Do you go to sleep every Sunday night with this on loop in your head? “Oh my God, it’s Monday tomorrow! The beginning of another mad week which means getting ready for work, trying to fit in some exercise, deadlines, schedules… and the biggest worry, trying to pack lunch for my fussy seven-year old.”
Most days, the dabba comes back untouched. The days he’s nibbled something, I count myself lucky. He hates vegetables and the school doesn’t encourage meaty lunches. He will eat a boiled egg but the teacher says he spills the shell all around the table…. Does all this sound familiar? I’ve even known a parent who used to pack deep-fried slices of bread, which had been dipped in sugar syrup, every day for her daughter’s lunch. Why? Because that was the ONLY thing the child would eat and the mother was so desperate that she would pack almost anything.
By the way, habits of fussy eating are picked up mostly from parents. If you want your child to eat healthy, then eat healthy yourself! The dictum of “do as I say, but not as I do” has never worked and never will. Examine your reactions to food. Do you make a face at brinjal? Do you say “yuck” to garlic? Do you complain when the idlis are hard or the dosa is not crisp? Do you absolutely refuse to try any new food, saying “I know I won’t like it” before even putting a spoonful in your mouth? Guess what, ninety nine times out of a hundred, that ‘s exactly what your child will do too. The hundredth, will probably turn out to be a rebel and eat insects picked up off the ground or mud from the garden just to have the pleasure of hearing you go “eeeeeuuuuggghhh, how could you?”.
Now, hanging your head in shame is not going let you see the screen in front of you. To figure out what next, look up and read on. These simple steps will make you the envy of all the mothers at the school gate:
- Be enthusiastic about new experiences, whether it’s new books, new friends, new places or new food.
- Be energetic. I agree that it’s easier to pack a sandwich than make a stuffed paratha, however, if you want results, there are no short cuts! If you want to create a healthy lifestyle for you and your family, it involves work. My tip here, prepare as much as you can a day before.
- Be creative. If you have a kid who asks why he should thank god for his food when his food it consists of only ‘yucky veggies”? Make green, red and orange paranthas or pooris by kneading flour with boiled, puréed spinach or peas, beetroot and carrots. The same trick can be used for idlis and dosas.
- Make it “cool”. For example, dosas in his lunch box again? Stuff them with a mixture of sautéed spinach, corn and cheese or paneer.
- Be inclusive. Involve your child in the cutting, pounding and kneading activities of food preparation. The excitement of creating their own food can carry over into eating it and sharing it. The big bonus, they learn to appreciate the effort you put in everyday.
- Create anticipation. Tell them what to expect in their lunch box and show it to them before they leave (if you’re not rushed off your feet). Trust me, they’ll look forward to lunch time. To keep the momentum, don’t forget to plan an occasional surprise, which creates its own excitement and breaks the monotony of always knowing what’s in the box.
- Learn about nutrition and share it with your family. These are skills not taught at school and there’s nothing like a practical lesson at home on what the humble curd rice is loaded with – probiotics and calcium – to make it a “hero”. Ditto for the reviled brinjal and the much hated bitter gourd. Don’t force these down their throats too often though, this will cause even a saint to rebel.
- Cook with love, creativity will flow! Even humble steamed carrot, peas and potatoes can be made “awesome” by adding a tad of butter and some herbs.
- Keep it simple. Children tend to prefer simpler foods to more complex, adult foods. Steamed vegetables, sundal and rotis, or rice form a complete meal, while being easy to make and pack.
- Keep them small. Finger foods, small wraps with rotis and vegetables in a salad dressing or mayo and some cheese, all look good, taste good and make kids happy.
- Enjoy the process. Think of it as an outlet for your creativity. Approach food and cooking with anticipation and excitement and it will repay you hugely. Approach it as though it’s a chore to be done as quickly and with as little involvement as possible and it’s guaranteed to be a pain.
- With all this, there are still days when your child will not eat what’s in the dabba. Well, if it’s just a one-off day, don’t sweat it. We all need an occasional break. If it’s too frequent an occurrence and then consider what further action is needed.
I, however, have to add a note of caution here on being ready for the unexpected. Why? Because I am a mother of two and know that kids are unpredictable. My four year-old daughter came back from school one day with her untouched box of pinwheel sandwiches. We had made these with great excitement and enthusiasm the previous night. Why did she not eat them? Well, she thought ‘they were too beautiful to eat’!
About the Author:
AnuradhaVenkatesh is an entrepreneur with a passion for education. She loves food and everything to do with it (the making, the reading about, the eating, the dreaming), word games, kids, the monsoon and mangoes – though not necessarily in that order.
Photo Credit: Image 1
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