Getting your kids to eat healthy

September 26, 2013 - All News

Special to SAF
Most parents are confused about how to feed their children in the right manner. Either they lack information — which is surprising as there is no dearth of information available — or they lack the skills to implement the habits of eating correctly, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
There are several ways to develop children’s interest in the right kind of food. One of the skills to adopt is to find an adequate substitute for something that the child dislikes. Some children hate vegetables; instead of forcing it down, we could substitute it with fruits, introduce yogurt and cheese for milk, and fish or eggs for meat. At the same time, the substitute meal should be made part of the family meal, without the child knowing it was specially made for him.
Another important requirement is to create a mealtime environment.  When children eat at the same table with adults, they also learn the manners adopted by the family. They start eating by observing others.
Another way of igniting children’s interest and curiosity is by allowing them to help in preparing meals, as per their capacity. Little girls like to help their mom roll chapattis, boys like pouring or spreading jobs. Apart from that children can help lay the table, arrange mats, dishes, spoons, and so on. When they are part of it they will also develop an interest in food. Sometime children can be involved in shopping for food, gaining the information on the nutritive label on the product.
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you,” says bestselling author Robert Fulghum. If parents eat a variety of healthy foods, children will surely be led to do the same.
In a home where fruits and vegetables are readily available, children also develop greater preference for them. My son Raju stopped eating his vegetables and fruits when he turned two, since his father would bring chocolates and dry fruits when he came home. During those days, I had no knowledge how harmful it could be. Raju started eating junk food more, so when it was meal-time he was never hungry and played with his food.
I strongly believe that both parents must be together in achieving the goal that their child eats healthy. If the mother insists on eating healthy but the father’s actions show otherwise, it will be a disaster for the child.
It is very important to reduce tempting snacks in the house. If the child finds only healthy snacks, he will eventually form a habit. The idea is not to restrict access to certain foods like chocolates or candies, but to create an environment and make your child understand that everything can be enjoyed in moderation, so that the treats will truly be treats!
As regards the quantity of food, trust your child’s judgment. Mothers want their children to grow bigger and stronger quickly, and force them to overeat — all with good intentions! But we all know that obesity occurs when people eat more food than the body requires. And obesity matters, as it is linked with other serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Parents are often heard prompting, “Eat your broccoli, clean your plate,” or “If you eat your broccoli, I’ll let you have dessert.” But rewarding with tasty treats has an adverse effect. First, in order to receive the reward, the child eats more food. Overeating not only makes him sluggish, but also moody. Second, using a sugary snack as a reward for eating vegetables may make the child dislike the vegetable even more. Even if children may increase their consumption of nutritious foods, they may not be healthy.
Exercise is also very important for health. Parents must involve children in physical activities and reduce their sedentary time watching television or playing video games. Physical activity will increase the child’s appetite. She will eat and sleep better.
Parents’ feeding practices play a crucial role in a child’s physical, mental, emotional and social health. As goes the age-old saying, ‘A healthy mind resides in a healthy body.’
— Fatima Sugarwala immigrated to Canada in 2012, when she was 60 years young, to start her new life. In this occasional column, Sugarwala will present her view of Canada from her unique perspective.