Also remember that it’s very rare for a child to accept a new food at the beginning. You will typically need to offer him the same thing around eight to 12 times before he starts enjoying its flavour. So be patient!A big problem is the prevalence of convenience packaged foods all around us. It’s very tempting for the tired and busy parent to give the child a packet of chips to eat. But this is absolutely NOT the right thing to do! Giving your child a packet of chips once a week is okay, but it cannot be given regularly, making it something he can’t do without. Packaged foods have strong flavours and are, hence, extremely addictive. Flavours present in natural foods are not as strong. Once kids get used to stronger flavours, they become insensitive to the subtler flavours of natural foods and don’t enjoy these as much. Ideally, foods like chips, instant noodles, candies and cookies MUST NOT BE KEPT AT HOME. Eat them once in a way when you are out, yes, but don’t stock them!
What are the nutrient gaps that we see in children’s diets, and how can these be bridged?
The deficiencies that could crop up are those related to vitamins and minerals (micronutrient deficiency) due to poor consumption of fruits and veggies. As I mentioned, there are five main food groups and children are supposed to eat some items from all of these. But sometimes we deviate, either by giving in to children’s whims, or to suit our own convenience. For example, dinner is not ready and your child is hungry – you give him three biscuits to hold off until dinner. He has such a tiny stomach. If you fill it with three biscuits now, he is not going to eat his usual quota of chapattis and vegetables one hour later! If this practice is a regular feature of your household, the nutritional gap appears.
The first thing a parent must do to bridge nutritional gaps is to educate herself on healthy eating practices as well as keep track of what the child is eating. Maintain a food diary for seven days. ‘Have I given him carbs today? Proteins? What has he eaten?’ Soon you will understand where the loopholes lie and can work towards addressing the same.
Children follow their parents. Practice healthy eating principles yourself, and in all probability your child will follow suit. At least one meal a day should be eaten all together, as a family – this allows your child to observe how you choose your vegetables, eat slowly, munching your food well, and drink enough water.