How to Raise a Healthy Eater?
Have you been hiding the vegetables and blending them into cakes and muffins? Have you given up on your child eating fruits? Well, you don’t really have to; there is a way to raise a healthy eater.
I know from witnessing hundreds of children of preschool age for the past 10 years, that some children are more difficult, some are more stubborn, some have sensory issues and some parents are more consistent and patient while others are more inconsistent and malleable.
The following are some Do’s and Don’ts:
Do start early: I have noticed that children, who are fed sweet cereals before mashed vegetables, have a higher tendency to refuse the vegetables later. So Don’t sweeten your baby’s food and delay the sweet food even fruits until after you have introduced the vegetables.
Do be a good example for your child: When your child grows up watching you enjoy a big bowl of colorful salad or snack on cucumbers and carrots dipping them in yoghurt instead of chips or cookies, this child will definitely adopt the same eating habits.
Do keep trying: It’s normal for children to refuse trying new food. This is called “neophobia” and it doesn’t mean you should give up that food. Keep trying different recipes in creative new ways and please be very patient.
Don’t allow snacking at least 2 hours before meals: If your child drinks a glass of milk for example, he is bound to lose his appetite for the next meal.
Do fill your fridge and pantry with healthy options: The environment is truly a teacher. If your home is full of healthy options, that’s what your child will grow to love and the healthy habits will be simply inbuilt.
Don’t resort to packed juices or milkshakes: Most of those containers are very high on sugar that can plump up a child in a very short period of time. Home made milk shakes, smoothies or juices are a far better option.
Do eat at least one meal as a family: Eating together has many benefits from family bonding to acquiring healthy eating habits.
Don’t’ eat in front of the TV: Some children may overeat while watching the TV, while others may lose their appetites. You also need to provide a food-celebrating environment, where food is taught to be a blessing worth cherishing on its own. If the child is distracted by TV, he may not admire the beauty or the taste of a wonderful healthy meal.
Do enjoy your healthy meals and let it show: A lot of parents are on diets, so all their child sees is a parent complaining that his lunch is only a salad. How can such a child grow to love salad? This will require a big effort from the parent who is suffering the consequences of unhealthy eating but to his/her surprise, if they even begin by pretending to enjoy their salad in front of their child, they might very well grow to love it.
Are all picky eaters the result of a parenting behavior?
In my opinion, the answer to this question is No. Some children’s aversions towards food is related to an allergy and some conditions may increase the child’s sensitivity to textures, smells or taste, which makes it difficult for the child to tolerate certain foods. So, if you notice your child refusing a particular group of food, have him/her checked out for allergies.
Dr. Mona Youssri is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, family counselor and certified trainer accredited by Oxford Press. She has a Masters of Arts in International counseling from the American University in Cairo, is an affiliated International member of the American Psychological Association and a life time member of the International Honor Society in Psychology (PSI CHI). She is founder and owner of The Creative Learning Center, an early literacy based preschool with a unique child psychology based curriculum.