Friday, October 26, 2007

Food for Thought

If there was any doubt in my mind that parents’ eating habits have a direct impact on those of their kids, Ayaan removed it this week. Here’s what happened:

As a part of my new diet, I am supposed to have a bowl of salad as soon as I get home from work. So the other day, I was having a bowl full of radish and beetroot, drenched with lime juice – overall, hardly the most appetising of thing to eat and I was bravely plodding my way through it. Ayaan, on the other hand, was significantly more excited by this ‘yummy’ stuff that Mama was eating so he went and got a bowl of his own and demanded that I waste no time in putting some ‘sallet’ into it…

I was pretty sure that this was just a case of ‘I want to have what you are having’ and that the sour and pungent salad would be unceremoniously ejected from his mouth once it made contact with his tongue. But that’s not what happened – he made a bit of a face but he chewed, swallowed and asked for more and ended up having almost a fourth of my serving. So now I am going to make sure that I eat the salad before his dinner everyday and let him pick from my plate… another incentive to stick to my diet change.

That being said, I have to say that I have no complaints about Ayaan’s eating habits. I am knocking on wood while writing this but he isn’t too fussy about his food, eats almost everything that we do and eats without too much resistance (most of the time). Now I know some of you would think that I should just thank my stars for the sheer dumb luck of it all but while I am willing to give him credit for being a good eater, I also believe that I had something to do with it. Because there are some thing that I hold sacrosanct in the process of raising a healthy eater and I do think these things has atleast something to do with the way things turned out. Here’s some of the stuff that I did that I think contributed:

  • In his two-and-a-half year old life, Ayaan has eaten not more than five meals in front of the television. Two of these occasions happened when he was really sick and this was the only way I could get some sustenance into his little body. And the other two happened when I had to feed him at someone’s else’s house and the TV was the only way of getting him to stay in one place for long enough to eat a reasonable amount of food. I believe this is important – not because research shows that TV dinners cause obesity but because I think no age is too young to learn how to eat food for the sake of it and recognise and accept (and hopefully savour) every morsel that goes into your mouth rather than open your mouth and swallow like a zombie, rapt in the moving images on the idiot box.
  • The same thought also applies to the concept of entertaining him while he eats. Because to my mind, this is again akin to fooling a child into eating. And here I don’t mean talking, singing or otherwise interacting with a child to make mealtimes fun but things one does to distract him while another bit of food is quietly shoved into his mouth with tactics such as ‘Look there, birdie!’ I have even seen moms carry stuff like cut fruits to the park which they keep periodically popping into the kid’s mouth while they play.
  • When he is at home, the only place Ayaan eats in (since six months of age) is his high chair. To start with, I think chasing a child around the room while feeding him is way too exhausting a concept. Also, I am not the most patient of mothers and the few times that I have had to attempt such a feeding style have not been very pleasant – both for me and Ayaan. Moreover, when you chase a kid for his food, you are subliminally sending him a message that eating is something that he does because you want him to do it rather than because he wants to do it.
  • I can set my watch (or more likely my mobile phone, since who really wears watches anymore?) by Ayaan’s mealtimes. I have to admit that part of this arises out of that fact that Ayaan has a control freak for a mother and my car pool members, amongst others, will vouch for my obsession with punctuality. But also because I believe that this helps his hunger patterns to settle down into a rhythm that we are aware of and can therefore cater to. Irregular meal times are more likely to confuse kids in terms of when to expect and therefore readily accept food.
  • I have never really allowed junk food to be an option, even when we went through a couple of low-eating phases. Because like TV, I think junk food is the easy way out to nourishing your child and I’d rather suffer through the worry of these temporary phases of nourishment rather than encourage a lifelong addiction to junk food. Also, I know there will soon come a time when he will develop a desire for stuff like chips and chocolate thanks to his school friends but I see no reason why I should seed the process and further enable it by stocking the stuff in my own home.
  • I have tried not to let my own tastes and biases get in the way of what I feed him. In fact, we have started eating some veggies that we earlier turned our noses up at – beetroot and eggplant being prime examples – because I decided to introduce them to Ayaan’s diet. As a result, he eats stuff like palak paneer (spinach with cottage cheese) with great relish.
  • And lastly, I’m just plain stubborn. I struggled through 11 months of breastfeeding with Ayaan resisting me all the way and these struggles continued into the cow milk era as well. There were months on an end when all I could get him to drink were couple of ounces at best but I just kept at it and gave him milk everyday, twice a day and gradually (over one and a half years) that quantity started to inch up and now finally he has a full glass of milk twice a day.... even deigning to drink half of it by himself.

