Discussions in moms’ circles are incomplete without, what probably is the biggest concern of all parents, food. Every mom I have met discusses about her strategy to get few bites past her kid’s adorable lips. Getting the kids to eat a well-balanced meal is every mom’s dream.
By definition a kid who refuses to eat her food half the time is termed a fussy eater. My kid cries everyday in school when her lunch box is opened. I have tried every possible dish for her – rice, soup, idli, dosas, sandwiches/roti cut in various shapes, decorated as a bento set, noodles, pasta and even sweet dishes like halwa!! Sometimes I have just put a bun in her lunch box. When she is with other kids all she wants to do is play and jump around. Eating is the last thing on her mind. She takes a really long time to eat but as soon as the first kid is done with his lunch, my kiddo wants to pack up too!! Nothing tempts her to sit and eat when others are playing. Not even a chocolate!
She likes to eat plain rice with or without salt at any time of the day, but she refuses to eat daal and vegetables with the same fervor as plain rice. I strive to strike a balance there, allowing her to eat what she likes against getting her to ear a balanced meal. As much as I want to term my kiddo a fussy/picky eater, I restrain myself from doing so. I protect my kiddo from this stereotyping and fight, like a tigress, with anyone who calls her that. At times I have fought with my mum, even when I knew that she was a hundred percent right.
I believe it is common among toddlers and preschoolers to be a bit fussy about food. They refuse to eat the food even before tasting it. To begin with, they do not like the texture; and then other reasons like taste, smell, temperature etc. On some days kids eat like there isn’t another day and other days they do not want to eat at all.
If a kid is a fussy eater, meal times potentially turn into a battle zone between mom and kid. It does not have to be like this. At such times, moms have to take a step back and make some changes to food time routines. The kid has to sit at a calm place, free of distractions like TV and eat her food. I have seen moms who run behind their active toddler/preschooler with a plate of food in hand! What does this force-feeding achieve?
This is my way of dealing with my kiddo’s fussiness:
- Let her go hungry once in a while
Every once in a while when she refuses to eat at all, I let her go hungry. Even as adults, we sometimes skip a meal. One or two days without rice won’t make her weak. On days she goes ‘hungry’; I make sure that she loads up on healthy snacks – dry fruits, fruits, pro biotic drinks, yoghurt, cheese or just plain milk. Sometimes when she doesn’t want anything at all, I ask her what she wants and she usually comes up with an answer – Plain boiled pasta, Maggie or one of the kid-exotic!
- Same food for everyone
Right from beginning, kiddo would eat the same food as us. I would remove a portion for her before adding spicy ‘tadka’. Even today I do not cook separately for her; I encourage her to eat the same food. I give her choices among the food prepared and she gets to choose what she wants to eat.
- No TV while eating
When she was young, I used to keep her occupied by telling stories and rhymes. Now that she can eat by herself, she usually sits with us for family mealtime. We make it a point not to have lunch or dinner in front of TV and this rule applies to her too. The rule is that she gets to watch TV if she finishes her food and we stick to it. It usually works!! Again, balance is the key here. I do not want to start a battle when kiddo is sleepy or too tired, a weekend late night, vacation or generally on a day when the routine is disturbed. I just go easy on such days.
- Limit junk food
Chips and other fried items are very rare for my kiddo. She binges on chocolate though. Chocolates, marshmallows and other junk are after food snacks and she is very well aware of it. I attended a birthday party where cake cutting was done after food. I am going to put it into practice.
- Don’t label her as fussy
I do not call my kiddo a fussy eater. She hasn’t even overheard me calling her fussy or that she is picky. Once a kid gets the idea she uses that to get away most of the times and it becomes a habit.
- Encourage positive behavior
My kiddo learns a lot from books. If it is in a book and it is read to her once, she absorbs it like a sponge. I read a lot of good eating habit books to her. I show her how eating vegetables make her stronger.
- Adults are the role models
We as adults have to be caught eating a well balance healthy meal. If the adults in the house are eating a good meal, kids learn that too, over time. Luckily, neither my hubby nor I like carbonated drinks. My kiddo doesn’t like the fizz and it doesn’t catch her interest mainly because it’s alien to her. And we eat our vegetables.
Following the above steps makes meal times so much easier and I have few achievements to list:
- My kiddo has always, always sat at one place to eat her food. She gets up from her place only when she has finished her food.
- She is 3.5 year old and she can eat her food by herself with no help from us. Yes, she gets up only after she is done. No, she is not tied to a high chair. She sits at the dining table.
I do not believe that my kid is a fussy eater. She has a few favorite food of her own, and the list will only grow. I am a techie mom, I will continue researching for new recipes and new tricks to get her finish her plate of food.
I am sure you have your own strategies for tackling mealtime dramas. Do let me know your tips and tricks.
Divya Rao is a mother to a 3.5 yr old bundle of joy. She has one eye set on growing her career and the other watching and enjoying her little one grow up.