In continuation of our discussion on nutrition…
It all begins with pregnancy nutrition and breastfeeding. For what you take in, your child’s palate remembers and their familiarity and memory of the taste is key to successful solid, table food feeding. Here are some feeding tips that worked for me. Praying they would be useful to you as well:
Do not be tempted to add salt or any form of seasoning to your child’s food. Your palate is not their palate. Let them appreciate food for how they taste naturally. A bland diet is beneficial so your children learn to eat “clean.” When you feed them sweet or salty first, they will refuse to eat steamed or blanched vegetables. Veggies are naturally sweet anyway.
Introduce food items one at a time. This is to make them familiar with the individual and unique taste and to also observe any allergic tendencies or sensitivities. Do not give up offering new ones even when they refuse. Everything is acquired taste for a child developing her palate for food. The more familiar they become, the less aversion they show. When they say no, keep offering still. Do not accept a no for an answer. As a parent you may start asserting your authority and demand their obedience as early as when they start eating solids. The earlier they learn that everything you do—and everything you ask them to eat—is best for them, the easier it will be for you to influence their preferences.
Enforce the “eat-what-is-served-to-you” rule. This teaches children not only discipline but also appreciation and gratitude for what people prepared for them. To assert this lesson I sometimes teach it with tears. It works. Never play the slave of your child. They must learn to eat the food on the table. Do not give an option of preparing them special food because they do not like anything they see. This bad habit that if not disciplined early on are carried until adulthood. I know of an adult who only eats fried chicken, never stewed or braised because their moms tolerated it. I cannot imagine marrying someone who picks his food. This starts in the early childhood years.
For the inevitable picky season, sometimes it is a good idea to starve your children so that they would be ‘forced’ to eat what is there. They don’t like what is served, then they do not eat. But you will not make them anything else. You see, when their tummy starts to growl they have no choice but to eat what is available.
For very young children, firmly manage their added sugar intake. Ice cream and cakes must be limited to weekend treats, not a daily dessert habit. Even though I am a baker, I managed to restrict Gummy’s intake of pastries as well as fatty, happy food that are not exactly nutritious for her. From age 2 to 5 she would only have her ice cream or cupcake or cotton candy once – either on a Saturday or Sunday. Truly a treat for her. Now that she is much older and understands better and faster, I have ingrained in her the discipline and self-control when it comes to eating “junk.” I give her grace and allow her a cookie here, a brownie bite there or a gummy bear after her meals. I just tell her to drink more water and brush soon after.
Allow sweets only during the day, especially chocolates and ice cream. Gummy has had her fair share of small disobediences and experimentation and she suffered bouts of sore throat for her choice. Sometimes the best way for kids to learn the importance of your rules is for them to disobey first and experience what you are sparing them from first-hand. When they learn the heard way, the lesson sticks better. This method also became my effective route to ensuring that Gummy does not take advantage of my absence to enjoy her fill of sugar. When she is on a playdate she calls me to ask for permission. She knows she can say no and not be tempted to give in.
Dessert must never be a bribe for kids to finish their food. That is wrong motivation for them. Instead make it a treat. Surprise them with one when they finish their meal. But never condition them that they will grow to expect it each time.
Do not feed junk near mealtimes. It fills them up and they lose the appetite and hunger for real food. I believe in balanced living so I also allow Gummy Indomie and Cheetos once in a while but never to replace meals or to affect it. I time and strategize when to let her enjoy those.
The key to children accepting and appreciating what is laid in front of them is to start disciplining early. It is quite hard to be firm when it comes to something so mundane as food but you will thank yourself when they are old. It is easier to teach a young child whose mind is malleable and you can influence more powerfully than an older child who has already established her preferences without her parents guidance.