Well, I am not able to answer this question 100% as each child is different and only parents can understand their behaviour the best. However, being a Pediatric Nutritionist and a mother I have tried to combine my theoretical knowledge and practical experience to give the best solutions.
Treat food as a natural process
Do you remember “potty training” your child? Yes, we all do, right? While we all make sure to train our kids to excrete naturally around the age of 2 years, we also need to train our kids to decide their hunger pattern. As soon as you start weaning the child off breast milk, you need to plan your child’s meal timings. Breakfast, lunch and dinner being the main meals, slowly add in 2-3 snack times in-between meals. As a parent your responsibly is to prepare food at the same time on a daily basis and automatically your child’s digestive clock will get adjusted.
Where most of the parents go wrong is when they allow their kids to munch on cookies, chips and chocolates anytime during the day and then face their tantrums during dining time. Its best to adjust this meal pattern since early childhood, but it’s never too late. If you have a school going kid already then start planning his meal timings right away. Also, make sure you are giving your child enough time to eat. On an average, kids require around an hour to complete their main meals.
Breakfast is VERY important
School goers are many times deprived of the most important meal of the day- BREAKFAST. Either the parents find it difficult to prepare a meal early morning or the child finds it difficult to eat in a hurry. Skipping this meal lowers the child’s metabolism. It is important to provide a good healthy meal early morning to kick-start a child’s brain functioning and metabolism. By the word healthy I do not mean providing just breakfast cereals. These processed cereals are loaded with sugar and preservatives. They are not considered as healthy.
A healthy breakfast is something like an egg, bread and a fruit or soaked nuts, toast and milk. It should be a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Once a child eats her breakfast properly, it is more likely that they will eat their other meals on time throughout the day.
Plan menu in advance
You must be thinking that it’s a big responsibility to prepare meals on time. However, this would be an easy task if your meals are planned way ahead. According to your routine, plan weekly or monthly menus for your family. This will help you collect all groceries and do pre-preparations beforehand to always be on time. If you want to be a Superhero to your kids, then allow your child to add-in a few meals of their choice. Instead, you can include this activity in your family time so that each and every one feels important. Also, make sure you are not preparing separate meals for your kids. After 2 years of age, kids are big enough to eat each and everything served for adults.
Store minimum processed foods
Be it kids or even adults, we all tend to munch when we see some attractive food items even though we aren’t hungry. Processed foods rich in sugar or salt have a severe impact on kids’ health however its attractive packing and yummy taste are definitely irresistible for young ones. Therefore, it’s best to not store them in your kitchen. If you do get once in a while, make sure to buy a small pack and share it among all family members.
Involve kids in menu planning and cooking
As mentioned earlier, children love positive attention. Let your child be the master chef and allow him/her to join you in the kitchen. This trick works well for me when I want to introduce a new recipe to my children. Start with assigning a small task like washing vegetables, stirring or just washing fruits and then see the magic. Talk to your kids about the health benefits of the meals you are preparing and thank them for the help they offered you. Last- Just wait for the magic on the dining table.
Add in a little extra effort of make your meal kid friendly
Your child can eat what you eat but remember children are extremely visual. We can make food so attractive and encourage our children to eat healthy by decorating the meals to please their visuals. Cut potatoes and vegetables into different shapes or use different coloured vegetables on a plate. Customizing it a little won’t take much time and you shall get empty lunch box and plates back.
Make mealtime your family time
Sometimes our stress levels are pretty high, and we start quarrelling over the dining table. Our routines are so busy that all family members eat according to their convenient time. Try and eat at least one meal together as a family, your child learns to eat by observing you and others. Spending time together on the table gives your child the attention that’s necessary to train and guide them into healthy eating.
Don’t let your taste affect your kid’s choice
As a kid I used to hate eating vegetables like broccoli and eggplant. Therefore, I rarely used to cook them at home. However, a few years back, my son got broccoli in his plate in a restaurant and to my surprise, he was attracted to appearance and he kept it in his mouth. He loved its taste. I controlled my emotions and gave a thumbs up. Since then, broccoli is a regular ingredient on my grocery list. As adults, we all have personal choices but if you know that the food that you don’t like is healthy then it’s our kids right to decide whether they like it or not without being prejudiced.
Treat your kids with different cuisines
Variety is key. You can make your child a complete foodie if you offer him different cuisines. Talk about the countries and different cultures, introduce your child to a variety of meals to get a variety of nutrients. You will get to learn what he or she likes and will grow the child’s palate and interest in good and healthy food. This can be done both at home and in the restaurants. Schedule a day or two in the month to try out new cuisine and restaurants.
Children should eat mid meals
Mid meals are not only energy boosters but also important nutrient sources. These are snacks that should be consumed in-between breakfast and lunch and, lunch and dinner. Be it just fruits, nuts or vegetable sticks, make sure your kid is offered mid meals. Kids who are deprived of nutritious mid meals on time are more likely to snack on junk just before the main meal time causing reduced appetite for main meals and irregular hunger pattern.
Let your child decide what’s enough for him/her
As a parent, your duty is to prepare the meals and serve to your child. As consumers of the meals, children must decide how much they require. The best way to make them relieve their hunger is by serving food in small portions. Most of us have a habit of making meal times feel like a chore. We serve so much food on the child’s plate and threaten them with punishment during meal times. Don’t make the child have a negative feeling about meal times. Meal times should be pleasant and heartwarming.
Serve a small portion, and once the child is done eating, inquire whether he or she requires another portion. A child may say no after the first serving. Inform him/her the time when he will be served the next meal. Either of two things will happen – he may choose to have a little bit more food or eat some more during his next meal. In due time the body adapts to the pattern and will demand the appropriate amount.
By junk I mean refined food products. Refined sugar and refined flour have almost no nutrients and just empty calories which makes the fuels your child up but does not help much in his or her development. Hence, it’s always better to restrict consumption of overly refined products.
Once you have used some or all these solutions, you can monitor your child and see whether he or she is improving. There are sure ways of noticing marked improvement in your child’s food habits.