“If you study all day today - I will take you out for pizza”
“If you finish dinner - you can have dessert”
“If you play tennis well today - we will stop for ice creams on the way back”
Do you find yourself making such statements all the time?
And do you then complain that your child is a Picky Eater - who picks junk food in place of healthy food?
Can you see why he does that?
When you repeatedly offer junk food as a bribe or reward - you give it the status of the ultimate attainment - you make it that one thing worth striving for.
Junk foods by nature are intensely sweet, salty or fatty. And such foods have the ability to trigger off the Reward Pathway in the brain. The Reward Pathway is what causes people to get addicted to substances like Cocaine.
Cocaine is addicting because - once an addict is attuned to the reward cocaine offers his brain - he is unable to resist the urge to take it in larger and larger doses - which is what makes him an addict.
Junk food works the same way.
Cocaine abuse however is illegal, socially stigmatised and known to be fatal. So even in your wildest dreams you would not dream of offering your child cocaine as a reward.
But you offer your child junk food - the chemical properties of which stimulate the reward pathways of the brain. And by doing this - cause your child to get addicted to something which may not be fatal immediately – but is definitely potentially damaging to the physical and mental health of your child.
In addition with your words - you give it the status of the ultimate attainment or reward.
Unsurprisingly then - your Picky Eater picks junk food over everything else.
Stop offering junk food as a reward. In fact do not offer food as a reward at all.
Rather offer an extra large doses of your affection and time as rewards
Say - “You get two kisses instead of one - every time you play the new piano piece right”
“We play two games of Uno - instead of one if you finish dinner quickly”
“We go for a walk in evening - if you finish studying during the day”
Keep your child from getting addicted even as you compel yourself to eke out those extra minutes of quality time.
Your love in its pure unadulterated form is what your child wants and needs. Do not feel compelled to give support it with the crutch of junk food.
Stay healthy - stay happy
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“It is really strange Doctor – but my child is just not interested in eating. He / she can go for a whole day without asking for food”
In my Practice as a Parenting and Wellness Consultant - I have heard this often from Parents.
Have you – by some chance - been one of the parents who said this?
If you are – I would like to ask you to listen to yourself again.
Read the complaint again and pick out the Key words.
Would you say that the key word there is “INTERESTED”?
I would definitely say that.
So my response to that would be – “If your child is not interested in Food – try and make food and his/her meals INTERESTING,”
If you think of a meal from the point of view of your child you would realise why it is BORING.
From the child’s point of view – eating involves chewing and swallowing – for at least half an hour to forty five minutes (maybe longer if the child is not interested) four to six times a day!
Not an activity to look forward to in any way!
If you want to interest your child in eating – turn – BORING into INTERESTING.
Make food interesting by adding an element of FUN.
Concoct FUN - it is really not that difficult.
For example - have an assortment of interesting shaped plates and glasses at hand.
Make meals exciting by allowing your child to imagine which veggie would like to be eaten from which plate. Then - sometimes be good and let the veggie be eaten from the plate it likes. At other times be naughty and put it on a plate the veggie doesn’t like - and eat it up quickly before it knows what you have done.
Or - decide which plate is to be used on which day of the week and then say – “OK let us be naughty today – and pretend its Saturday by using the Saturday plate on Wednesday. And let’s eat up all the veggies really quickly before they realise what we have been up to”
There are a million games like this that you can think up with a little bit of imagination.
These teeny tiny actions – that could be meaningless to you as an adult – would usually mean the world to your child.
Being silly and naughty could add that much needed element of excitement to an otherwise boring activity and get your child INTERESTED in Food.
Make mealtimes memorable by garnishing every meal with FUN.
Also, basic things can be kept in mind like letting a child eat when he is hungry, serving the food at the same time daily and making the food appealing for kids.
When you are a concerned parent – it is extremely worrying and terribly annoying when your child says “I am not hungry” at mealtimes.
Parents who are faced with children who say they are not hungry rush to doctors requesting a prescription of appetite stimulants – but that is NOT the solution. Definitely not the permanent solution.
To ensure that your child is hungry – it is important for you to understand the gut.
The gut or the gastrointestinal system is one of the most important organs in the body and it is really important to understand how it functions.
In my workshops on nutrition when I introduce parents to their children’s guts and tell them that in a child - the gut is an inexperienced new organ that needs patience and understanding to function well – I get incredulous looks at first.
