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June 20, 2012 / Gul Malani

Eating, Drinking & Health

What our child will be physically and psychologically in the future will depend a lot on the drinking and eating habits she/he has developed in childhood.

Parents, specially Mother’s, who are not anxious about the child’s feeding and eating, help their children to develop good drinking and eating habits! Cool and free from anxiety Mothers also lactate adequate milk for the child!

To start with, proper breast feeding the infant on demand is important. Slowly and gradually as per comfort level of the child and the mother, the feeding should be regularised.

But, it still does not make sense to make an infant cry as it is not given feed till the scheduled feed time. This can create stress in the child with the resulting indigestion. So, occasionally we have to digress from the regular feed times to keep the child stress free and well fed!

Additionally, some mothers believe that unless the infant pees or poops it cannot be hungry! We adults poop only once a day but we do get hungry 4, 5 or more times during the day! Let us give the benefit of this understanding to our little infant and feed her/him as and when it requires nutrition and not necessarily wait for a schedule! On the other hand, some Mothers feel that it is necessary to over feed the infant so that it can overcome its constipation. The truth is that our stomach works better when it is underfed than when it is overfed. Allow the child to decide when it has finished its feed for best stomach health!

The feeding anxiety and madness continues even after the infant out grows breast feeding!  Most parents see eating as a phenomenon of feeding the child more than adequate quantity at  every meal,  even if the child does not have an appetite or does not like the taste or the type or combinations of food that is being served.

Parents can stress the child out at mealtimes by saying or doing one or more of the following:

– saying you normally eat more than this

– saying you have lost your appetite as you have eaten junk food earlier!

– threatening the child by saying that no food will be available to the child later

– forcefully feeding the child, food that it does not like, soup, mushy food etc.

Parents will even go to the extent of distracting the child by allowing it to watch a video while feeding, or at times  run around the house chasing the child with a plate full of food and forcefully feeding him/her huge morsels of food while the child is busy doing something else! This can cause serious long term indigestion, and health problems in the child as well as eating disorders in their adult life!

Eating should be an enjoyable and a fun activity timed suitably for the child’s hunger! It should be done with total awareness of the activity of consuming and enjoying the food! It can start with keeping our dining area very neat, clean and hygienic. It should be made attractive with variety of table cloths and mats, flowers, candles, artifacts etc from time to time.

Eating times should be happy and memorable times for enjoying the food, sharing ideas, thoughts and activities done or planned. It should not be time for serious discussions, or distractions like watching TV or video, working with computers or reading magazines or books. It is certainly not a time for disciplining or forcing the children or even adults to eat.

In many homes the family says a prayer of gratitude before starting to eat. This is indeed a good way to get our digestive system started for enjoying and digesting the food. The child’s Intellect has to be stress free to become aware that he/she is eating, and the child should like the looks and the taste of the food that is being served so that its digestive system produces the required enzymes, chemicals and juices for digesting the specific foods the child is eating! The child should never be forced to consume foods that it does not like, to avoid digestive system disorders and future eating disorders!

Joining our children at the dining table, or on the floor as in some South Indian homes, for every meal and being a role model is a fine way to train our children on good eating habits. A prayer, good humour, exchange of pleasantries are a nice start to the meal. While food laid on the table will be as per the choice of the parents based on good nutrition & wholesomeness, children have to be served items as per their choice and the quantity should also be as per the child’s requirements. Only the child knows what and how much can be digested by his/her body at that particular meal time! Forcing foods that the parents think are good for the child or forcing extra quantity into the mouths of children will not help the child! Instead, it will lead to poor digestion, health and eating disorders as they grow up!

Nutritious & wholesome food should generally be available and easily accessible to the children all day long and should be taken by or given to them on demand, in addition to the food available at the regular meal times when the whole family sits together to eat! Bad and unwholesome food should be removed immediately from the dining and storage areas as soon as it is detected and it should be disposed off. Criticising and commenting negatively on the food quality or taste at the dinner table does not help others who may like it and are consuming it. Opinions and criticism can stop the digestion process in other persons who are consuming that food.

Children should be allowed to eat junk (processed and packaged) food too, in smaller quantities and not so frequently, as there will be peer and advertising pressures on the child to do so. We have to make our children aware of what is junk food and what is nutritious food. The availability of junk food at home should be limited! By allowing this freedom to our children, they will not splurge on junk food when they get the opportunity.

Good digestion happens when we chew, masticate our solid foods till they become liquid, i.e change their texture, before we swallow it. We can teach our children this, by setting an example and taking sufficient time at every meal to chew, masticate, see, feel, taste and smell the food we consume! If we grab a sandwich on the run, so will our children! Avoid being such a poor role model!

Good health, disease free life is based on stress free living and good eating habits! We have to start early with our lovely children so that they bloom well!

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