So anyway, that’s my two cents worth on the subject. To those who think this is all a load of crap, just remember that most of the above are MY views based on MY experiences. They are not based on any research and are therefore not facts. So please just read this as my opinion on how raise a healthy eater (that seems to be working for ME) and feel free to disregard or disagree (politely please).


  1. I agree a 100% with you Rohini! I think the same way - kids need to learn to eat conciously and not be tricked into eating or believing that eating is secondary to some fun task. I never ran after my daughter to feed her, or scared her into eating with "Abhi chowkidar aayega danda lekar!". I sat her down in one place from day one and she knew she had to finish her meal before she could get away. Even with M, I put her in her high chair (even though she is only 4.5 months and can't get away even if she wanted to)so slowly she is associating sitting in her high chair with eating, which she fortunately likes so far. I also agree that our kids pick up ALL their eating habits from us. So it is NOT luck that Ayaan has good eating habits and I don't care what anyone else says. It is YOUR hard work that is paying off. I take full credit for my daughter's good eating habits (and my husband's, for that matter :P) - you should do the same for Ayaan's :D

    EVERY SINGLE POINT that you have mentioned has been true for me too! Gee, I should take this comment to my own blog and turn it inot a "I know what Rohini is talking about" post :D

  2. Sounds like a familiar plan to our house. Unfortunately, something happens when they hit the age of two. The older Jude gets, the pickier he is, and the same has been holding true of our other children, all of whom would once upon a time eat practically anything you put in front of them.

    However, I will only cater to pickiness to a certain point. I will still put onions in our food, as well as green healthy things. If they don't want it, they are told to politely remain silent and place the offending items on the side of their plate.

    If they decide they dislike the whole meal, they are required to have only a few bites (to say they tried it), then they may choose to skip the meal. There will be no snacks or special drinks (anything other than water) until the next meal. And if they are stubborn enough to refuse to try it? They get it back at the next mealtime, whenever that may be.

    I refuse to let mealtimes be a warzone in our house. That's why I give them these choices. They know what their options are, and then there is no "tricks" or begging or pleading to get them to eat. When kids get hungry enough, they will eat. They will not starve to death in the meantime.

    And if you do not let junk food be an option, they will grow up having a taste for more nutritious options.

    Also--I always win. It's my job--I'm the mom.

  3. Thank you, Ro! :-)

    (Files away for future reference)

  4. Agree 100%. Our eating habits rub off big time and you certainly deserve credit for his good eating habits.

    I have a rule that everyone present in the house has to eat together. n4 prefers to sit on a normal chair and eat off the table like the rest of us so we let her, earlier we'd put a cushion under her but now she's getting taller so its not needed.

    One more thing - I give them food when they say they are hungry. This pretty much coincides with meal times. If for some reason they eat lesser than normal I let them off. They usually make up in the next meal.

  5. What load of crap are you talking about? Every point you have mentioned is something I have made a point of following for The Bhablet. (Actually, am finding it a little spooky, considering we never discussed it before, you and I.)

    Every point, right down to finding ourselves eating veggies since they are bought for the kid anyway.

  6. Great article, i could definitely use most of the tips. Thanks

  7. anush eats in a normal chair at the table and eats almost all veggies

    we let her eat witha spoon herself even if she makes a mess but insist she helps clear the mess

    i have not exposed her to ice creams/ soft drinks/ chips yet but my neighbour introduced her to chocolates:-((

    just one addition to your list- kids usually know when they r hungry and sometimes it may not be as per schedule- then just relent-

    if they eat more or less on a day- they always make up- no fret or force required

    and yes why the rider?? dont get all defensive- it is not your style

  8. [Ceekay] I guess I am just being a bit defensive because a lot of people do think it is a matter of luck whether your child turns out to be picky eater or not and I disagree...

    [Talena] With Ayaan, it's been just the opposite. I am finding that he is becoming less picky and more curious about new foods as he grows... but thanks for those tips, I can see myself putting them to good use.

    [Y] :)

    [Choxbox] Family mealtimes are something that I've been meaning to start as well. I guess now is as good a time as any.

    [Sue] That's so cool - though probably just because it is common sense anyway

    [Taamommy] Glad it helped...

    [Artnavy] Agree. While Ayaan eats his mealtimes on a schedule, I never refuse him food between meals if he is hungry - but it usually is something healthy like dried fruits and I still stick with the mealtime, just being okay with him eating less.

