Raising An Eater

Last month my husband and I along with our 13-month-old boy went for a holiday with another couple and their 3-year-old daughter.

It was a learning experience for me the first time parent.

8 Tips On Raising A Healthy Eater - Don't Force Kids To Eat

Kiddie mealtimes looked like this: The little girl was hooked onto a screen; either the iPad or the laptop while one of the parents was shoveling food into her mouth. After 15 minutes of this the parent would beg and plead and cajole and the child fussed and fought. In the meanwhile my son joined on his high chair and I gave him some bites of food, which he devoured. Within 10 minutes he was done though there was still some food left on his plate. When he’s full he gets a little fussy and I end the meal. The little girl on the other hand refused to finish her meal so her parents would ask her whether she wanted a cheese sandwich in lieu of the meal. My son never gets that choice. He eats what he is served or his meal is cleared up and that’s that.

Just to give you an idea at 14 months his meals look like this:

  • One egg and a fruit for breakfast.
  • Mutton / chicken and rice, a big serving of vegetables and a bowl of yoghurt for lunch.
  • Coconut water and fruits in the evening.
  • Soup, vegetables, chicken, rice and daal and sometimes a piece of fish for dinner.

Above all this he still breastfeeds about 4 times a day.

You could say he is an excellent eater.

Here is what worked for me when it came to raising an eater:

  • Trust their instincts: Babies are born with instincts. If you don’t believe me, watch this video.

    So when they are full they will stop eating. By forcing them to eat more we’re forcing our children to stop trusting their bodies and develop a less natural relationship with food. For example by bribing them with food as reward, food is no longer for nourishment but for pleasure.
  • Breastfeed: A breastfed baby tastes different foods right from the very beginning. He is already open to try new things.
  • Start solids at 6 months: When you do this, you do NOT have to give the child very liquid foods. I started with course solid foods and not with extra mashed or strained foods. So by the time he was 10 months he was eating exactly the same food as we do because he didn’t waste any time moving onto bigger pieces of food.
  • DO NOT FORCE: It’s my genuine belief that forcing and cajoling is where the problem lies. When my son was about 11 months I saw a mother of a baby the same age literally force-feeding her son. She had some liquid mush in some sort of tube like thing, which if you squeeze it comes out on a spoon. (I could never use that, as I never gave such mushy food even in the first solids session). Then she pinched the baby’s cheeks inwards in such a way that the mouth opened in an ‘O’. Then she forced the spoon in again and again. Finally the father and she held the child down while forcing food down while he struggled. I don’t know about you, but if I had food shoved down my throat I’d definitely have a unhealthy relationship with food. Why why why are children forced to eat? They will not starve! They are more instinctual than you and me, why ruin that so early? Spending half an hour or more cajoling a child to eat is also futile because if hungry the baby will eat. It’s survival after all.
  • Don’t offer a substitute. If a baby has not eaten his meal, he is probably not hungry. There is no reason to offer a yummy but nutrient deficient substitute for the meal. A toddler on the other hand knows he will get a bribe of something else if he doesn’t eat and will not eat his vegetables if you have started offering junk from a young age. I only give my son nutrient dense foods. He has no choice but to eat it or else he will go hungry.
  • Go for quality over quantity. If you are offering nutrient rich foods at every meal, it will be heavy. Eggs are heavy as compared to chocos. So N races through his eggs for breakfast and is not hungry from 9 to 1, which is when he eats lunch. He doesn’t eat bread or any foods that will make him hungry quick.
  • Don’t give food in between meals. At the play ground, a little girl a few months older than N comes to play. Her nanny is CONSTANTLY feeding her in the hour and a half that she is playing. She gives her small biscuits and complains that she doesn’t eat her meals. How? Will that tiny little thing eat meals if she is constantly eating biscuits all day? When N comes back from the playground he is HUNGRY. He eats his dinner quickly and happily.
  • Let them eat textures: Experiment with all textures. My baby ate steak at 8 months. I just gave him a tiny piece, which he chewed on with his gums for almost 5 minutes before I removed it from his mouth. Experimenting with textures from early on will lead to a child who is not fussy.

So far these steps from the beginning have helped me raise a child who eats well. Because I am a natural parent who believes in instincts. I don’t worry when my child eats less than normal sometimes. I know he may not be hungry on a particular day or may just not like that food served to him very much.

If meal times are not a battleground it can be quite an enjoyable experience for the mother or father to bond with the little one, make silly faces or just tell stories.

What are your experiences with feeding your little one? Thanks for reading!

