Presenting to you 3 amazing and really helpful tips for all those little picky food eaters hiding under the table. Cope with your kid’s fussy eating habits with no stress! Food mostly is more than just a nutritional need. It is also a deeply sensory experience. We all enjoy fine dining and uplifting gastronomic experiences. And since the child is the father of a man, there is no reason why it should be any different just because he is a few years younger! Most of the time fussy eating isn’t about food – it’s often about children wanting to be independent.
This all happens because fussy eating is part of children’s development. It’s a way of exploring their environment and asserting their independence. And it’s also because their appetites go up and down depending on how much they’re growing and how active they are. The good news is that fussy eating is a phrase (or a few of them!) – it comes and goes. The best way to deal with food fussiness is to realize that you cannot change it. You can only ease it. Commands, nagging, cajoling, tellings-off or bribes will actually have the opposite effect. The more you try to enforce, the more you give them something to react against. It’s an open invitation to battle. They soon realize that there are bowlfuls of power and spoonfuls of attention to be gained from not eating something – even if they like it.
So what do you do? Try some of these easy to implement habits:
1. Variety is the spice of life, and of food too!
I keep presenting my son with a wide variety of healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I say nothing. Ever. It’s an approach that takes willpower. But it can work wonders not just to prevent, but also – with a little time – to undo fussy eating. Remember: reverse psychology is the best thing to do with children.
So if you have two things that you want them to try as part of the meal plan, have one thing that they like as well. Or reinvent. So if there is a carrot-pea dish, toss some macaroni into it. If there is a khichdi have some papad and raita too. Put a small amount of new food on the plate with familiar food your child already likes – for example, a piece of beans alongside some chicken nuggets.
Using pudding as a bribe or a threat is actually like a gratification approach. We know most kids will do anything for a sugar hit. But not only are you showing your desperation, but you’re also giving them a thoroughly unhelpful message: eating the savoury bit is a chore. Not enjoyable. Something you just have to endure to get to the sweet bit. It’s subconscious, but it’s loud and clear.
2. Reinforcements of positive choices
Save praise for the tricky or boring things in life like learning to tie your shoelaces or memorizing your nine times tables. Eating isn’t hard. It’s our most basic instinct. And a pleasure. The reward for eating is eating: the taste on your tongue, that feeling of a nice full belly. Say: “What a nice boy! You have finished the daal (pulses)!” or “The spinach is really yummy. Mummy loves it!” Kids are naturally curious creatures – even about food. Encourage your child to touch, smell or take a lick of the new food, then praise him for having a go.
Then encourage him to take a bite. Praise your child for trying it. You want to keep an air of “fluidity” around food, where just because they’ve turned their nose up at food 10 times – it does not rule out the possibility that they’ll fancy it another day. Serve your child the same meal the family is eating but in portion size, your child will eat. If your child doesn’t eat it, say something like, ‘Try it, it’s yummy. If she still doesn’t want it, calmly say, ‘OK, we’ll try it another time when you’re hungry.
Peer influence is another way of reinforcing. When possible, look for opportunities for your children to share meals and snacks with other children – they might be more willing to try a food if other children are tucking in.
Being creative and including reinvention in cooking and presenting food is crucial to spark an interest in what is on the plate. You would agree too, that you order most things in a restaurant after reading a menu. Food is sensory. The moment you read ‘…melted in cheese’ or ‘…cooked in a red wine reduction’, you start imagining the colours and flavours. Why not get the fancy presentation of a fine dining restaurant onto your dining table. This especially works for older kids. Give your dishes fancy names.
In my house, we mix broccoli with cauliflower while making the sabzi and add some cherry tomatoes on top. The plain-jane aloo gobhi then becomes ‘Spring on The Table’ and goes down with relish. My son has very particular tastes in food. The gorier I name something, the more he wants to eat it. My son never would drink beetroot juice – but ever since I christened it ‘Monster Blood Juice’ (don’t ask), he actually asks me to make it.
Go a step further and every once in a while put in the extra effort to print a menu card – on your home printer – ask the kids to help in laying the table like a fine-dining eatery. Make mealtime special. And the food you serve too. Make quick healthy recipes a lot more fun – for example, cut sandwiches into interesting shapes, or let your child help prepare a salad or even whisk an egg.
by Aarti Kapur Singh