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About 15 years back, when I was not even married, I overheard a conversation between my would be sister- in- law and her four year old son when he returned from school. As he got down from the bus, his mother asked "Hi Jaan, did you have fun today?" and he replied " Yes ma. All kids' moms ask them - Did you eat your tiffin and you ask me if I had fun!"
At that point there was nothing that hit me about this conversation. However, years later when I became a mother, it came back to me. When my daughter was born, I was in pain and discomfort and at the risk of being branded a 'bad' mother, I confess, no emotion washed over me. I saw her from a distance when I came out of general anaesthesia post a C Section and closed my eyes. Once I was up, the first instruction was to feed her. From that day till about a year, most of my love and affection for her was overshadowed by a constant worry - is she hungry? Have I fed her enough? Is this right for her to eat? Am I missing something that I should feed her?...List of these doubts was endless.
Thanks to my mum-in-law's wise words, I could switch off that mode and started to enjoy her growing up years. So I was spending no time on tracking the number of fruits fed in a day and a bowl of daal. In fact soon, I introduced some packed food like good biscuits. This was to help her survive when we were travelling. The most important lesson learnt was - Food and feeding should not be the focus of bringing up a child. There is more to it - her well being, her habit formation ( including toilet training), her funny antics and her learning various things - her growing up!
As she started school I met other mothers and made some amazing friends. One of them was a frequent traveller ( weekly between Chandigarh and Delhi) and never discussed eating habits of her son or my daughter. Another equally good friend did not travel out of the city till her kids had crossed 5!! Reason - they had fixed eating habits such as banana and curd mash - pureed to a certain consistency. So either the mixer had to be carried or the kids would go hungry. My first conversation with her was when she approached me to ask if my daughter finished her tiffin and what did I keep in it.
At this point the conversation between Rahul and his mum was replayed by my memory. So it is perfectly fine to ensure nutrition for our kids. However, if we are too rigid about it, not only do our kids suffer as they cannot change to new environments or new menus ( in case one is travelling or visiting someone), we also tend to lose focus on the overall growth of our kids.
For example, school is about a lot more than the tiffin period. If a child is well fed in the morning (Breakfast being the most important meal) and nibbles a little instead of finishing the whole portion - we can make up for the nutrition in the meal post school and later in the day. As soon as a mother's first question is about food on reaching home, the message conveyed is " It is all about food."
If a mother asks a different question ( in this example "Did you have fun?") you convey a different message to the child e.g. School is fun - if it was not, let's figure out why. I do see a lot of mums ( even of grown up kids) focusing 70-80% of there parenting energy on food. My request is to handle this important aspect subtly without making it a major focus of your interaction with kids.
You will soon see that food will be a part of the fun :)