Like adults, children have nutritional needs. Since they are growing, it is important that we supply them with balanced and healthy meals. With the number of incidents of childhood obesity higher in Black African and Caribbean children, it is important that we fulfil our role as parents and seek wisdom on how to provide a healthy diet for our children.
Now, paediatric dietetics is not my speciality, but I felt it necessary to share a few words on nutrition for our children. In this edition, I particularly want to focus on fussy or faddy eaters. Did you just roll your eyes or smile?
It’s likely that we all know of a child or children, who refuse certain foods, or even those who eat somewhat odd combinations of foods, not forgetting those little cherubs who just stick to the same foods all the time. One of my children used to be hooked on white rice and okra – all the time! He then graduated to toast and peanut butter. He opted for this even on Christmas Day. And yeah, I am a Dietitian!
A child with fussy eating habits can be quite draining and disruptive for the family. With our busy lives, there seems to be less and less time to sit down and coax a fussy child to eat a meal. I suspect that many parents lose patience and end up giving in to the unhealthy food choice of their child. I know that this can result in some stressful mealtimes, which neither you nor your children look forward to! It can be quite a serious issue where tempers fray and worry sets in because the child may not be growing at the expected rate.
When we consider our roles as parents or carers, it is important that we are patient and to all extents not openly phased by a child’s refusal of food. If the refusal is all food and drink, it is important that you contact your doctor, as this can lead to dehydration which can be dangerous.
On the other hand, the good news is many children do grow out of their ‘faddyness.’ By getting fluttered as parents we can do more damage than good. I am aware of many feeding practices in our culture which are nothing short of force-feeding. This seems to be done out of love and concern for a child’s growth. However, can, unfortunately, scar them for life and give rise to an odd relationship with food.
Eating and drinking are probably the most ‘normal’ expectations we have of our children. When it doesn’t happen it is understandable that we become concerned. I wish to encourage all worried parents, relatives and carers not to give up. Stay calm and have a positive mind about this. In most cases, fads do pass and all works well. Where you feel things have become out of control, do contact your GP or Health Visitor and of course pray and trust God for a good outcome.
Here are some tips for dealing with faddy eaters:
• Avoid getting stressed at mealtimes – stay calm remember that you are the adult!
• Try to eat with them as often as you can – this is a great way for them to learn by example
• Avoid piling their plates with food! Serve small portions and praise your children for eating, even if they only eat a little. Be sincere and smile often.
• If your child rejects the food, don’t force him or her to eat it. THIS MAY BE HARD BUT TRY IT. Just take the food away without saying anything. Try to stay calm, even if it’s very frustrating. Try the food again another time.
• Don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat.
• Your child may be a slow eater, so be patient, avoiding the words: “HURRY UP!”
• Don’t give your child too many snacks between meals – 2 healthy snacks a day is plenty.
• Do not use food as a reward. Your child may start to think of sweets as nice and vegetables as nasty. Instead, reward with non-food objects.
• Do not punish a child for not eating – smacking or other chastisement is not a remedial action and should be avoided at all costs
• Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. Sit down and chat about other things.
• If you know any other children of the same age who are good eaters, talk to the parents and invite them round for a meal. Don’t compare your child with the other children.
• Changing how you serve food may make it more appealing. For example, many of our African Caribbean plates can look a bit boring. Take time to make the food look appealing!
Children are His heritage! Normal growth is important. A balanced diet and adequate activity levels are part or normal living for children. God is relying on us to partner with Him to care for the children He has given.
For more information, contact: Shola Oladipo