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Apart from passing great morals and good manners, another imperative that a parent must pass on to their child should be ‘Healthy eating’. And like any other habit, it has to start early, like ‘first-food introduction’ early. Then it has to be consistently practiced day in and day out, till it finally becomes a habit and children happily lean towards that in the face of enticing junk food.
Inculcating good eating habits does not mean ‘no’ to junk food but when given a choice, which one will the child happily chose ‘most of the time’? If a parent can attain this in their child, then the parent can be rest assured that they have passed on a good health legacy.
Here are some questions to help think around setting that health legacy –
• How much variety does the menu have? Are we creating a palate fest for our children? Let them have a go -a taste of everything, as long as it is suitable to them. Exposing children to a variety of foods early on ensures they are open to trying new foods as they become older. It doesn’t have to be exotic or foreign food but a whole wide variety of locally available food will also do just fine. Just the habit of trying new things will be beneficial when you travel far and wide with an eater who is excited to try something new.
• Are we giving up too early? Try, try.. till you succeed. If the child does not like a food, don’t give up and stop offering it. Instead try and give teeny tiny portions (like even just a tablespoon is a good start) after every few days till they take to it. I learned the hard way when Peanut or Buttercup literally spat out a food they didn’t like and I would stop offering that food. Soon I was barely giving them one vegetable. Now they know mom is going to give all sorts of food whether they like it or not and they eat it. No force feeding and no big portions but they have got to eat it. From not liking any vegetables we are now a ‘lauki’ loving family (our least favorite vegetable at one time). A pretty good start! What say?
• Is the health yardstick accurate? Often physical growth is the only measure of healthy growth. Its an easy indicator of health but is it enough? What about the brain boost? On the doctor’s growth charts for height and weight, Peanut and Buttercup would be on the curve. Yet when they went through their respective fussy eating phases and I feared that they were losing out, the same doctor would say that as long as they are active and eating something nutritious, there is nothing to worry about. The key word I picked out was ‘active’ and really ‘mentally active’. As a parent to 2 toddlers I started to refocus and think about whether I was doing enough to spur neuron growth and create stronger synaptic connections between these neurons; especially considering that scientists claim that the brain development happens till approximately 6 years of age. Subsequently the kids’ health yardstick shifted to finding food not just for their physical growth but for their brain too, which included all sorts of nuts, seeds, eggs, spinach and other specialized nutrition.
• What’s on offer? Is your home a storehouse of junk food or resembles a fruit shop? What are your children constantly exposed to on a daily basis in their home? Can they reach that fruit easily or are the chocolate and chips more accessible? Now, as a rule we do not keep any junk food at home and once in a while the kiddos are allowed to eat it. We go to the supermarket and buy enough for that one instance and we are back to a no junk home. At one time, I used to have a cookie filled jar lying at center stage, till I realized that the fruit had taken a backseat, with the bananas literally rotting in the kitchen. I shifted things around and holed up the cookie jar atop the fridge and voila snack time has become healthier.
• Are we spelling it out? This is a habit I learnt from my mom. Every time we ate any food my mom would spell out the nutrient benefits of that food. We would eat karela happily because my mom said it was great for our skin. :) Now when my kiddos eat, I try and do that - categorize food on basis of physical and mental muscles they enlarge. This makes it both fun and knowledgeable. What's the point of all that brain food if we do not test it too! ;)
With the above, we are hopefully on our way to cultivating long lasting healthy eating habits.
Aristotle famously quoted ‘We are what we repeatedly do...’.
What then are your tips for passing on a great health legacy to your children?