By the time your child is a toddler, she will have mastered the skill of navigating the world and communicating. However, she may not have much control over things that impact her life, so eating is possibly the first thing she would wish to experiment with. Does your toddler give a cold shoulder to the food on her plate? Does she only prefer pasta, macaroni, chicken nuggets and cheese over healthy greens, legumes, lentils and grains? Or maybe, she eats nothing at all. Remember, it's natural for you to be worried about your child's nutrition. This is absolutely normal.
Worrying about what children eat or don’t is one of the most discussed topics among parents. It is perfectly understandable, as parents are responsible for providing their children with food that makes them healthy and active. And, without doubt, you would be eager to know more about this.
Till the time your child matures in his or her food preferences, here are some inputs, which might help you tackle your picky eater:
1. Respect your child’s appetite (or lack of it): It’s an excellent idea not to induce or force your child to finish everything on his plate, as this might escalate into a power fight over food. If force-feeding becomes a daily occurrence, chances are that your child might associate mealtimes with disquiet and may thwart or develop less sensitivity to his own hunger and fullness signals. Serve small portions and allow your child the freedom to ask for more, which would depend on how hungry he is. Also, remember that children’s tummies are small and get filled very quickly, especially by fluids. So, it is advisable to let your child drink water (or soup/milk/juices) between meals rather than along with meals, as this might decrease her appetite and make her resist your attempts to feed her.
2. Form a routine and stick to it: Fix a time for serving food. Children need the discipline of a routine; otherwise, they will lose track of time as they keep themselves busy with play and other activities!
3. Make veggie eating a fun affair: It is usually a struggle to make children eat veggies! Toddlers, especially, dread vegetables like broccoli, bitter gourd and radish. Make such veggies interesting by serving them with a sweet chutney or sauce. The Mediterranean way of grinding pulses and veggies like chickpeas and aubergines into a dip can be an interesting way to get your child to try new cuisines. Serving foods cut into various shapes and sizes might also make lunchtime fascinating for your child.
4. Patience is a godsend!: As parents, patience is the first virtue we should practice in our lives! Your toddler won’t like the sight of green beans for the first time. But you must never stop serving them; instead, reintroduce them. Start with small portions and motivate your child to taste a bite. They might slowly develop a taste for it. Always remember that your child's eating habits won't likely change rapidly and overnight — but the tiny steps you take each day can help inculcate a lifetime of healthy eating.
5. Be a good role model: Children learn from elders around them, so do teach them the right dietary habits by following them yourselves. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Make sure you serve your family nutritious and tasty food that you love to eat yourself. Present before them healthy edibles and let them choose the ones that appeal to their taste palette. Navigate your child towards the route of healthy eating, but do it in a crafty manner. Once your child knows you relish what you ask them to eat, they will definitely follow suit.
The author is Founder & Director at The Pediatric Network.