How can you get your children to develop the right eating habits? Nutrition Therapist Neelanjana Singh offers her expert advice, in the first of a series on healthy children.

Without doubt, all parents feed their children the best that they can. Despite that, children today face the threat of malnutrition. It may come as a surprise to many of you that children from affluent families with adequate food intake are rather malnourished. If you are wondering if this is even possible-yes, it is!

Deficiencies are rampant

Children are known to suffer from anaemia, weight issues and vitamin D deficiency, despite eating adequate amounts of food. Quite clearly, the attention paid to their nutrition requirements is not appropriate. So, how to change this? How to get it right?

Food preferences and eating habits formed at an early age become cemented and go on to determine the child’s health in adulthood. The good part of it all is that food related problems are preventable, and this is the best time to act.

Setting the right habits into place

By ignoring the eating habits of children, you put them at risk of chronic disease such as diabetes and obesity. So you must review what and how you eat, and how it influences your children’s health. It’s your responsibility to make simple but gradual changes, whenever required.

Changing the child’s attitude and behaviour towards food is not a one-time effort. It is a way of life, so don’t hurry through this. Instead, persist till you get results.

Here are some tips to guide you:

#1 Eating fruit is important for good health. You should serve a variety of fruits to children them in different forms, as a way of life. If your child repeatedly rejects them even after you have tried all reasonable means, you can add fruit to muffins, cupcakes, pancakes, rotis, chutneys, dips and sandwich spreads. At some stage, the taste for it will be established, and your job is done.

#2 Never use food as a treat, reward or a punishment. The role of a good diet pertains not only to healthy growth and development but also to mental wellness. Deprivation and abstinence does work with children, but framing good rules for a favourable outcome will. Children today are exposed to many advertising gimmicks, availability of foodstuff that is ‘not so healthy’, and there is less scope for physical activity. For all these reasons, the role of a parent as a caregiver is crucial.

#3 No matter how busy you are, make the time to eat together as a family. Children who eat with their family stay the course and are able to ward off health risks (including depression, alcoholism and drug abuse) later in life.

#4 A simple change that will bring big rewards is to disengage with all screens: This includes phone, TV and computer during mealtimes. This simple task may be difficult to execute, but is necessary, in the interest of the child. So go ahead and set the rule of no screens at mealtimes.

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Neelanjana Singh is the President, Indian Dietetics Association, Delhi Chapter, and a Nutrition Therapist affiliated with PSRI Hospital & Heinz Nutri Life Clinic, and an author.

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