I was raised by my strict maternal grandmother who had a penchant for discipline and orderliness. Laxness and disregard for values irked her, but what annoyed her most was someone’s disrespect for food.
“Eat what you take, take what you eat,” was her favourite expression. “Food is akin to God,” was another one. I was brought up with the habit of wiping my plate clean with every meal, because facing granny’s wrath was scarier than eating insipid tinde ki sabji.
I married a man who too, is conservative about his eating values. So the gullible me thought we would produce kids who are good eaters of healthy, home-cooked meals.
But God had other plans.
Both my kids inherited the ‘picky palate gene’ from somewhere. They fussed with weaning as babies, wasted time during their meals as toddlers, left out food just because it wasn’t ‘up to the mark’ and brought back tiffins untouched, ‘just like that’.
When I was a new mom, I didn’t know better. I would rush and whip up various recipes to satisfy my fussy baby’s taste buds and throw away what he refused, as filling his stomach and making him happy was more important to me than wastage. TV shows and YouTube videos were imperative with mealtimes; because that was the only way healthy food would make it to his stomach.
But one day when I threw away my son’s entire uneaten lunch from his lunch box (there was nothing wrong with it but it was too boring, he said), I decided that mollycoddling my kids when it came to food just wouldn’t do, considering how strongly our country’s culture is against food wastage. A change in approach was required, and thanks to some helpful ideas from fellow mums, the following tips changed the attitude my kids had towards food.
From shop to kitchen
I started taking my children to do veggie shopping even if it meant getting a little crazy. While they would busy themselves with adding provisions to the shopping cart or bag, I would share lessons on how to choose the best fruit or veggie among the others. We consciously made an effort to allow only limited choices of junk or processed foods.
We then involved the kids in the kitchen. They watched us clean, chop, stir and fry. Slowly they realized that food does not merely appear, it takes effort to prepare. My then three year old would help me with mixing and peeling. He also began to set the table. Sure enough, the food he helped prepare was relished.
Grow, grow, grow
When children watch their food grow, they look at it with different eyes. Every week, we started to grow something as simple as coriander in a garden pot. My kids use the leaves as a garnish on the food with pride.
A visit to a vegetable patch or plant nursery also helped. Once every month, we planned a picnic to the outskirts of the city and exposed the kids to beautiful green fields of grains and vegetables. At least my kids don’t think food comes from the supermarket now anymore.
Image source: YouTube
Saying I’m sorry
My father-in-law offered me this tip. Each time the children wasted food (for whatever reason), instead of threatening, yelling or saying, “a child on the street doesn’t get food to eat,” they would be requested to say, “sorry” to the plate a number of times, and every time they ate well, they would be asked to express gratitude and would then be rewarded. (My son’s incentive was a sweet)
Giving them less
It’s tough for most mums to follow this as most of us feel more is less when it comes to food. But serving less and then adding a second helping if needed made my child and me more aware of his appetite. Sometimes the sight of too much food overwhelms kids (especially when it isn’t their favourite pizza) and also they aren’t really great judges of their appetites till they’re older, so it’s better to stick to small helpings.
This one was the most challenging. I could never imagine a screen-free meal time. But TV with food meant my kids never realized what they ate or how much they ate and hence never appreciated food. So slowly, TV during meals was weaned for the entire family. It was tough, but I would instead tell stories about food to my kids while feeding them to get them involved.
Now by respect for food, I don’t mean forcing the kids to eat inedible or tasteless food. But what we as a family are firm about is raising grateful and responsible kids for a better society. Where better to start than with the food we eat at home itself?
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