People envy a baby's blissful existence. All that a baby seems to do is eat, sleep, urinate and excrete. For the first few months of their life, a baby's hunger is easily satisfied. The baby just wants food. They are not at all discriminating about their diet. When they are close to a year old, they cease to be as ravenous as before and they become picky about food. They develop definite likes and dislikes. And feeding becomes something of a nightmare for parents because whatever you may serve them has a high likelihood of being rejected by your child. They might even throw a fit and tantrums until you finally bend to their will as you want your child to eat something at least, and serve them what they like.
Your baby develops dietary preferences, as they become aware that they are not just an extension of you. The older they grow, the more they start to develop their own unique identity. Deciding what they would like to eat is one way in which they assert their independence. There are also many other reasons and circumstances which may influence your child to get fussy with their meals. Teething can also kill a baby's appetite. Like an adult, the baby's appetite and liking for particular foods change from day to day. Feeding problems can also stem from sibling rivalry, illness or other worries.
Trust your baby's instincts
Dr. Davis conducted an experiment using three 8 to 10-month-old babies who had been fed only on breast milk. At each meal, six to eight dishes of wholesome unrefined foods were placed before them and they were allowed to point to what they would like to eat. Dr. Davis discovered that left to their own devices, these babies had a healthy development. Over time, they chose what was generally accepted as a well-balanced diet. Their appetites varied from meal to meal and day to day. This study seems to indicate that babies somehow have a natural inbuilt ability to eat in a manner that does not harm their development. We must remember that we managed our diets successfully for centuries before we were told the do's and don'ts of nutrition.
Parents should trust their babies' instincts and give them some leeway when it comes to eating. Anxious parents worry that poor eating can lead to nutritional deficiency and development problems. Children seem to have an inner mechanism that somehow works to ensure that they have a balanced diet. Children rarely develop vitamin deficiency or malnutrition because they are poor eaters. Even if you still worry about their nutritional needs being met, you can still give them a choice where any choice would be a healthy one. Wonder how? A good way to make them feel like they are choosing their meal but also making sure what they eat is nutritious is to reduce their options to a few things, all of which are nutritious. So instead of asking an open=ended question, like what they want to eat for lunch, ask them close-ended questions. Close-ended questions that ensure all options are healthy would sound something like “Do you want to have rice and dal today for lunch, or would you want roti and matar gobi?”. Both the options are healthy and wholesome for your child and will ensure a good nutritional intake, but on the other hand, your child will also get the freedom to make their choice and feel like they chose what they ate, making them feel independent.
Force-feeding is not the answer
When your child has a feeding problem, meal times become a battlefield as anxious and frustrated parents try to persuade their child to eat. Parents want to make sure the necessary nutrients go into their child’s stomach, and children simply want to eat whatever they want to and don’t want to eat what they deem as “not tasty”. What sometimes parents fail to realise is that a feeding problem is often the result of parents coercing their children to eat in the first place. In most cases, coercing your child to eat foods that are healthy for them even if they don’t want backfires. Forcing your child to eat will only worsen the situation because it reinforces the child's dislike for the food because the situation associates the food with being forced to do something they don’t like, which further makes them aversive to the food than they already were.
Mealtimes should be pleasant affairs. Avoid making the child's diet a bone of contention at every meal. This will make the child dread meals even more. This will also inhibit them from establishing a healthy relationship with food, as it will always become something that draws attention to what they don’t want and leads to their parents fussing over them. Instead, make every effort to make your child look forward to mealtimes. Give them the wholesome or nutritious food they like the best for 2 to 3 months and listen to them, don’t serve them all the foods that they dislike. This will help to make them less suspicious and tense about food. It will reinstate their comfort with food and mealtimes.
While it may be tempting for parents to force their children to eat things that are necessary for them, it will only be a short-term solution. Yes, you may have ensured what is good for them for one meal, but you are back to square one for the next meal. Instead, there are many other ways parents can adopt to help their children form a healthy relationship with food, and food that is good for them. The long-term goal is to make them like and enjoy the food that is good for them. This assures the possibility that in the future, even when they grow up, they make choices for themselves they are choices that are in the best interest of their health. This makes sure that they choose the healthier option on their own.