Then as I go about explaining how the gut functions – its needs - what makes it happy and what makes it sad – I have the satisfaction of witnessing the very rewarding
“Aha!”moment when parents realize how they have ignored and neglected the needs of their children’s guts.
The gut needs a lot more than just FOOD and that is what parents need to understand.
One of the most important things that the gut needs besides food – is ROUTINE.
The gut thrives on routine and when it is happy – the other organs in the body that depend on it for food – thrive as well. As a result you have a healthier and happier child.
To keep the gut happy - it is important to serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day.
This is because the gut is like the kitchen of the body. And it is a kitchen that caters to the needs of millions of cells. The food that your child eats has to be cooked further in the gut to become cell food. Each cell needs to be fed on time and so the gut has a mammoth task to perform at all times.
When the gut is relatively sure of food coming down at specific times it keeps the ingredients and sufficient manpower at hand to tackle the food. This then makes its life much easier.
So when meals arrive in expected amounts at specified times - the gut is able to digest meal 1 and get ready for snack 1 and then digest snack 1 and get ready for meal 2 at just the right times. As a result - it never feels overburdened.
Forcing the issue – never works with the gut. It begins to protest by aching and paining and packing up.
Serve meals on time so that you never have a misunderstanding with your child’s gut.
Wishing you happy meal times!
“Doctor – my child just refuses to try any new food”
This is something I am used to hearing very often.
Getting children to try new foods - like them and begin to eat them without a fuss are dreaded uphill tasks for most parents.
Battling children is an exercise in futility for parents and should be avoided at all costs.
If parents want children to eat different foods - it is important that they understand what food REALLY means to children. And, it is my endeavour to explain to this to parents - in my nutrition workshops.
For children – food is a sensory experience. They focus on experiencing food with their five senses.
Food needs to look good to them. It needs to smell good. They need to squish it with their fingers and smear it on their faces before they allow their tongues to taste it.
But when they offer new foods – how many parents actually allow this?
Ugly mushy spoonfuls that can be rapidly pushed down the throat and disseminate nutrients are what parents focus on providing in the early years.
And since what is familiar - appeals to the senses – by the time parents offer new foods - the sense organs of the child are comfortable only with mush. And so they refuse to eat anything else.
In situations like this it is important for parents to be patient with new foods.
Children are likely to require repeated exposures to a new food before they take the first bite.
To encourage children to eat new foods – it is important to talk about the colour of the food, the shape, the aroma and the texture.
Just touting the food as tasty is unlikely to make a child try it.
It is also important that children watch their parents enjoy the experience of eating something that he /she is being offered.
Appeal to all your child’s senses – they will persuade your child’s taste buds for you.
Focus on enjoying and savouring every meal.
Turn into an epicurean family!
“Doctor – how do I get my child to eat?”
That is the question I am asked most frequently at my Parenting Consultations and Workshops.
Almost every parent I encounter has a child who “just won’t eat”. And mealtime battles are the stuff childhoods now seem to be made up of.
What I have realized parents are really asking when they ask –
“How do I get my child to eat?”-
– “How do I get my child to eat more than he wants to eat”
And my answer to them is – “Don’t even try!”
Always respect your child’s appetite – or lack of one. Your child is the only one who knows how hungry he is.
A person feels hungry when the body sends a message to the mind saying that is short on nutrients and needs replenishment. The message is usually read loud and clear by the mind and is tough for it to ignore. And so the person eats.
This mechanism is well and truly in place when a child is born and so the child is perfectly capable of deciding how much he should eat.
If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack. Never bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or to clean his or her plate.
There are 4 things that are likely to happen when you do this and none of them are good –
Allow meal times to be pleasant occasions. Encourage independence by serving small portions and giving your child the opportunity to independently ask for more.
In my practice as a Parenting and Wellness Consultant “picky eating” or “refusal to eat” is the most common Parenting problem I encounter. I have therefore written a series of posts for mycity4kids in which I offered tips and tricks to help suffering parents cope.
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip2
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip3
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip4
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip5
Festive picky eating
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip6
Recover rapidly from an excess of festivities
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip7
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip8
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip9
Tips and tricks for the parents of picky eaters - Tip10
I hope parents find these tips and tricks valuable and are able to help their children get over "picky eating".