Nutritionist moms share tales of picky-eaters

Even though I studied Nutrition and Dietetics, my kids do not eat mixed leaf salads with extra virgin olive oil and they do not drink the perfect homemade protein smoothies. My kids have sudden cravings for chicken nuggets and fries, coke and lemon ice tea, so I have to pull into the nearest McDonald’s quite often after school. The other addiction that is spiraling out of control is eating Nutella out of a jar. If parents allow, kids will eat whatever they find on the kitchen shelves. As soon as they are back from school, my 6-year old son runs to open a box of chunky chocolate chip cookies whilst my tween and teen daughters are devouring a big bag of potato chips.

Like the other Moms, I have also tried wrapping broccoli stems in color foil and sneaking in bits of veggies while baking cookies at home but none of these ideas worked with my kids. It is worrying that a poor diet will lack all the nutrients that are essential to help the body in combating infectious diseases. Some research studies have shown that teenagers are more prone to obesity, diabetes and regular consumption of junk food can lead to a mental meltdown. It is baffling, stressful and hurtful while trying to cope in such situations. So, how do we tweak our parenting style?

 I try to discuss pasta recipes with the kids and take them along with me to do grocery shopping so they get to pick their choice of pasta and cheese. We buy ingredients to make Mexican style quesadillas and the girls enjoy making them for dinner. I sit down with the kids to chat and have at least one meal with them every day. In this way, I feel they eat a wholesome meal because distraction during eating increases junk food intake.

 Dr. Chandra Venkatasubramanian is a Registered Dietician and a lead nutrition educator in Chennai. She has offered tips for encouraging healthy eating in kids and teens. She said: “Moms can modify a child’s favorite dish by adding wholesome ingredients to it, thus making it a nutritious meal. Children love to eat puris for breakfast, so add grated carrot, cabbage, and cauliflower to the dough and make masala puris instead. To the dosa batter, add grated cheese, finely chopped green pepper, mint, and nuts to make it flavorful and healthy. When making chappathis, add some cooked dhal and mashed vegetables to the dough and serve with a tall glass of lassi. For parathas, go for multi-grain flour instead of refined flour, add paneer or palak to the dough to give the added flavor and nutrients. Serve hot with some fried vegetables of their choice. For lunch, they can eat mixed rice with a green salad. Some healthy mixed rice ideas are palak rice, egg fried rice or vegetable fried rice and pudina rice.”

Some of my batchmates in the field of Nutrition and Dietetics, based in India have shared their challenging experiences with me. Mahalakshmi Mahesh is a Preschool Director and owner of a kindergarten school in Madurai; besides, she is a devoted mother of two girls. She said: “Children become picky-eaters because of pampering by parents from toddler stage. It was very hard to cook an assortment of dishes every day to impress the girls because I did not want to deal with temper tantrums over food. When my elder daughter was 17, she left home to join University where hostel meals, peer relationships, and social life helped her to make healthier food choices. My younger daughter is 13 and is slowly building healthy eating habits; moreover, my girls have a doting grandma at home who will give in to their whims and fancies by cooking special meals for them every other day.” Vijayalakshmi Shivaram is a Registered Dietician from Bangalore and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She said: “I could not help my son in the early years to beat picky-eating because he went on a food jag.

Sometimes he would have only a glass of milk for every meal and I started to worry because excessive fluids will only suppress appetite. His Dad had an ingenious way of getting his son to try new foods and I saw the effect gradually over time.” Neeta Prasanna Patil is the owner of Neeta Catering Services in Pune. She is committed to serving healthy meals to some prominent schools in the city and she said: “I believe that all students must be provided with a  well-balanced and a nutritious meal but getting the high school children to eat healthful vegetables is a big struggle for me.”

 I have experienced the pros and cons of feeding three children in my 16 years of parenting. Therefore, as a mom, be a good role model, keep your patience and sanity.

(The author is Aarti Devaraj a nutritionist and writer living in Milan, Italy)

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