• Eating behaviours develop through social learning. Your child wants to eat what she or she sees the family is eating.
• Instead of bribing them with sweet foods, give them healthy options to pick from.
Nutrition goes a long way when it comes to the overall health of a person and the normal functioning of the human body.
According to Alice Chepkoech, a Nairobi-based nutritionist, nutrition has the potential to affect both the physical and mental well-being of a person.
“The relationship between diet and mental health is complex. But our diet has a direct effect on our brain health,” she told the Star.
“The key is having a balanced diet- which means getting your kid to have a balanced diet full of vegetables and fruits as well.”
A study done by the University of East Anglia showed that in breakfast and lunch choices, children who ate more fruits and vegetables had better mental health.
Mary Wambui, a mother of a four-year-old boy says she struggles getting her child to eat vegetables.
“With my son Kimron, it is always a fight or a food wrestling whenever we are having meals. Vegetables are actually his worst. He will eat, and spit it out when am not looking, he says it tastes so blunt,” Wambui says.
Chepkoech says that it is common for kids to be fussy eaters between the ages of two and four.
A 2016 study found that over 25 per cent of children between 1.5 and five years are picky eaters.
However, if a child doesn’t outgrow pickiness, she advised parents to talk to a paediatrician because sometimes picky or fussy eaters, may suffer from a sensory disorder that limits the number of foods they tolerate.
On this, Chepkoech advised parents, if they are serving too much and seeing too much food is being wasted, then, they need to change their feeding strategies.
“Eating behaviours develop through social learning, so first, the parent needs to be a good role model, you can’t eat a steak and force your kid to eat boiled broccoli, it’s always going to be a war,” Chepkoech said.
“Fill half your plate with veggies, your kid is more likely to follow suit. Also, clean that pantry of junk if she keeps seeing it she’ll cry for it.”
Chepkoech advised against bribing and forcing kids to eat fruits and vegetables as it makes them develop a more negative attitude towards them.
“Instead, give them options and let them pick what they want, is it an apple or banana? Broccoli or Carrot? From this, you get to know what your child likes and what doesn’t work.” Chepkoech says.
“Bribing them with promises like, ‘if you finish your vegetables, I will give you a sweet’ won’t help them build a healthy relationship with food. Praise them or use positive reinforcement, this makes them feel good about themselves after they eat.”
Chepkoech advised mothers who wondered if it’s a good idea to sneak vegetables in meals of picky eaters, that they can blend vegetables and add as sauces for foods.
“Remember, when you blend, it doesn’t help the kid get familiar with the texture and flavour. Once your kid is in the nest, the next time you bring the real vegetable, you will be back to square one,” she said.
“If it will give you peace of mind. Only blend when you feel the kid needs the nutrients and there are no other options available.”
She advised parents to incorporate the children when preparing meals as it is important but it requires patience.
“Cooking at home instead of eating out is the best thing we can do for the family’s health. Just involve the kid in snack making. This will give you a perfect time to bond as well as help you discuss the impact of food choices in their health,” Chepkoech said.
“Cut up the fruits and vegetables in small fun shapes, and serve them with a dip of peanut butter or dressing of choice. Serve on a colourful plate and spoon. Trust me, this will make mealtime seem more fun and attractive, and give them something to look forward to every day.”
"Giving them a sense of accomplishment and boosting their self-esteem. Instead of making them do their homework or play video games by themselves. Turning the meal prep time into a bond time goes a long way."
Studies also show that eating together as a family encourages the kids to eat healthier.
She recommended switching it up, which is a process, and your child may not try the food for the first time.
But pairing it with a familiar favourite, once in a while, your child slowly adjusts.
“Don’t be afraid of trial and error and don’t force. Keep in mind that it takes 15 or more exposures to a food before your child tries it. If your child doesn’t like the taste of a certain vegetable, move forward and explore new options or replace the unwanted vegetable with a favourite,” Chepkoech advised.
Researchers found out that breastfeeding also affects the dietary behaviour of a child.
They found that children who have never been breastfed or those who did it for a short duration were associated with a lower healthy variety of food at ages 2, 3, and 4.
In the meantime, remember that taste buds change every two weeks and there are factors that decide whether you like a certain food.
Your child’s eating habits change over a period of time and it will require patience and being creative depending on your child’s needs and taking the small steps every day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
Edited by D Tarus