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Basic tips on how to encourage children to eat healthy foods

Children are generally fussy eaters. They always have to be coaxed into eating with us during the usual mealtimes but again, they don’t easily eat what they are served. All the parents would have experienced how difficult it is to make children eat healthy foods. My children still refuse to take many vegetables especially the ones we don’t take every day. I don’t know why but potato has become their only all-time favorite vegetable. We have been trying every possibility to make them take other vegetables as well but we have not been able to change their food habits as we have wanted.

The introduction of Green Day every week in the school has been a noble initiative because children at least respect the school authority by instinct and are more likely to obey them. Since my children started going to school, they have started to take spinach, peas, beans and cabbage because these are the vegetables we prepare for them every Monday which is their Green Day. Initially they were reluctant to take green vegetables on Green Days but gradually they have started developing some tastes for those vegetables because they started to accept them even at home during other days. So we have also adopted Monday as Green Day even when they do not go to school. The concept of Green Day in school has really helped my children love green vegetables although we still have a long way to go before we could make them love whatever they are served.

Compared to the past, my children are better now when it comes to their choice of foods. Before they went to school, they would not eat any vegetable. They would always prefer to have plain fried rice and egg. If we ever force them to take some curry, they would filter out every piece of onion, tomato and anything they could see and would take only a few pieces of vegetables and that too with great hesitation and compulsion. Since they refused to take meat right from the beginning, we were worried about their health because we knew they needed to take more green vegetables. However over the years, we have learned some basic strategies that could encourage them to eat the foods they normally don’t like.

We have observed that children learn to eat new foods in the company of other children. Studies have shown that children are in the stage where they are busy exploring their world and in the process, they are not able to trust the new food they come across. They are more likely to try it only when they see other children eating it. My children had first tasted spinach in the village with other children. It seems they happily joined other children during mealtimes and ate together whatever they were served without any complaint. But soon after they got back to Thimphu, they relapsed to their old habits. So if your child is a fussy eater, you could perhaps try to make him or her eat with other kids either in the school or in the neighborhood. We are also trying this out in the school.

The other strategy my wife has been using is to make children help her in the kitchen. She makes them chop vegetables and shows them how she cooks so that they would feel part of it. She makes them feel they have prepared the food by themselves so that they would happily eat it later. This strategy serves two purposes: firstly the children get to learn how to cook and secondly, they feel encouraged to eat healthy food because they feel they have prepared it by themselves.

Likewise, my wife also often tells children how yummy is a particular food after tasting it herself. This gives them the assurance that the food they are served is not bad and that they should try it out too. We should always make mealtimes a special moment for children. The television should be turned off and the children should be left to completely focus on their food. We should always encourage them to eat and praise them every time they put a spoonful of food into their mouth. Most importantly, we should always eat as a family, not individually. Eating together with all the family-members would encourage children to eat the food like others.

Sometimes parents and caregivers tend to promise children that they would be rewarded with a packet of Wai Wai or a maggi if they finish the food they have been served. While this might encourage them to eat whatever they are served, it might also send out a wrong message. They might think that Wai Wai or Maggi is better than the original meal they were forced to eat since it is given to them as a prize. Although it is difficult to keep children away from junk foods, we should never encourage them to go for it. We know that junk foods are the main cause of children’s loss of appetite for healthy foods due to various unhealthy ingredients used. Although I and my wife are not able to stop our children from eating junk foods, we are never tired of telling them that they are not good for health and that they should not eat it every day. Those children in the village are luckier in this regard because they don’t get to eat junk foods as often as those children in the urban centers. We should always encourage our children to eat healthy foods such as green vegetables and fruits and discourage them from going for junk foods as much as possible. We should let them know that nothing is more precious than their own health.

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