Aloka Gambhir is a new mom (since October 2012). She is a fitness and nutrition enthusiast and a health and fitness blogger since 2011. She is a Mumbai mom following an alternative lifestyle called the paleo/primal or evolutionary lifestyle. She is passionate about helping fellow moms follow their instincts to a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their family by questioning the rules and conventional wisdom on her blog: www.wholesomemamma.in

  • Nischala

    Aloka – Admire your style. food is a ‘touchy’ topic for too many mummies. & i’m sure your kiddo will be healthy and well in the later years as you’re investing in a strong foundation. excellent post

    • Thanks nischala. I have noticed how parents go berserk about food and feeding and I wrote this to say that there is another way. Believe in the baby and believe in instincts. I truly believe that what we do when the children are babies sets the foundation for the relationship with food as they grow up.

  • Sunita Rajwade

    Way to go Aloka. Your healthy attitude to food is reflected in your child’s relationship to it.

  • Janice Goveas

    Brilliant! I have an eater too. There are times that there is the occasional TV watching while eating food, but i dont make a habit of it. He loves his food, cos i guess it is important to make the food as interesting for the baby as you would when you cook for yourself.

    • Janice, I so agree with you that you should make the food as interesting for the baby as you would for yourself.
      Infact I have no issue with putting salt in his food and I use herbs and all sorts of things. Unless you are to giving processed foods, their intake of salt won’t be that much anyway so why make it tasteless.
      Everything occasional is ok as long as it’s not a habit.
      Thanks for the comment

  • Reema Sahay

    Nice tips Aloka! I have also been very particular about a few things about food from the beginning. Breastfeeding exclusively till 6 months and continued till 18 months [when he himself stopped feeding during nighttime]. I introduced salt only after 9 months, and always kept sugar to bare minimum [no sugar in milk]. I never allowed feeding in front of TV no matter who was watching it [we are anyways no TV household except when grandparents visit]. From the time he started solids till now [28 months] he has been given fruits everyday [which usually all kids love]. I don’t allow biscuits, cakes, sweets, chocolates on daily basis. Dry fruits in general, and raisins in particular, is to him what chocolates are for most kids. Feeding him was a lot easier till he was 18-20 months old, after that he has become choosy and realized that he was his own person :-). These days he wants to have just the daal, no rice; sometimes just the roti, no sabzi. I try to balance it out during the day but I admit sometimes I have been guilty of engaging him in conversation and feeding him a few morsels of food [potatoes or eggs aren’t favourites]. But I don’t make it a habit and most of the time I tell him what I am feeding him. I don’t force. I never resort to barter approach – you eat rice, then you will get chocolates. It will not help in the long run. The biggest learning is there are no short cuts. For long term benefits, we need to make efforts.
    I hope your son continues to be an eater.

    • Hi Reema, for my son too dates and raisins are what chocolate is to most kids.
      I am sure when he gets older it’s going to be much harder but that’s a reality. Packing in nutrition and fats at this tender age is very important though because this is where the major brain growth is taking place, and it does set a tone for healthy eating henceforth.
      I don’t intend to restrict majorly when he is older, it’s futile but right now when I can control what he eats, I will.
      Awesome about the self weaning at 18 months. That will be an ideal situation for me 🙂

      • Reema Sahay

        That’s what I think too. As long as he is with me, I have a control over what he eats. Once he starts school, he might be influenced by other kids. Even now if he asks a chocolate, I give him a little something or sometimes offer him raisins as alternative [which he chooses over chocolates].
        A few months back I went to a pediatrician for something and we were discussing about some food issues; she said give him sugar. I told her I never give him sugar like that. She said, that’s the problem with you guys, you won’t give the good old sugar but I am sure you must be giving sauce and jams! I said I don’t.People will judge you all the time. Many times you have to stop other people from giving junk to your kids. When we go out in the evening for the stroll, we find many mommies taking their kids to buy chocolates or wafers [because they have got used to it]. I have to stop them every time when they offer one to my son too. And kids are not born to that habit, they develop it.

      • Reema Sahay

        That’s what I think too. As long as he is with me, I have a control over what he eats. Once he starts school, he might be influenced by other kids. Even now if he asks a chocolate, I give him a little something or sometimes offer him raisins as alternative [which he chooses over chocolates].
        A few months back I went to a pediatrician for something and we were discussing about some food issues; she said give him sugar. I told her I never give him sugar like that. She said, that’s the problem with you guys, you won’t give the good old sugar but I am sure you must be giving sauce and jams! I said I don’t.People will judge you all the time. Many times you have to stop other people from giving junk to your kids. When we go out in the evening for the stroll, we find many mommies taking their kids to buy chocolates or wafers [because they have got used to it]. I have to stop them every time when they offer one to my son too. And kids are not born to that habit, they develop it.