giving in to their demands all the time. If they refuse to eat, ignore them as much as possible. When they’ll feel hungry, they’ll eat what is served and gradually, understand that this is not the right way to get your attention. Simultaneously, it’s important to appreciate children when they don’t fuss.
- One step at a time
Be patient with introducing new tastes and items to their menu. Do it one at a time and in an innovative way. Children are highly visual and will jump to any food item if it is presented dramatically. Also, don’t forget to appreciate them when they try it. Ask your kids for their ideas on how to make the food more interesting. Put a small amount of new food on the plate with the food your child already likes.
- Ask them to be your sous chef
This is the next step to getting your kids appreciate all kinds of food items. Most parents pamper their child and are overly protective. They fear that the child might get cut or burned. Don’t forget that you’ll be there for them. Involve them in food preparation. You’ll learn more about how they like their food to be and they’ll understand that it’s not easy to cook interesting items every day. If possible, get them to join you in the kitchen garden.
- Make the food attractive
Like I said, children respond to visual stimulus. So, make the food attractive. Use your child’s interests to modify food and make it more appealing. Create a story around it – maybe it was the first dish you learned, it was something you hated first too, or it has some historical significance. Cartoons like Popeye promote nutritious foods like spinach. Similarly, minions promote bananas and Po the noodle soup. Make their cartoons work for you!
- Be positive
Yes, that sounds like a clichéd advice, but it’s a cliché for a reason – it works! While introducing a new food, eat it with your child and be positive about it. You don’t have to pretend how delicious it is, but you can recite the benefits. For example, “Oh! Carrots give me x-ray vision to know when my boy is stealing cookies even when I’m not looking that way.”
- Hide nutrition
This is a tried and trusted technique that mothers have been using for centuries to get their kids eat healthily. If your kids don’t like milk and other dairy products, make fruit custards, milk shakes, and colourful yogurts. If they hate chapatis, knead veggies in flour, such as beetroot, spinach, and lentils to change the colour of the chapatis to red, green, and yellow. The trick is to package nutrients smartly.
- Host an adventure dinner
It’s no secret that all kids love games and quizzes. So, gamify the eating process. Host weekly “adventure dinners” where you create something new and ask them to guess the ingredients. This will make them understand that things they don’t like eating could also be delectable. A little healthy competition between siblings will also take the attention away from the food’s taste to winning the contest.
Over to you
Most mothers who visit me, explain to me how coming up with innovative ideas to cook and present food in an attractive manner is taking away their night’s sleep. But that’s why I’m here – to help you lay down a firm foundation of good health and eating habits in kids’ lives.
I have included some tips here, but you must have some tricks in your kitty too. Spill them in the comments. Have a doubt? Drop that too. Know someone who would benefit from these ideas? Share it with them right away!