  9. Hey Rohini - you make it sound simple but am sure you have had to struggle quite a bit to make sure these habits *patting you on the back*

    That feeding-chair is a must. Will get one soon :)

  10. I am so glad you have a terrific eater. It's not easy to raise one and it takes a LOT of effort which you obvoisly have put into. that being said, I have to disagree on a few points (gosh. you are going to beat me up with a stick now because I do this every time :) ) But kids have personalities. Chip is a great eater and has been eating by himself since 18mo. Part of that is prolly due to the fact that he was introduced to solids at an early age(3mo, for many reasons) and before he knew what was happening, his taste buds got used to a lot of new textures and tastes. But more than anything else, it's his personality. He is just not fussy. My brother and I were raised in the same household in the same atmosphere, I was a very picky eater as a child and my brother would eat anything placed before him. I don't think there is anything wrong with the "look, a bird" distraction at this age. Most toddlers are picky eaters and grow up to be perfectly low-maintainence eaters when they grow up (like me). I think it just takes longer for some kids to "develop" a taste in some/all foods than others. Eg. Chip loves gorgonzola at age 2, I was almost 24 when I finally started to like it, my MIL hates it at even at 62.

    you are prolly eaching for that stick now :D But kudos to you for creating a schedule for aayan and making sure his meal times are consistent and sorry to be so long drawn.

  11. Hey rohini. i agree with most of the things, and I susbcribe to most of the practices that you follow. However, I find that sticking to a strict time schedule for the food doesn't work with K. He eats well when i let him tell me when he's hungry. And despite all my efforts, I just cant get him to enjoy his veggies and fruits....not to say that i dont feed him those. Its just that i have to make pieces small and hide them and mash them up in food ans things which he used to eat as such when he was smaller - like carrots and bananas, now he completely dislikes. Consider yourself really really lucky that Ayaan eats salads! I am literally "green" with envy!

  12. Ro, yes agree to most of your points...except for one...of showing them tv while feeding or being active and running around while feeding them...i dont like to place kaju in a high chair...and discipline her right at this age...would like to show her the table manner for the future ...:) but right now i want her associate meal time to be a fun time..and that she can do whatever she wants while being fed...that is my take on it....

  13. Totally agree with all the healthy food habits, although I've seen so many picky eaters, I'm not completely sure if gene/nature don't play any role at all.
    I have the same rules as you do (more or less) and Poppin is a good eater (except for the milk, same as Ayaan there as well).

    But just playing devil's advocate, would you say that IF Ayaan has refused to eat on a high chair (threw tantrums), or strongly closed his mouth BEFORE tasting his food and did this on a consistent basis, you might have "given" in a little and bent the rules? Just asking.

    I'm confused because everywhere I go, people tell me how lucky I am wrt her eating habits.

    I do hope this comment of mine doesn't bring those nasty trolls to the forefront.. Trolls : I agree with Rohini here, she's an awesome mom. Please go away.

  14. Poppins & Ro - I am guilty of saying "Oh you are so lucky, your kid eats well" to Moms who are lucky to have kids who eat well! ;)

    Anyway, theres no denying that parents eating habits have an impact on the kids. Obviously. But thats for kids who EAT, right? What about totally, totally fussy kids who wont even eat junk food? I am completely baffled during such circumstances wondering whom or what to blame? Ashu would nt eat salads even though she sees me almost everyday eating them. Neither does she eat Pizza or Burger when we go out.

    Thats why I feel I have cut a raw deal and sigh and say "you lucky moms!" I dont undermine your infulence, though! Hats off to you moms!

    And BTW, Ashu either watches TV or listens to a story from me to eat her lunch. I know me bad. But I ll do anything, ANYTHING to get some food inside her. So Sue me.

  15. The hubby is a healthy eater, and I am not. So guess who junior decides to follow? Therefore fruits and salads have to be forced down on the pain of no park and no cartoons. I am a bad mother. I use bribes. But he was a great eater until he fell really ill and was hospitalised after which he's become this picky eater who will not sit still to eat unless he is starving. All your points make immense sense, but following them all is immensely difficult once he comes into regular contact with other kids. for instance, brat didnt know Lays and chocolates until he started school Have still managed to keep him off colas, but he knows Frooti and Maaza. He has salad with his father, and fruits with me forcing them down his throat, and he has learnt that he has to sit in one place to eat. I have got that far. He gets veggies put in his dal, or a soft pulau with all veggies and paneer and I ensure he gets a good mix of everything in his diet APART from the junk. And a burger or a pizza maybe twice a week. God forgive me.

