It is time for dinner.
After a long day at work you have walked into the house tired and hungry – but also excited about spending time with your child at last and eager to attend to the needs of your child. And one of the immediate needs you see – is the need for food. Healthy food.
So your give your child a quick hug and a kiss and rush into the kitchen to cook a healthy meal.
You serve a healthy meal with great enthusiasm – and your child refuses to eat.
Is this the story in your house every day?
A lot of parents who attend my workshops or who consult with me have complains like this about their children
“My child only wants junk food”
“My child won’t eat anything but snacks and chips at all his meals”
“My child won’t eat anything but chicken nuggets for dinner everyday”
Is it OK for a child to eat junk food at every meal?
The answer is NO.
Instant noodles, frozen snacks like French fries and chicken nuggets, packaged snacks like chips or packaged sweet breakfast cereals – look and taste like food but are not real food.
It is not enough for food to fill the stomach – it needs to nourish the body.
Food that your child eats must provide all the nutrients that the body needs to function, to grow and to repair itself and stay healthy.
Why do most parents give in to the demand for junk food?
As a parent – as a responsible adult who is looking after a child – one of your prime responsibilities is to ensure that your child is fed. And when at times you are unable to feed your child – it can lead to you being overwhelmed with guilt.
When you are tired, exhausted and hungry at the end of a long day – you just want to see your child eat so that you can eat your meal without feeling guilty.
And so you are happy to give your child anything he will eat – even if that is junk food or fast food.
Parenting is tough
there are a hundred obstacles to doing the right thing for
Obstacle 1 – Tantrums
“What should I do when my child throws a tantrum for junk food?”
Children throw tantrums for various reasons – and one of them is because they want your love and attention.
Your child knows how important his meals and what he eats is to you. And that is why he centers most of his tantrums around food.
The worst time to give your child junk food is – when he throws a tantrum for it.
When you give in to your child’s tantrum and replace his healthy food with junk food – you are fulfilling an emotional need. You are telling your child that junk food denotes love and healthy food doesn’t.
It is a very wrong message to give a child and can lead to a lifelong emotional dependence on junk food which can lead to junk food addiction
Before you accept the idea that “My child only wants junk food” – think carefully about what your child may be asking for.
In all probability your child is just asking for love and attention.
Lift your child into your lap look into his/her eyes and gently talk to him with hugs and kisses.
Obstacle 2 – No more patience and energy to deal with a crying hungry child
“I can’t bear to see my child crying – what should I do?”
Parenting a child is not easy. And when you are tired and hungry at the end of a long difficult day – there may be times when you are tempted to take the easy way out and give your child the junk food that he is asking for.
When you are tired and hungry – admit it. Take a break, and eat something yourself first.
Once you have taken care of the needs of your own body and mind – you will be in a much better position to handle your child’s tantrums about food. You will be able to stand up for what is right and insist that your child eats healthy food.
Obstacle 3 – No ground rules about meals and healthy eating
The temptation to eat junk food is always a result of not having healthy food available until it is too late and you or your child are too hungry to wait any longer.
Do not let the question “What should we eat now?” pop up at any meal
Plan the menu for the week in advance. Know what you are going to cook at each meal and have all the ingredients at hand to rapidly put together a healthy meal.
Let your child know what he is going to get at the meal well before he is hungry so that he does not have the chance to imagine what junk food he will eat.
Here is what Mommy Poorva Mishra does
Obstacle 4 – No strategy to deal with situations when your child demands junk food
Be prepared in advance for your child to ask for junk food. Always know what to do when your child asks for junk food
Here is what Mommy Maitabi Banerjee does
What to do when my child demands junk food?
6 Ground rules/ways to keep your child off junk food
- Do Not Give In To Demands of Junk Food
If your child refuses to eat the healthy food that you offer. Don’t jump up to serve junk food. Persist with your offer of healthy food and let your child understand that this is all that will be available at this meal.
2. Do not buy junk food
If there is no junk food in the house – your child cannot ask for junk food. And you will not be lying when you say there is nothing available to eat other than healthy food. This will kill your temptation to offer junk food because there isn’t any.
3. Set a good example
Instead of coaxing your child to eat the healthy food on the table – start eating it yourself. Relish the food in front of her and she will begin to feel hungry too.
4. Stay in a good mood
Talk about nice things at mealtimes. Don’t just keep saying “eat” “eat faster” or “just one more bite”. Make mealtimes a time for sharing experiences and sharing the day – not just sharing food
5. Make interesting things with healthy ingredients
Healthy food does not have to be boring. Look around and collect recipes of tasty things that can be made with healthy ingredients like millets and greens.
Here is what Mommy Vedaprana Purkayastha does
6. Involve your child in meal planning, shopping and cooking
Even very young children can be educated about the benefits of healthy food and can be inducted into healthy cooking.
Obstacle 5 – Approaching bed time and sleepy child
What if my child does not eat at all? Is it OK for a child to go to bed on an empty stomach?
Making it a habit to go to bed on an empty stomach is not advisable for any child. However, it is important to remember that a child may not be equally hungry every day and at every meal.
- Offer meals at a fixed time every day
- Start the meal well before your child starts crying because he is hungry or sleepy.
- Allow your child to eat only as much as he wants to eat. Remember the quantity does not matter if the quality is good – i.e.- it is healthy food
- Keep some healthy food like bananas, a millet muffin or some dry fruits handy in case your child wakes up hungry in the night. Ensure that the food you offer in the middle of the night is also healthy in spite of being ready to eat
It is easy to blame children by saying “My child doesn’t eat anything but junk food”. But a blame game serves no purpose at all. Examine your role in your child’s habit.
Are you encouraging your child to eat junk food? If you are follow the points above and stop giving in to the temptation to offer your child junk food
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