“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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When the exams are around the corner – entire families of those taking the exams are stressed.
Even the parents of the most relaxed children are treading on eggshells around their children. And every parent is looking for an opportunity to do something to help their exam going child. Sadly however – most parents have no idea what to do.
If you are a parent - the simplest way in which you can help your child while you wait for the nail biting race to the finish line – is to help your children with food.
To work effectively – the brain needs food. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, are all essential to keep the brain functioning well. As stress gets the better of children – the first thing they do is skip meals and survive on junk food.
It may be difficult to convince children to eat regular meals as they study – but parents can make an attempt to include all the elements of a balanced diet into the food that their child eats through the day with some innovatively cooked snacks
It is important to focus on nutrients because a diet that lacks essential nutrients can compromise concentration.
While all the elements of a balanced diet are required to keep the brain and body going – it is important to remember that having the regular three or four square meals while studying long hours can be counterproductive. Heavy meals can be sleep inducing and so frequent small healthy meals packaged as snacks - is what you should ideally give your child.
Eating too much or too little can interfere with the ability to focus. A heavy meal may make one feel tired, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs
The brain runs on sugar. It is the brains most preferred fuel source and so some amount of craving for sweet things is normal in a child who is spending several long hours exercising his/her brain cells. However an excess of sugar can actually impair the functioning of the brain and cause both brain and body to slow down. So keep a watch on how much sugar your child takes in.
If your child insists on sweets, try chocolate or cocoa based sweets, which keep the brain in great functioning condition when they are consumed in moderate amounts, because of their antioxidant properties. Nuts and dry fruits are full of antioxidants and very good for the brain too
It is tempting to offer caffeine in the form of tea coffee and other energy drinks to keep the mind alert. However too much caffeine can actually have the reverse effect and make your child jittery and uncomfortable
There is a long gap between dinner and breakfast and since the brain needs food before it can function effectively - breakfast is a non-negotiable. If your child refuses a regular breakfast – package it innovatively into small tasty snacks. Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat breakfast tend to perform better than those who don’t. Foods that top the brain-fuel list include high-fibre whole grains, dairy, and fruits.
Overeating at breakfast however – is not a good idea because high-calorie breakfasts induce sleep and sluggishness
As the exams approach – the “I am forgetting everything” feeling can grip students. And their panic about forgetting can overwhelm parents as well.
I have often encountered parents looking around for memory enhancing drugs to help their children at such times.
It is important to remember that while a lot of claims have been made about the memory boosting properties of a lot of drugs – a great deal of research is still required in most cases to prove their efficacy and ensure their safety and absence of side effects. In such a scenario – it is best to exercise extreme caution before experimenting with medications or supplements.
Both the brain and the body function best when they are well hydrated. It is important to drink water.
Juices, tea, coffee and other beverages cannot take over the function of water.
Frequent sips from a bottle strategically placed on the study table can make a lot of difference to the functioning of the brain.
A healthy body and mind are extremely important for success in exams. You can contribute to your child’s success by feeding him/her right. And you should.
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".