  16. Hey Rohini..

    nice to see this post.. since this is something i've had a problem with --- with my son --.. don't know if we have done something wrong.. but once we tried to put some discipline int his eating habits, my son flatly refused to eat and had to be taken to hospital.. maybe ours is an extreme case.. but in general.. you're spot on.. would have loved it if my son was similar.. but yadda yadda yadda.. maybe when he is a little older...


  17. Yes Boo, you're the kind of parent I think of when I say that. And no you're not guilty, I think there is some truth to what you say. Some kids are I guess picky eaters, that is their nature.

    My 2 cents are that every parent does enforce some discipline, some kids take to it easily some don't. And when your kids does not and it involves food, guess what, you have to try anything that works! Same goes for sleep to a limited extent I guess (I only say that because of my own struggles with Poppin's sleep)

    That does not mean you must not keep trying though, but one does get tired after a while !

    Ro, what's your take on this?

  18. [Parul] Everything sounds simple in hindsight but seriously, it was anything but.

    [Dotmom/ Kiran/ Boo] Gosh, you make me sound scary. I am really not pompous enough to believe that I have all right answers - just some clues on what works in my particular situation... :)

    [Dotmom] Agree with you on starting solids bit - Ayaan started at 4 months too - a friend who started her kid at solids at 6 months had a lot more trouble. I disagree with the distraction technique only because I feel you are kind of fooling the kid into eating rather than him making a choice to eat

    [Lawyeramma] Ayaan goes through phases of liking and disliking stuff too. He loved bananas in his first year, hated them in his second and is back to loving them so much that he will have a tantrum at the fruit shop!!! My approach is to avoid the stuff that he hates for a bit and try again after a while...

    [IBH] Just because Ayaan's in his high chair doesn't mean we don't have fun. In fact, one of the reasons why I love mealtimes with him (and don't delegate to the maid while I am at home) is because that's the one time I can get him in one place long enough to have a proper conversation... I also sing to him and he talks back to me a lot - often wanting to know the names of all the food he is eating and sometimes trying to feed me some of it.

    [Poppins] Well actually, the journey hasn't been as easy as the post makes it out to be. The milk case is a perfect example - I could have added artificial sweeteners or made him drink it in front of the TV - much easier options than the long, painful road I took. On food too, there have been bad patches but I have just stuck to my rules and it seems to have worked. It's tough for me to say whether Ayaan was less picky than the rest or whether what I did helped us tide over these patches without any avoidable habits, but I'd like to believe the latter, if only because it makes me feel more validated as a mom ;)

    [Boo] I know - when Ayaan's sick - he behaves just like that and at those times, I will do anything to get some food into his mouth... but when he's well, it's back to business pretty quickly. Just a quick question (don't kill me), what if you gave up and let her take responsibility for how much she eats - won't hunger eventually catch up with her??

    [Kiran] Yup, I'm worried about what will happen when he gets introduced to the bad C's (chips, chocolates and cod drinks!). After a while, all you can control is what they can eat at home. And once they get
    older, complete refusal is likely to give said foods the highest status of 'forbidden foods' - much better to let them have them in restricted quantities... so I think your approach is pretty cool actually

  19. Ro - Thats the tricky part. She loves milk and Yogurt and fills up on that. I know I am *this* close to starving her and try if she eats better, but with so many changes around her,... Ok, ok I dont have the heart to do it. Just waiting for the magic number 3 to see if theres any improvement. Fingers crossed!

  20. [Raman] Missed your comment. That sounds scary...

  21. [Boo] Now I missed yours!!! Was just asking - obviously you know her best and different parenting styles suit different people - depending not only the kid's temperament but the mom's as well. I am little heartless that way ;)

  22. now my youngest is 5 so that stage is well behind me...but i have never faced problems with teh kids eating...of course we all have our off days...but yes i too have friends who have agonised over their child's picky habits and i've tried to convince them that hunger will eventually make the child ask for food but to each his own...u r doing great...keep it up

  23. Poppin's Mom -- I'm not sure about Rohini but I do know what I did was to absolutely insist upon these things. That he sit in his highchair, eat without cajoling, have his naps at set times (his body settled into the nap-playtime routine) etc.

    I was much criticised but I think the routine works very well for The Bhablet so perhaps the perceived cruelty was not so cruel?

    IBN -- My son loved the highchair from day one. It enabled him to get a better view of the room and he sits and chat with whoever is in it. Sometimes, if he wants to jump off mid-meal or wriggles because he is sleepy, I give him a spoon to distract him.

    Ro -- Thanks for the space. :)

  24. You are sooo right about one do have the ultimate inpact on what he does or doesn't eat. You and the boy's father have laid the ground work in his genes.
    The NYT ran an article on this very topic last week. It's worth a read b/c it helps all us parents take a step back and realize that some of this stuff is just part of the little one's DNA.

