Tired of nagging your kids to eat better, healthier? Shift gears, suggests Dr. Kanika Varma, renowned health & nutrition professional. She outlines 7 simple yet effective strategies that encourage kids to make smart food choices for themselves.
1: Empower Them, Involve Them
Involve your children in food-related activities. Plan the menu with them. Take them grocery shopping. Encourage them to cultivate fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, spinach, brinjals – they all do well in pots). Acquaint them with the benefits of local, seasonal, and organic foods. Empower them to make their own food choices, under your guidance, of course.
The more involved the kids are, the more responsible they will feel about making the right food choices.
Do remember to begin early. Children are curious about food in their early childhood. So it is a great time to introduce your child to a variety of nutritious foods. Sure, your toddler can’t make lists, but he will have a blast picking items off the shelf.
Need A Tool To Show Kids How To Choose Fruits & Vegetables? Coming soon
2: Get Them Cooking
Take out the time to cook with your children. I promise you the rewards will be well worth the effort. Not only will you bond, the act of cooking will give the children a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
Obviously, you would be looking at kid-friendly, delicious-cum-nutritious recipes – welcome to the universe of colourful juices, sorbets, smoothies, salads, soups, sauces, and snacks made with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Just one word of caution – leave the neat freak behind when you enter the kitchen with your child. Let cooking times be fun times. Having a good time is far more conducive to promoting healthy food habits than a clean kitchen!
Looking For Some Simple Recipes To Cook With The Kids? Coming soon..
3: Tackle Junk With Portion Control
Kids like junk. Hell, we like junk. So no point putting a blanket ban on junk foods and sweets. Instead, use the portion control strategy to tackle unhealthy eating.
In essence, you need to encourage your child to be conscious of serving/portion sizes when eating junk. Just two squares of chocolates, not the whole bar: A small popcorn, not the large popcorn-cola combo at the movies: Regular, not jumbo, burgers … You get the idea.
4: Respect Their Appetite Signals
Young children have the innate ability to recognize when they are hungry and when they are full. So respect their hunger and satiety signals. Don’t fall into the common trap of overfeeding your child.
Pushing a young child to eat causes long-term harm. Overfed children end up losing touch with their own fullness cues. They cannot understand the difference between real hunger and boredom hunger, causing control issues when they grow up.
5: Lead From The Front
Model what you expect - Parenting 101. Whatever you eat and, even more importantly, NOT eat is picked up by the kids. So be a role model. Follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. If not today, someday they will do the same. You can’t sit in front of a TV, munching chips, for hours and then expect your kids not to do the same.
6: Don’t Make Meals Your Emotional Bargaining Chip
You don’t want your kids to be consoling or rewarding themselves with food when they grow up. Correct? So please stop using meals as a reward or punishment right now.
Yes, that pizza treat is a great bargaining chip; but that’s how we create adults who seek comfort in ice cream when they feel low. ins
Also, keep the scolding and reprimands far away from mealtimes. You don’t want to create negative, unhappy associations. Rather try and eat together in a happy, friendly atmosphere.
7: Create awareness about the 4 White Traps
Educate your children about the 4 white poisons - sugar, salt, maida and PHVO (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) – and their harmful effects. Make them aware about the foods rich in these poisons so that they can make better choices.
Encourage them to look at labels. What is the sodium (salt) content in that packet of namkeen? Is the namkeen worth it?
Stock your house with healthy, and only healthy, snack options. If the kitchen offers only fruit, guess what the child will reach for when a sweet craving strikes.
Tutor their taste buds right. Replace maida with whole wheat flour wherever possible (yes, even in white sauce and cakes). Give unsweetened milk – just because you don’t find it tasty, doesn’t mean they will feel the same.
All this effort may seem a little daunting sometimes, but do remember you are preparing them for a lifetime of healthy choices.
Kanika Varma, Associate Professor, University of Rajasthan
Teaching & Practicing Nutrition With A Passion