My child loves junk food
If you have a child whose diet of choice would consist of only junk food, the problem is more complicated. Give them what they like for a few months. Once you have gained their trust, slowly introduce more healthy food that they had no severe objections to. Do not try to make them eat something they hate. Do not make an issue about the new addition to the diet even if they leave it untouched. Try again after a couple of weeks or try something else in between. The idea is to slowly ease them into a diet of food that has more value for their well-being. Once they have had their fill of junk food, eventually even they will grow tired of junk food, at least for a while. This is the best period to introduce food that is healthy and tasty to them, which will not only offer a new flavour but also goodness for them.
My child thinks dessert is the main course
If your child has an inordinate sweet tooth and wants to eat four helpings of dessert compared to a single helping of the main course, give in to them. Sometimes if you show that you do not care one way or the other, children come around to a reasonable diet on their own. However, do try to cut down on the number of times that you serve dessert at home. Place some restrictions on how much dessert you serve. After a while, they will realise dessert does not fill their stomach, and the next time they might eat up the main course and then have dessert in the end for their happiness. Introduce fruit after a meal instead of desserts that use a lot of sugar. Fruit custards and fruit salad with yoghurt and honey are good alternatives to baked desserts. Do not bargain with your child promising her that if they finish the vegetables, they can have another helping of dessert. You will make them feel that eating vegetables is a punishment, which will only serve to reinforce their dislike for them. Also, keep in mind to not make them eat at night what they have refused in the afternoon.
My child has the appetite of a bird
If your child is a small eater, give them smaller servings of food. Give them less than you expect them to eat so that they voluntarily come to the conclusion that the food served is not enough. Let them ask for more. Don't press food on them eagerly as soon as they finish their serving. Also, remember that when the child sees what appears to be a huge mountain of food on her plate, they will be discouraged right from the beginning knowing that there is no way that they can eat so much. They will be so overwhelmed by the quantity, they will give up at the beginning itself. It is always better to have smaller servings, but multiple of them. This will also make sure they don’t overeat, and will also avoid food wastage.
Spoon-feeding your child
A child of two should be able to feed themselves. However, some parents whose children are fussy eaters feel that their children eat more when they feed them. While this may be true, parents sometimes go to an extreme by feeding their children until they are 2 or 3 years old. In these cases, the child gets into the habit of being fed and has no desire to feed themselves. In addition, the child perceives feeding as an expression of love and concern on the part of the parents. Consequently, when the parents stop feeding the child, deciding that they are old enough to feed themselves, the child may be hurt and can become resentful. Parents usually give in at this point and resume feeding the child. This is not a healthy habit, because at some point the child needs to take their consumption into their own hands. It is best to wean your child off being fed as soon as they reach an age and develop the motor skills to eat on their own.
The way to wean a child off the habit of being spoon-fed is to give them their favourite foods and then step out of the room for a minute or two. Lengthen the period of your absence slowly. You may still have to feed them when you step back into the room, but they will soon become impatient and begin feeding themselves. Do not get into the habit of feeding them the last half of the meal. If they ask you to feed them after they have already eaten a few spoonfuls themselves, casually tell them that you think they have had enough. Their hunger will soon naturally lead them to finish the meal themselves once they realize that they cannot expect any help from you, at least in terms of feeding them.
Parents have told innumerable stories about the ingenious ploys that they have had to use to convince their children to eat food that is good for them. Some parents have to tell a new story for every mouthful; some have to take their children outdoors to distract them; some parents bribe their children with gifts for every plate that is wiped clean of food. This is not advisable. Eating should not be linked to a bribe because you are indicating to the child that it is an unpleasant act for which they should be compensated. The child should eat because it wants to and for no other reason. It is important for them to learn to enjoy food purely because it is food.
While the child should be allowed a certain amount of freedom in their diet, it does not mean that the parents should be slaves to their whims. Give in to your child's preferences only to the extent that it does not inconvenience the rest of the family. Parents also need to control the intake of sugar, chocolates, colas, desserts and other less nutritious foods. Sure, let them eat what they like every once in a while. But it is imperative that you also make them realise that these food items are extra, and not a substitute for their actual food.