Mutiara International Grammar School, Ampang
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Odyssey, The Global Preschool (Mont Kiara)
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Cultivate Good Eating Habits From Young

by on 20/03/2013 5263

Johny, Johny, Yes, Papa.

Eating sugar? No, Papa.

Telling lies? No, Papa.

Open your mouth. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Finding this all-time favorite nursery rhyme interesting enough to teach your children good eating habits?

Well, it could be one of the ways- but don’t give up if it doesn’t work for your children. There can be plenty of other interesting ways to instill good eating habits in them. Before this, let’s set our expectation right:

a)      Children may eat limited range of food than adults during their early years of life, yet this can still cover all the major food groups. Some children “eat little but often”. Therefore, it’s absolutely normal if they eat very well one day and very little on the subsequent day. Forcing them to finish the food may just backfire, to the extent of causing them to hate vegetables even more.

b)      We can’t make children eat, but we can control what, when and where to feed them. Nutritionist Ellyn Satter suggested this before, “Children are responsible for how much and whether of eating.” Therefore, when children refuse to eat, it may have little to do with the food.

c)       Children prefer relaxed experience while eating- and to them, food is most enjoyed by eating slowly together with parents.  So, don’t rush them to finish their food!

Of course, to teach children about eating well is not about preaching or forcing. Just learn a skill or two from the following methods (Who knows, they might work wonders on your children!):

Set yourself as a role model

Set aside some time from your hectic routine and eat together with your children. They will settle to eat if parents eat together at the same time. Amplify your enjoying fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and etcetera to “bait” them. You might want to bring along some fruits as snacks when you on the run, as well.  And always keep the positive spirits up in face of unfamiliar food and don’t show disgusted expression even the food isn’t to your liking.  This enables the children to take cues from you.

Get children into action!

One way to arouse your children’s thrill in eating healthy food is to involve them in meal-planning. Hear their suggestions out for their meal preference, and guide them to come out with menus and grocery list. While shopping for ingredients, show them how to check for the information-such as nutrition labels and expiry dates-of the food chosen.  Provide children with a few more choices to make, in substitution of the ingredients that can’t be found.  For instance, supposedly you would like to prepare vegetable sala, but there isn’t any tomato available, you may suggest some choices such as cherry tomato or carrot for them to choose.  

Besides, children will mostly enjoy preparing meals together with parents. Grab the chance to teach these little helpers to:

  • Choose, scrub or even tear vegetables and fruits ingredients.
  • Add in ingredients.
  • Wipe and help setting dining table.

And trust me, by the end of the day, they will be more than happy to eat the fruits of their labour!

Schedule it

Always try to make it point to eat together as a family, and make sure every member keeps distractions away-for example turn off TV, Ipad, phones and others-during meal time. Besides, preschoolers need to eat every 3 to 4 hours- it will be ideal to prepare three meals, snacks and enough fluids to prevent them from getting famished. Let them pick up the habit of eating on time by setting regular time for eating.    

Don’t fool and bribe

In order to grow children’s interest for vegetables, you might include it in the dishes of your children’s preference, and even hide the truth from them.  Please bear in mind that this is a fatal mistake, as they may feel hurt or betrayed once they figure it out.

Don’t be afraid to tell them that there is lettuce-the vegetable that they’ve never tried before-mixed in the special spaghetti you prepare. Just encourage them to eat it, with more enthusiasm. And if they start to take a small bite, consider it a good start as it takes them numerous attempts before they can accept new food. So, don’t forget to acknowledge their “courage” with praise – “You tried a bit of lettuce. Good job!”

Also, be more considerate to the little tummies. Don’t force children to finish the food more than what they want. Don’t pressurize or bribe children with the comments such as:

  • “Just take one more bite.”
  • “No dessert and no toys unless you finish this!”
  • “If you don’t finish the food, you’ll get pimples all over your face next time!”
  • “Eat up all the broccoli, and I will get you Haagen-Dazs ice-cream afterwards.”

Creativity makes the best

Play around with your creativity by preparing greater variety of foods- you should at least introduce a new fruit, vegetables or ingredient in weekly to keep children’s curiosity intact. More often than not, curiosity sparks off their interest.  

Besides, imaginations can add colours to food, too. For example, you can easily decorate the children’s plate into shape of a clown’s face with spaghetti noodles, cherry tomatoes, and carrot sticks. Make your new dish even more memorable to children with funny names, for example “Spaghetti Clown”, “Apple Moon”, and so forth.    

Stop becoming a short-order cook.

As parents, you are not obliged to cook something just to accommodate your children’s preference, as you are not running a restaurant. Instead, you can include something they enjoy eating-for example stewed chicken- in every meal, and encourage them to taste what you’re having- for instance noodles with tomato sauce. Then, let them decide what and how much they want to eat. This way, they will learn to respond to their hunger and avoid over-eating.

Be easy on juice

Variety of fruit juice can replenish the nutrients similar to the vegetables that children refuse. Still, it is not the best substitute for whole vegetables or fruit- and it contributes to malnourishment and obesity. Thus, limit the juice that they drink to only 120-180ml per day. Offer water to them instead so as not to affect their appetite.  

To make vegetable appealing to them, you can try to “disguise” the vegetable with some sauce or macaroni, to name a few. Enlisting children’s help in planting vegetables will also making them more interested in eating vegetables, on top of giving them a sense of achievement.

Indisputably, eating well marks the first milestone for children’s ongoing development, establishing solid foundation for their learning and growth.  Given the right expectation, patience and approach, it will not be impossible to cultivate good lifelong eating habits in children.