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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Lunchboxes must have nutritive but innovative food to encourage eating habits among kids.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Lunchboxes must have nutritive but innovative food to encourage eating habits among kids.

S. Aishwarya

it is important to avoid distraction during mealtime

CHENNAI: Sadhvi groans at the sight of tomatoes and carrots on the dining table and demands “something sweet or crisp.” Her mother, Renuka Kamalapathy, baits her with two chocolates before and after the meal.

For mothers, feeding the right kind of food and preparing attractive lunchbox fare for young children are the most challenging tasks.

Benny Kerzner, Chairman of Gastroenterology and Nutrition of Children’s National Medical Centre, George Washington University, says that nearly 80 per cent of Indian mothers consider their children to be picky eaters, quoting a study conducted by a company that markets nutritive supplements. He encourages mothers to let the child eat the way it likes. “But it is important to avoid distraction during mealtime. Do not pressure children to eat. Keep the food before them for sometime and then start feeding.”

Age-appropriate foods should be offered for the children and new eatables introduced regularly. “It is common to see mothers offering quick bites when the children refuse to eat meals. They must understand that it is alright for the little ones to skip a meal if they are not hungry.” Being firm and not substituting proper meals with snacks would stimulate their appetite, Dr. Kerzner says.

Small portions of food given at regular intervals can help picky eaters to have their quota of nutrition for the day, S.Vasantha Kumar, senior consultant paediatrician of Kanchi Kamakoti CHILDS Trust Hospital, told a seminar on picky eating habits among children.

“Allow children to get messy when they eat. Limit the duration of meals and if it extends beyond half an hour, it is an indication that the child is not interested in that particular food. Stop feeding and come back only when the child gets hungry,” he says.

However, picky eating is a common childhood behaviour and the habit will wane with time, says Rex Sargunam, paediatric consultant, Voluntary Health Services. “Children need variety; they get bored with same kind of food. They must be encouraged to eat along with adults.” As children pick up on the food habits of their parents, it is crucial that parents must resist following fad diets.

S.Venkataramani, a parenting psychologist, says mothers can explore cheaper but tastier options to ensure the right amount of nutrition rather than turning to supplements.

Pulses, for instance, are rich in nutritive content and can be cooked in a variety of ways.

Packaged food high in salt and trans-fats should not be introduced to the children.

Psychiatrists suggest that attractive plates and spoons can be used to encourage better eating habits among children.

“Conducive environment and the attitude of parents are crucial when feeding the children. The reward for good behaviour could be offered once in a while to encourage them,” says C. Kumar Babu, retired professor of psychiatry, Stanley Medical College.

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