Getting kids to eat right is a universal issue for parents. Be it in a Beijing courtyard or a San Francisco apartment, the idyllic picture of a mother eating peacefully with her two children seated at the table as father comes home just in time for dinner is for advertisements only. The reality is messier.
It’s easy to get hung up on details, so here is a selection of big picture strategies that have got me through the hard times.
Vow to never fight over food
Getting into drawn-out battles often backfires with the child turning against a particular food if pressed too hard. This is especially likely if the child feels their opinion is not taken into consideration, and it can lead to them to become even more defiant.
The best thing you can do is to have some basic ground rules that work for your particular situation and then make sure everyone sticks to them (including ayi). For example: Limit treats like hamburgers or sweets to weekends only. Also, read up on the use of active listening skills to help you understand the reason for your child’s dislike of something. You might be surprised to find that it is not the broccoli itself, simply a matter of presentation for younger children or cooking style for older kids.
Food is food, nothing else
We are all born with the natural drive to eat until we are full and drink when we are thirsty. But by the time we have reached adulthood, external cues generally overshadow our internal ones so we end up eating and drinking for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger or thirst. Whenever you find yourself offering your child some food or drink for comfort, reward or even just to keep them out of your hair for a few minutes, remember that those potent, hard-to-break eating habits form in childhood. For example, if you have the habit of giving your child a treat after mealtimes, ask yourself, why is that so? Was it a common practice in your childhood? Were sweets used as a reward for finishing your meals when you were a child? How might learning to finish your plate every time have affected your own weight management?
Kids can dislike what you like
No matter how much variety we offer our babies, they will develop their own opinions earlier than we think. As adults we have our own distinct likes and dislikes, but teenagers, kids and even 9-month-old babies do too. Some tastes need to be acquired over time. Strong cheeses, grapefruit and even something as simple as ginger can triggerthe wrinkling of little noses. Older children face external influences such as peer groups, social pressure and even their school’s nutrition syllabus. We might not agree with their tastes, but we should at least understand them.
Keep the big picture
Regardless of whether your child is 5 weeks or 5 years old, you can still have a positive impact. There will be good days and bad days and their interest, intake and outlook on their food will vary from week to week. Forget about fighting over the last bite and remember that the food pyramid wasn’t built in a day.
Got a question? Singaporean Olivia Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) has an MSc in nutrition and provides nutrition counseling.