Helping your child develop healthy eating habits
One of the most important jobs of parenting is to feed one’s child. It is not enough just to feed the child to satisfy hunger. It is important to feed children nutritious, healthful foods, that nourish their growing bodies and minds. If one wanted to teach healthy eating habits to a person, childhood would be the right time to do that.
Children can be wonderful, joyful and bring a lot of happiness and love into our lives. However, sometimes they can also bring conflict and stress. This cannot be truer than at the dinner table. Kids love to eat a variety of foods. But they can be quite finicky with their preferences, stubborn at times and even forget to eat due to playtime and other distractions.
So how does one win this mealtime battle? One solution is to avoid the battle altogether. This can be done by sticking to a plan for meals every day. Discipline, when it becomes a way of life, becomes second nature.
With my 3-year-old, who wants snacks, cookies and candy for lunch, I have managed to schedule a lunch menu everyday, consisting of the South Indian staple diet of rice, dal (cooked lentils) and a vegetable curry (a type of stir-fry). I cook food fresh when he goes to school and serve him food hot and fresh when he comes home. I sit with him. We watch some TV, or I tell him some stories and feed him by hand. Feeding by hand is an integral part of parenting in South Indian culture. The lunch meal is followed up by a few spoons of plain curd (yogurt). Yogurt aids in digestion and is an important part of most Indian meals. It allows for the digestive system to ‘cool’ down, perhaps aiding in settling the acids that are produced with hunger and also helps with mellowing down the effects of spices. Yogurt also contains helpful bacteria that assist in digesting food. I may follow up the lunch meal with a cookie or fruit.
Almost every single day, my son tells me that he wants to eat some kind of a snack for lunch. But when I place the piping hot rice and lunch meal in front of him, he is eager to eat it.
We follow the same schedule for lunch, varying the vegetable used in the curry every day. He may eat other foods at breakfast, dinner and snack times, but the lunch meal and lunch times are fairly consistent. This ensures that my child gets a proper nutritious meal at least one time in a day.
We follow similar eating practices at dinner and breakfast. He has a dinner table that he helps to clean.
He sits at that table for all his meals. We are always engaged with him while he eats, either by sitting with him in an adjacent chair, or by being near him in the kitchen, cooking food for him or doing chores, but all the while, paying attention to him while he eats.
So far, this discipline has been helping my family with avoiding some of the meal-time battles. It also allows me to plan for the day’s cooking more easily. It is so much easier to just go ahead and cook lunch when I do not have to spend time choosing between multiple options every day! I do vary the vegetables for the curry. However, the type of meal at lunch stays fairly consistent, making it easier for me to set a routine, with cooking as well as eating.
The good thing is that my 8 month old baby also loves to sit near her brother in the highchair and eat some of the same kinds of meals that he does, mimicking him. So, I am happy for the routine and discipline that is being established early on for her.
This is what we do to develop healthy eating habits in our children. Now, if only I could stick to a better diet! Now that is a different story!!!
On a serious note, I remember rebelling against the meal-time routines as a child and have come to value their importance as an adult. So, I hope that teaching our children to eat in a disciplined manner now, would serve them for a long time to come!
This blog was written by one of our guest bloggers, Kanmani.
I am mom to an active 3 year old and a cherubic 8 month old. When I'm not chasing after my kids, I enjoy the outdoors, painting, writing, reading and movies. I am also a music buff and enjoy many genres of music. My latest passion is cooking. Find my cooking tips, recipes, and motherhood experiences on my personal blog, KanmaniWrites.com.
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Want more information on this topic? wichealth.org has a free online lesson called Help Your Child Develop Healthy Eating Habits. Find it on wichealth.org in the Children 1-5 category!