Every parent knows the importance of eating healthy and the importance of a balanced diet. Why is it still so difficult to raise a toddler with healthy eating habits? Well for starters, we are surrounded by bakeries with attractive displays of muffins and donuts, makes it very hard for a parent to inculcate these habits. Birthday parties are an excuse to indulge in junk food and sugar loaded drinks. Children of this generation are exposed to high sugar foods on a daily basis. Once your taste buds are accustomed to high salt and sugar containing foods it is very difficult to like fruits and vegetables.
Children require a healthy balanced diet not just for proper physical growth but also for brain development. Toddlers (2 years and above) should eat 3 proper meals with 1 or 2 snacks in between. Experts say milk is not as essential as high iron and vitamin foods for development of the child. Children should eat what is made for the family including cereals, fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat at each mealtime. Chapatis and rice can be part of all Indian meals. The challenge here is that just before mealtime if a child is offered an unhealthy snack, the child now has a very small appetite left and the quantity of the healthy meal gets reduced to half or less.
Toddlers are too small to understand what is healthy and what should be avoided. The responsibility lies completely with the parent. It is up to us what we will offer to the child and what mealtime schedule we maintain. In my case even though I don’t have a sweet tooth, my family members (who genuinely believe that sugar is the food of love) starts her day by offering cake for breakfast to my toddler. No toddler in her right mind would refute such an offer first thing in the morning. If I force my child to eat the same quantity of breakfast if she wants to eat the cake – this will result in overeating, weight gain and obesity in the future.
I was as confused as anyone else. I thought about it and decided to let me look at my own lifestyle – Do I eat healthy? Do I exercise and am I fit? The answer was mostly yes! I felt good about it and decided to talk to my child about every decision I was making to eat right. How it was helping me to grow strong and healthy. I started talking about foods rich in protein, and how they were important if I wanted to play tennis or swim (my daughters two most favourite activities). I told my children stories involving other toddlers who didn’t eat healthy and how they were weak and couldn’t swim or do the activities they loved. I soon realized now I had empowered them with knowledge and wisdom to make choices. They didn’t have to eat something because I said so. They could understand why I was saying so.
It didn’t happen overnight but every time they want to eat something unhealthy – they ask themselves if they are making a right choice. Few small changes that I made included cleaning out the kitchen and not storing chips and other packet foods. Keeping healthy treats like fresh seasonal fruits and nuts in stock. The change – they don’t ask for as many chocolates as they used to, if someone else offers them something unhealthy they wait to first discuss it with me. They are more active, alert and definitely more healthy. A Healthy Family is a Happy Family!
Written By -- Insiyah Rahim (Director, Toddlers Nursery & Learn2Teach)