Does your child eat healthily? If not, Here's how you can encourage them to do so.
Healthy food is not always the tastiest food. Ask any child in your proximity, whether they would like a salad or pizza for dinner, and you know just as well as I do that they will go for the pizza. Children often gravitate towards junk food because it is so readily and instantly available, and tastes so good. Children also have not reached an age where they know what is better for them, better for their health, or why exactly their health is so important that all the adults around them make a fuss about it. Children are still exploring the world, understanding how things work and how. Everything is brand new information to the. And they explore this world through their senses and interact with it based on their instincts. Naturally, they are also drawn to what they want to eat or not eat based on their instincts as well, which at that stage can only translate into what they like and what they don’t. Often, what they like is deep fried and loaded with ingredients that have little to no nutritional value. So what can you do to inculcate healthy eating habits? Here are some tips.
Does your child grimace every time a plate of vegetables or salad is placed before him? Does your child snigger at the salad, avoiding it for deep-fried chicken instead? It can be testing, to realise your child is missing out on what their body really needs in favour of something that simply tastes better. We cannot hold them responsible, of course, but at the same time parents cannot stand in the side passively and do nothing to change it. Parents are ever on the challenge to make food that is healthy more appealing to their children, so that they choose to consume something that is healthy willingly and on their own, as forving your children to eat healthy food is not only ultimately unhealthy, it is just a temporary solution that makes neither party truly happy.
So, what are the ways in which parents can make healthy food also appealing to children? Although we don't really think about it, the presentation of food makes big difference in its enjoyment. Of course, it will not compensate for really bad food, or even food that is not particularly bad but not to your child’s taste either, but it does help make your child become more eager to eat a vegetable that they normally don't, simply because they perceive it as being boring. Even a salad with a dressing that would make it tasty enough for your child, will not be your child’s choice if it looks too “green” and ‘healthy’, as children just assume anything that is healthy cannot be tasty. But if we were to put in some efforts to make it a little more appealing to them by making it look fancy, they may be intrigued enough to try it.
When serving food to our families, presentation is last on our mind. We simply want to get the dishes made and out on the table. Whis is reasonable. But if you have kids in your family, especially ones that skip out on healthy food for snacks or junk food, it will be worth your time to put in that little extra time and effort in to plating. While adults tend to be drawn towards food that has been plated in a way that is classy and neat, children will definitely have much different preferences. However, if you have the time, do try and serve your food so it looks good - and different.
Given below are some tips, or insights into how you can get creative with the food you make, carefully tailored to fulfil the nutritional needs of your child, so that they are interested and try it (and hopefully also enjoy it enough to not be averse to it the next time they are served the same dish) rather than be wary of it.
1. Get creative with the way you cook ceratin things
The versatility of food lies in the fact that same vegetables can be served in different forms. If you serve carrots with peas cooked in the same manner, your children will no doubt groan every time they see it on the table. Even the tastiest of dishes will lose their charm and children will enjoy it less and less of they are fed that frequently. If you give vegetables, especially ones that are healthy and nutritious and less likely to be liked by children very frequently, they will get tired or bored of it very quickly. Instead, try something new every few times you have made a dish. You could add shredded carrots and peas to the rice for example, or you could simply cut the vegetables in new and interesting ways.
You can cook things in different ways too. Children love potatoes, and it is a very resourceful ingredient as well. Children like potatoes fried, but that is not the healthiest. Instead maybe you can bake potatoes! There are many recipes online, but in the most basic recipe you can stick a fork in the potato a few times to help heat reach the core of the potato quicker. Cover the potato in oil, so that the skin crisps up. Add a little salt and pepper to add flavour now, or later if that is what you prefer and stick it in the oven to bake. In more elaborate and heavier recipes you can add grated cheese before baking, or add greek yoghurt and chives. You can also boil and smash potatoes and make mashed potatoes. There are two ways to make mashed potatoes as well, the Indian way - that is “aloo bharta” - or the western way that adds cream and salt and peas too, sometime. You could also roast potatoes to make healthier potato wedges. The point is, many vegetables can be cooked in multiple ways, and parents should use that to make food more interesting for their children, so that they choose options that are good for them.
