When I started writing this piece, the original topic was meant to be “Does the tiffin come back unfinished from school? Tips to ensure otherwise”. As I began forming the article in my mind, I realised I needed to change the topic to what it is now.
Hunger is natural to all living beings. When we are hungry, we feel the need to eat. Then why is it that eating food is an ordeal with most kids? Like it or not, I blame us parents/caretakers for this. When our parents look at our kids and complain ‘you were never like this! You ate your food well. Don’t know what is up with kids these days? They never want to eat!’
Let’s look at Indian families 30 years back. Most of us lived in joint families, grew up with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins living together. Mealtimes meant sitting with everyone, seeing them eat their food. With so many kids around, no one really bothered to put the food in our mouth. So what did we do when we were hungry? Imitated the family and ate our food.
Compare that to today’s times. We live in nuclear families or probably with grandparents around. A child sitting at the dinner table means she is the point of attention for the parents’ only child and the grandparents’ only grandchild. Every morsel that she puts or does not put into her mouth becomes a matter of commenting. Too much pressure on a little one.
Mealtimes must be a quiet affair where everyone focuses on their meal alone. Your child sees the family enjoying healthy home-cooked food in a peaceful manner. Soon that will be a habit for your child too.
Serve a small portion of whatever is made for the meal on her plate. Do not prepare special food for her. Ensure all options are healthy. And let her be. If she prefers eating beans to rice one day, it is okay. If she asks for more of roti than dal another day, let it be. The focus should be on letting your child develop a healthy relationship with food. Nit-picking on what she prefers not to eat will only take her away from it.
Trust their appetite. Kids go through various phases of growth and their appetite is bound to vary accordingly. For the first six months of their life, babies are breastfed/formula-fed. As anxious parents wanting the best for our child, what do we do? Oh, the baby fed for 30 minutes yesterday and only 10 minutes today. Or she had 100 ML yesterday and only 50 ML today. Surely, she is just getting naughty. Or perhaps, she doesn’t like milk anymore. Let me make sure she is full because she needs all the food to grow. Let me feed her some mashed potatoes. Imagine, someone tried stuffing a plate full of potatoes into you because they thought you haven’t eaten enough? On a full stomach, doesn’t our favorite food also seem unappealing? Trust your child’s appetite.
Avoid snacking in between meals. You probably think that snacking on a few cookies or having ice cream during your evening stroll is not going to impact your child’s appetite. Not so. Snacking between meals will kill their appetite at mealtimes and make it a struggle for both of you. If you want to get her cookies, then include 1 or 2 pieces as part of mealtime.
Start early. And I mean really early! Like I said above, we start force-feeding in some form or the other right from the time the baby is feeding on mother’s milk.
Give food that they can pick easily: Ensure food packed for tiffin is not time- consuming to eat. If you must give dal and rice because it is healthy, think idlis or dosas. Convenient to eat.
Presentation: Before deciding the tiffin menu, think about how it will look when opened during mealtime. After the tiffin box has been tossed into the bag and gone on a roller-coaster ride on the school bus. Liquid sambar mixed with idlis, squished fruits, and nuts is not an appetizing sight even for you, forget your child. Invest in a good tiffin box with compartments and plan the meal in a way that they don’t get all mixed up.
Don’t pack too much food: Looking at big portions can be overwhelming for a child. So ensure you pack smaller portions.
Include their comfort food: If your child doesn’t mind eating khichdi daily, then its okay. When they are away from home, seeing their comfort food makes them feel good. So go ahead and include their favorite meals as long as you can keep it healthy.
Nutrition: Every mother is a self-taught nutritionist for her child, isn’t it? When packing her tiffin, try to balance her favorites and healthy options as much as possible.
Ensure the tiffin box is child-friendly: Check if your kid can handle her tiffin box independently. Difficult to open boxes will lead her to wait for the teacher, who is busy with 25 other children. The kid is probably not left with enough time to eat her meal.
Once again, I would like to emphasize on the need to shift the focus from finishing the food to developing a healthy relationship with food. You will soon have your child ‘finish’ her food and ask for more!
Stay Tuned! Stay Relevant!