Toddler Trauma which carries on till Teenage!
A constant problem we face as a Mom, “My child doesn’t eat properly. I have to get after him/her to finish every meal.” A common sight with toddlers is Moms running after their super energetic 2-6 year old with a plate, trying to feed them. Sometimes it is passed on to the father, “I am too tired running after her/him to eat, so you try honey”. Especially Indian Moms love to feed their children, whether they are 4 or 40. We make their favourite dishes and pour all our love into it, with dollops of Ghee or butter too!
It would sound over the top, but I was in the same dilemma with my 1 year old; I was feeling depressed and irritable, because I felt my child was hungry. I blamed the vaccinations, tried different strategies in every meal, finally surrendering to a bottle of milk, which went down easy. My husband would bear the brunt of all the drama that took place at every mealtime. I forced, she pushed away her plate, and then I followed her around the room, tried to entertain her with the mobile phone or TV, a few bites now, a few bites later. Phew! It was exhausting!
Put a Full Stop!
They say you must seek wisdom from your elders. In this case, out of the blue my young Aunt came to my rescue. I was enjoying a short holiday at her home, but instead of watching me relax, she saw a television soap opera playing out during each meal time. There were tantrums followed by tears. I am sure as a third person watching all this, it was comical. A loving yet assertive lady, my Aunt, shared her secret Mantra- JUST STOP FEEDING HER!
I was stunned, when my Aunt took away all the baby milk bottles and replaced them with sipping cups. I protested hesitatingly “How will a two year old drink without her bottle? She will spill the milk.”
“Relax, she will learn, and anyway she needs it just thrice a day.” was her firm reply.
Her prescription – “You will not feed her. Let her stay hungry. What’s the worst that can happen? She will lose a few grams of weight. Don’t worry, children gain it back in no time. The 100 grams she loses today will hold you in good stead for the next 10 years! So you sit still. Let her ‘ask’ for food when she is hungry.”
Let them …Taste the Hunger!
What we don’t realise as parents is that our children don’t eat well, because they are not hungry. They are not hungry because, we are feeding them all the time. A bowl of grapes, a cookie, bite of a sandwich or paratha while they were playing, a bag of chips as they watched TV, it just goes on and on. Sometimes lack of exercise can be a reason. Or may be genuinely feeling sick, so too nauseous to eat. Understand their situation and be patient. If you keep offering food in small amounts all day long, with the anxiety that they will not eat at mealtime, you are not letting them work up an appetite. So let your child feel the hunger. It’s a basic human instinct and nobody can function endlessly without the fuel called ‘food’.
Let them eat themselves even when you are in a social gathering or party. Most cases parents feed their children because they just want to get it over with. Sometimes they may even feel embarrassed among peers to have a parent molly coddle them at the table. If you feel that they may not eat properly, outside the comfort of home, feed them before you step out. This will also help them maintain their schedule.
You can try these few simple steps:
- Decide fixed meal times for your child and stick to this schedule. Try to make dinner slightly early around 630-7pm. They are really famished when they come back from their evening playtime. That’s why they will eat what you serve. Actually eating early is a healthy habit for everyone. Once the child has had a good healthy dinner, feel free to allow them a snack before bedtime, if they feel hungry again, like a cookie, or a glass of chocolate milk. But let them ask for it. Do not force.
- Designate an eating place. A high chair for a toddler or the dining table. It will be great if the family can also eat at the same time, as you can lead by example.
- Let them learn to eat it themselves.Serve them the food in their special plate in small portions to begin with. Make dishes that are nutritious, yet easy to eat, with fingers, if not a spoon.Guide and assist only if required, but don’t feed them the entire meal. It will be a slow affair, but be tolerant; you want them to be independent, don’t you?
- If they refuse to eat the food, leave them to it for a while, after which firmly remove the plate and ignore any tantrums or protests. Do not give options of eating anything else.
- Offer food only at the next meal time. The child will realize that food is a luxury, available only at a fixed time and place. Slowly the outbursts will subside, hunger will draw them to the seat, and soon it will become a habit. You start them young and it will be taken care of for life! I have never had to feed my little one since age three and she eats absolutely anything you put on the plate, unless it’s too spicy, even for an adult!
Forget the Fuss - Learn to respect food.
We love our kids, but to inculcate a good habit requires tough love! Hugs and kisses can be abundant, but so can be some conditions around eating healthy. My Grandmother’s feeding style seemed to work. She always made our favourite treats during vacations. But we had to eat at least one spoonful of all the other dishes made during a meal, whether we like it or not. So along with the much-loved chicken curry, we developed a taste for Beetroot salad and if you love your peas or carrots, you get to taste some pumpkin curry alongside. Point is to also learn to finish what is on your plate and not waste food. As a family you learn to respect food and make meal times a gratifying and joyful experience.
I remained a fussy eater all my life. But this exercise with my little one has trained me to eat healthy too. She loves her green vegetables, even the gourds, okra, beans, healthy sprouts and the oddest of vegetables! So to save myself from embarrassment, me and my husband not just cook but also eat all kinds of veggies now!
One can adapt to all flavours as a young child and with time you develop a taste for different dishes. Whenever we travel, or eat out, we make it a point to try different cuisines or local delicacies. We like some; we love some and some we detest. But it’s fun to interact, laugh at each other’s expressions when you try something new, click pictures of those dishes and make memories.
Don’t Flunk the Junk - How to be responsible
Junk food attracts the kids like a magnate. So how can you score high without feeling guilty, when you serve junk?
If you want them to stop eating junk food, stop hiding it! The more you take it away from them, they'll be curious to try it. Junk food is empty calories, leading to obesity, diabetes, bad teeth, cholesterol, the list is endless. But remember, your children have the capacity at their age to burn those calories, as long as you limit the amount. As adults too, we follow a diet which gives us cheat days. So why not let your little ones experience the big bad world of junk food once in a while. Assign cheat days for them too.
Don't stock your kitchen cupboards, but allow one treat when you go out for shopping. Let them taste the candy, order a pizza or lick the icing off the cake once in a while. Give them examples of people around them who are obese or unhealthy because of eating unhealthy food. Let them feel responsible, for their health, and say no to junk food.
Build a healthy routine, be it brushing teeth or playing outdoors. Run, swim, cycle or skate. An active child can digest a few ounces of junk food. Activity will also boost their metabolism and prompt them to eat healthy meals, which will be readily served at home when they are hungry.
Make Food Fun!
Eating a meal should not be a chore, like cleaning their room. Make it exciting, Plan menus together or even involve them with you in the kitchen when you cook.
Opt for healthy recipes for their all-time favourites. E.g Use Ragi or whole-wheat, instead of refined flour, in pancakes and cupcakes. Replace sugar with jaggery or honey. The ideas are limitless as far as your imagination can take you.
I know as a Mom, we feel very satisfied when we see out child eat well. So hope these simple tips help you raise a happy and healthy kid!
- Stop feeding your child from age 2. Let them learn to eat on their own.
- Follow a meal time routine and avoid giving titbits in between meals.
- Do not fuss over food. Teach them to respect food.
- Try different cuisines and open doors to variety.
- Don’t avoid Junk. Restrict the Amount. Convert it into healthy options.
- Build a healthy lifestyle as they will follow your lead.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Snehal Sarkar
Snehal Sarkar (author) from Pune, India on June 18, 2019:
Thank you...I am glad it helped!
Jen Greenlees from Wadsworth, OH on June 17, 2019:
My child is a very picky eater thank you for providing this article!