The main issue experience by most parents regarding their child’s nutrition is having a fussy eater. Very rarely does a child with a gluten intolerance, asthma or diabetes want to experience the repercussions of bad eating so they are usually very good on their newly adopted eating plans. It is the healthy children that are the culprits often threatening parents with a nil by mouth tactic that works. Parents are left exhausting all means of feeding their little ones good food and so opt for what they will eat which is a poor diet high in processed and high sugared foods.
Many Nutritionists blame parents for their children’s poor health – a kind of a “fish rots from the head” credo. I do understand their train of thought but in reality, many parents do not think they have an alternative option regarding what goes into their children’s mouth. Although many are quick to judge, in reality children – even babies as young as eight months – are very fast learners and sense early on what frazzles their parents. I have seen time and again a desperate mother or father begging for some type of all in one food that has all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for their fussy eater. A mother that I once consulted with called me one night and after introducing herself burst into tears because her three year old was losing concentration at school, not sleeping well, losing weight and had become very aggressive as well as showing signs of Gluten Intolerance by means of a constantly runny nose, runny stools and experiencing dizziness after eating. When asked what she fed the little one she said hot chocolate drinks and milkshakes and chocolate spread on white bread sandwiches as this was all her child would “allow” her to feed him.
Unfortunately there is no one wonder food having it all – unless you count raw foods. This is where many parents think they have a problem. How do they get their little ones to enjoy raw and healthy foods? The answer is simple. It should, from the very beginning of their taste experience be the only foods they should be familiar with. Simultaneously, it should be the only food in the house. Not forever but at least for the first nine months to their first year.The psychology behind the thought that a house filled with sweets will not make children crave and constantly want sweet treats does not work. Rarely does it work and then only for a short while. A home stocked with good nutritious treats – fruits, nuts, yoghurts, bran rusks and biscuits, frozen yogurts, brown breads, honey etc – usually yields a more successful thought process regarding the need for something sweet. Sugar is addictive. The more you have the more you want. This is triple fold for children. Yes children must eat sweets – I will never advocate a sweet free child – it is not realistic nor is it logical. Allow them to indulge at a birthday party, a special occasion, an evening at the movies. The idea is not make sweets and processed treats an issue, a reward or a big deal. If a household is stocked with chocolte drinks, spread, white bread, biscuits, fizzy cold drinks, crisps, chocolates and so on, it is a given that that is what the child will want to eat all the time because that is what food is to them.
How do you change your little one’s view on food and getting them to eat well? Again this is simple. Involve them. From the shopping, to choosing the fruit and vegetables they would like to try, to allowing them to choose a recipe that is attractive to them and assisting you in preparing the food, praising them at dinner time by stating that they were very involved in the process from the start, going through recipes that they might like to try next time and so on. Children are visual. They are curious and very willing to try anything fun. Start a herb box or a vegetable patch, get them to grow, harvest and eat their produce. It is always the simple things that get them going.
My son decided at eighteen months to only eat jam sandwiches and orange squash – a habit formed at his playgroup. He refused fruit, veggies, water and all the other foods he initially enjoyed. My only option left after exhausting every other possible way was to refuse him any food other than the meal I had prepared for him to eat. So one Saturday morning around nine o' clock, after a heated tantrum from my little one, I decided to not allow him any food other than the fruit salad I had made him for breakfast. I allowed him water to drink but he continued refusing his meal until just after two o’ clock in the afternoon where he not only ended up eating his entire bowl of fruit salad, he also ate most of the salad and salmon lunch I had prepared. He is yet to try the fussy tactic again and he is nearing his third birthday.
As a parent I am now very involved in what my son eats at school. I believe firmly that the nutritional ethos of a school and home should mirror each other by instilling a healthy, versatile and nutritious food credo. It is no use to be healthy at home, only to have your child’s school allow unhealthy, processed foods to be fed to your little one or sold during break time. It is unacceptable and not only detrimental to their health but also has a negative knock on effect to their mental state, deteriorating their concentration span and making them very hyperactive (the sugar spike peaking – usually after break time when the schools tuck shop has been visited) then lethargic and there after yielding them unresponsive and at times aggressive in class and the "crash" commences after the intense sugar high.
The complete 360 degree turn around on all of the children I have consulted with that followed a realistic, logical and fun nutritional programme was almost immediate and very pleasing. Grades improved in class, meal times became fun, they became more active and in some of them, certain medications for hyperactivity and allergies were stopped. All in all a very successful ending if our children are on a good nutritional path. The sooner this is implemented the better, benefiting not only the child but the family in its entirety.