2. Experiment with ingredients
Experiment with ingredients, and by extension cuisines! There is food from all over the world, and even more that that is a variety of ingredients! From spices to vegetables, there are many new things to try, and your child will definitely be interested to try a vegetable or fruit or dish they have never tried over food they already have. There are tonnes of unique veggies like bok choi, brussel sprouts, asparagus, leeks etc.. that you can experiment with. There are also many fruits like dragon fruit (which will definitely intrigue your children with its vibrant colours and almost translucent inner flesh), mangosteen, persimmons, avocados.
You can also experiment with different cuisines. Every Indian child, by default, is introduced to Indian Cuisine. You can explore Indian cuisines other than your own. If your child likes intense and sharp flavours, they might like a certain kind of cuisine. If they are someone that enjoys lighter and more subtle flavours, they will enjoy a different cuisine. You can explore cuisines from other countries as well. From Mexican cuisine, which heavily uses rajma (something that will be familiar to both you and your child) to Mediterannean cuisine, that is rich without being heavy. Even from the west, you have Italian and Greek cuisine. Asian cuisines like Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese are also great places to explore if you want to start with something closer to home.
3. Add humour
Ever played peek-a-boo with your child? Very simple things amuse them to no end. They associate something that is amusin to them as something that is also positive, and we want to make this positive association with food as well. A easiest way to do that would be to make faces in their food, using the ingredients. Even ketchup on their paratha making a smiley face will make them smile and more likely to look forward to it. Try to make funny or exaggerated faces with cut pieces of fruits or vegetables.
If that is too complicated, what you can instead do is make a game of trying to arrange your food into shapes or try to find patterns in them. They will enjoy the game, and you will have a nice bonding time with them as well.
As we discussed before, food can be made to look more appealing for your child to be attracted to it. You can try many different things to make it look more appealing. If it is a fruit salad, you can arrange the different fruits by colour to make something like a rainbow. If it is a healthy pasta dish, you can add mint leaves on top to make it look more like what they see on TV. If it is roti and curry, and you always plate it separately, maybe try turning it into a frankie so your child thinks it is something new, but also it is more convenient for them to eat it without making a mess. Experiment with different ways of cutting vegetables too. You’d be surprised by how much more likely children are to try a salad if you’ve cut the slices diagonally instead of straight, simply because it looks different. If possible, join a vegetable cutting course. You can be sure your child would love to gobble down the beetroot when it is shaped like a rose and looks unique and new to them. However, if you just serve them plain slices, you may have to force them down their throat!
Rita's 6-year-old son was an incredibly fussy eater, and would never finish off his meal. One day when Rita went shopping, her son suddenly saw a really interesting plate with little compartments. He started pestering Rita to buy it for him, and although Rita at first ignored him, she suddenly realized that maybe he would enjoy eating his meals if served on this plate! Needless to say, when dinner was served, he was really excited that he would be eating food served on his new plate, and licked it clean!
Sometimes, you can appeal to your children into eating food that is good for them by making it seem like it is something special for them. Be it a plate, a bowl or even a spoon, sometimes the utensil does a better job of getting your child to eat something particular rather than the dish or food item itself. So getting them their own utensils, or cutlery can work well to make mealtimes more enjoyable for them, and hopefully help them enjoy the meal better too.
Sadly, this excitement may not last long, and you may need to keep thinking up creative ways to make your child eagerly gulp down their food if they grow bored with the specific item soon.
6. Size of Utensils
When preparing salad for your children, consider serving them portions in smaller quarter plates. That will be more appropriate for their size, and they will not be overwhelmed by a big plate of food they need to finish. Circle each quarter plate with little dabs of ketchup or chocolate syrup to make it look more appealing. Also, try different dressings on your salad, so your child doesn't get bored of the same food.
No matter how creative you get, there is no substitute for downright tasty food - but not everyone can cook very well - and fewer still have ready access to an excellent cook. So if you can get creative with how you serve your food, you can still manage to get your child excited about his meal.
Getting creative with the food you serve for your child is a good way to entice them into eating food that is healthy and better for them in the long run is a good start. Eventually, though, you will have to make them understand the value of healthy eating as they grow older. Sure, it is always a good idea to try new and different things, switch things up to avoid monotony, But that should not be done as a necessity, in order to get them to eat food, rather as something that increases enjoyment and makes you appreciate food more.