  25. Raman6:29 pm

    It was scary! THankfully his eating habits are much improved now, though we still do the distraction / TV thing.. no way we're risking another episode like that...

  26. i share boo's woes! but i know how hard it is to establish what you have going with Ayaan and for that, I tip my hat!

  27. i wud love to do it your way... organised and ensuring that food is enjoyed not forced... only thing by double trouble make every little thing i do for them a real challenge... sometimes i have to just stuff food into their mouths for the sake of nutrition

  28. hey i just now happened to come across ur blog and felt how come you chose this name for your blog. are you a mama's boy. if yes, you have company with me.

  29. Hey Rohini, I have been a silent lurker on your blog all this while... De-lurked to say that it is great that you don't run around behind Ayaan with food.. I have seen so many moms do that and have also seen how exhausting that process is! :)

  30. [Thinking Aloud/ Orchid] Thanks :)

    [Sue] No thanks needed, especially since we are on the same side of the fence. I never get why people apologise for hogging space on comments - what's there to hog when it's all free...

    [CCE] Thankfully, he's got my genes in this area. My husband is pretty fussy about his food.

    [Raman] I am sure they will grow out of it at some point

    [Itchingtowrite] Woman, with two boisterous twin boys, I dare anyone to say your way is the only possible way! I am in awe!

    [Rahi] Er...Actually, I am a girl...woman and a Mama myself

    [Ditty] I know. Just came back from a wedding weekend where the trusty high chair was not at hand

  31. Being a parent and a dietitian, the only things that I tell hubby and MIL (they both say, park Thambi in front of the TV, so he'll eat more and he'll fatten up a little...exactly why I don't want to do it) I want him to eat healthy and variety of foods and not just a big bowl full of whatever. Maintaining strict time to eat is good, but doesn't work for every kid depending on the type of food they eat for the previous meal. Also I encourage healthy eating by doing it myself. EAting a lot of fruits and veggies, avoiding junk food (I do it sometimes....come on I am not a saint!), no colas etc....I do know that when he is India next year, despite how much I cry and scream, MIL will teach him to eat chox and stuff (just coz I oppose it) and when he is in school he will learn it, but until then and even later, as a parent I can make sure I teach him the cons of poor eating habits and let him take it from there.

    MIL says, when kids don't eat a meal, it's ok, just give an egg and milk and they should be good. She also goes on to say that egg doesn't harm them and so does milk. (Too many eggs WILL raise their cholesterol levels, and too much milk will reduce their iron levels since calcium and iron compete for uptake in the body and cal always wins). When I tell her I am dietitian, she shrugs her shoulders and asks me to take it someplace else and the icing on the cake is....."IT DOES NOT WORK LIKE WHAT U SAY. U R JUST LYING SO I CAN'T SUGGEST ANYTHING...MAKING ME LOOK LIKE A FOOL". ????!!!!
    The only way I can get him to eat is by parking his tush in the high way I am gonna run around with sitting down one is actually taking the time to look and enjoy the food which by itself will encourage positive feelings towards food.

    Ro, I am so with you on the milk thing. I started Thambi on milk for the past month and he is doing a couple of ounces now and I think maybe when he is 4 or 5 we'll get to a cup..until then it is those tiny ounces.

  32. That makes so much sense! Got to this post from Tharini's Thambi update :).

    It always took me a long time to eat as a kid - I had problems swallowing, but my Mom always managed to get me to EAT rather than chew the cud while reading a book(TV was never a big part of my life). Now, as I grow up, I'm grateful for being taught to pay attention to food and enjoy it.
    On the other hand, one of my cousins has grown up on chips, chocolate and aerated drinks, all the while watching TV at mealtimes. Mealtime is TV-time in their household. I can see the difference between his health and mine, and I'm profoundly grateful Mum took the right way out.

  33. oh what fun! we're back to disagreeing. and with CEee Kay too :p

    I am afraid a kid's temperament makes a huge diff. the brat refused to eat. no matter what. he enjoyed his milk and eggs but anything else calls for war tactics. the bean on the other hand will eat anything if it doesnt get out of her way on the double!

    and i have parented the same way both times. but yes. no TV. Always the high chair. Plenty of entertaining... not so much because i want to make them associate meals with fun.. but because i am aware of how boring it is to sit with a plate of food in front of you and keep shovelling it into your face, eating by yourself. i cant eat alone at this age. so we chat, we watch traffic.. whatever, but we make sure its not a solemn boring affair where every morsel is a bore.