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How to Get a Child to Eat When They Refuse?

7 December 2021

Food is the most important ingredient for a healthy life. Given the situation we have realized the importance of a “healthy body”. A healthy body can insulate us from not just from physical illness but also mental and emotional concerns. 

Children are developing as they grow. Hence what they eat contributes to how they feel physically, mentally and emotionally.  Good food habits make them to feel strong, energetic, attentive, happy and nourished.  However, fussing about food are one of the major concerns seen in children.

Why does fast food appeal to them so much? Fast food is not just appealing for its taste. The packaging makes it far more attractive and enticing for them to seek it.  Parents do struggle with this more often than not on a day-to-day basis. How does one inculcate healthy food habits in the   children?

Educate them: Habits are formed by practice. In order for your child to practice eating healthy. They need to understand what is “healthy” and what is “unhealthy”. Talking to them about foods which are healthy and food which do not help them make better food choices.

Give them options: It is recommended to involve children in decision making. Instead of saying, “today I have cooked cauliflower curry”. Ask them- “what would you like to eat today, cauliflower or brinjal?”.  Giving them options makes them more likely to eat food without throwing tantrums. They also feel that they have a choice to make.

Food menu: Keep a weekly food menu so that the meals are planned in advance. Put their food choices in them too.  It could be cooked at home such as idlis, dosa, pizzas and even cupcakes.  Keep one day for them to indulge. For example, a Sunday can be considered a fun day. However, moderation is the key here.

Use variety:  Same food in the same way can get boring even for us. Innovate recipes that break the monotony. For example, French beans might be cooked in many different ways. For example, one option could be by adding coconut and garlic. Another option could be combining it with potatoes. You may need to do a little research and experiment on vegetables by trying different recipes.

Be creative: Use your creative skills. Make the food look good as well as taste good. No not by adding colours or unhealthy foods. Just by using “smart culinary skills” For example, make a pink sauce pasta by using beetroots, carrots, tomatoes and cheese. Use pink cabbage to add that little purple ting, blueberries to make the smoothies look pink, and put some spinach in the chutneys.

Involve your children: Encourage your child to help you in cooking. Ask them to do an age-appropriate task. For example, ask them to get food items from the refrigerator, garnish food with chopped coriander leaves, stir the batter or rinse vegetables.  Make their favorite food with them. They would probably enjoy the process of cooking. Hence, they might be excited to eat.

Yours and mine: It means serving them a portion of their favourites alongside the healthy food, for example, serving them French fries alongside roti sabzi. It will motivate them to indulge in healthy eating.

Make substitutes: Many times, children find veggies or fruit boring to eat. So, serve the fruit and veggies with exciting homemade dips like a snack. Like hummus, hung curd dips, sour cream, honey-chilli dip, etc.

Eat together: kids love being surrounded by people. So, encourage everyone in your family to eat together. Avoid fights or arguments while eating. Create a positive and supportive environment while eating. It will help a child to look forward to eating.

Don’t force feed: Many times, we feed our children more than they require. Thus, they are reluctant to eat. It is not because they do not like the taste of a particular food, but because they are not hungry. So, ask your child, are you hungry? It is recommended to encourage children to eat every 3 hours. However, they require small meals. So, between breakfast, dinner and lunch. Encourage them to have two light snacks like fruits or a healthy homemade protein bar. For example, sesame seeds, flaxseed, nuts, and dried raisins can be lightly toasted and combined with melted jaggery.  It would be a healthy and tasty snack option. It is packed with nutrients our children require.

Shop with them: It would be helpful to buy vegetables or fruits with your child. Allow them to pick the food products they like.

Serve the right quantity: As parents, a few times, we fill their plates more than they require. So, it is advisable to serve them less at the start. Serving a lot can scare them and they might feel pressured to finish their plates. In that process, they will not enjoy the food and will not feel like eating

Avoid distraction: Giving ipad, phones or screen time as a distraction, is highly avoidable. Talking, interactions, fun discussions are jokes that help bonding with food and family. It helps them associate food with “fun”.

Eat with peers: Children are more likely to eat healthy when their peers eat healthily. So, next time you host a party, replace unhealthy desserts with homemade fruit desserts. Encourage their peers to eat together. This will motivate them.

Use reinforcers:  Reward your child’s behaviour when they make better food choices. Give them positive feedback, stickers or extra play time when they try some they don’t like. Every time they finish their meal they say “Well done!”.

Be the role model:  If you eat healthy your child will eat healthy! Eating healthy needs to be modelled by the parents and other family members.  This is the best way to teach them. Excessive exercises, diets, supplements by parents can often give confusing messages to the children.

Food is fuel. The aim is to teach our children how eating healthy is a way of life. Educate and encourage them to build their relationship with food.  Healthy choices lead to healthy lives!

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