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Does your child eat healthy?

Zelda Pande | February 09, 2006

Rinku takes orange-flavoured Tang instead of water in her water bottle to school every day.

Mukund's school tiffin, on most days of the week, is two chocolate Bourbon biscuits or a packet of Lay's Masala chips.

Sonia doesn't like tomatoes. Or spinach, beans, cabbage, white muli (radish), pumpkin, doodhi (bottle gourd), beetroot. So, most days, she has rice and yoghurt and, sometimes, dal or aloo (potatoes) or cucumber.

Nitin has Kellogg's Chocos for breakfast every morning.

Anita eats toffees at any time of the day and drinks soft drinks many times a week.

Seema stopped drinking milk when she was a baby and doesn't like yoghurt either.

These are the food habits of most of the little children my daughters interact with.

Don't you think these routines are nothing less than appalling?

Many little girls and boys, over for a play date, join our dining table for lunch or dinner. They usually sit through the meal with empty plates, turning their noses up at the regular rice-dal-sabzi-roti fare and request for something more tempting.

These are not just a few isolated cases.

I have hardly met a child in recent times with good eating habits. When I visited my child's class at lunch time, 37 kids opened their tiffin boxes at 12.10 to reveal an array of junk food -- cream biscuits, Kurkure and Peppy packets, potato chips, chocolate bars and more. Two children in a class of 37 had brought a respectable meal of sandwiches. This, in a school quite particular about the lunches the children bring.

The snippets of conversation I participate in with other moms or witness between mother and child is no better. "Divya is a very poor eater. She only wants to eat McDonald burgers and does not eat her vegetables. She doesn't listen."

Or: "Rohan, if you don't eat that sabzi on your plate, I will smack you," shouts his mother very loudly and menacingly. One minute later Rohan has left the table, his plate untouched and his mom has forgotten her threats. It is the same scene every mealtime in this home. Rohan's younger sister is turning into a similar food critic.

Bad eating habits are formed in childhood and invariably remain with an individual for life. On the other hand, teaching your child to eat well is not a difficult task. In fact it can be rewarding especially if you are successful in training your child to be a gourmet who likes practically all cuisine all over the world and wants to learn to cook.

There is practically just one solitary golden rule: Be firm.

Being firm is something most parents have forgotten the meaning of. As far as food time goes, simply insist -- gently but firmly -- that the child cannot leave the table till he has finished what's on his plate from the day he starts to eat by himself.

He may whine or nag or cry but, most importantly, teach yourself the patience to bear with it. Eventually, after a day or two, or even a week, he will come around and the food wars will be over in your house forever.

The worst thing you can do is pass a bunch of empty threats that you never follow up on or exhibit mock rage. That sets your reputation with the child as a false disciplinarian and the results of that creep into other areas as well. Disciplining is both an art and an essential part of good parenting.    

Along with teaching your child to eat all that is served to him or her, I think there are a few more basic manners s/he needs to learn.

Your child will not be eating food at only his dining table. It is quite possible he will sit in at other tables. He needs to learn to eat other people's food in a mannerly fashion.

He should learn how to get himself served small quantities and not waste food elsewhere.

He also needs to learn to not make rude comments about other people's food. A child who comes to dine with your child and says, "Eeeeeeyuuuuu, I hate that or I won't eat that" is basically a badly brought up child.

Also remember your mission is to make him have a varied palate so he has a chance to take in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals from all sort of sources. Making him eat huge quantities is not your aim.

A few tips:

~ Take an active interest in your child's menu and make sure it is varied both in terms of taste and food groups. Work out attractive ways to make sure he gets enough fresh vegetables, salads, whole grains and fruits.

~ Conjure up a tasty range of snack foods for your child. These should be healthy snacks and should keep him going between meals. Try cucumber or tomato spiked with a little chaat masala and lemon. A boiled potato dressed with a little cheese and black pepper. Fruit juices frozen into Popsicles. Fruit milkshakes.

~ Do not leave your child's nutrition in the hands of a maid. No one should make decisions on what your child takes to school except you. Have strict rules at home on what a child can have as snacks and make sure your help adheres to it.

~ Teach your child to feed himself as soon as possible. On my child's fifth birthday, 20 maids came swooping down at meal time to feed 20 kids their cake, idlis and ice cream. Your child should be able to feed himself even in your absence, else you will have a child hurriedly gobbling down a katori (small bowl) of dal because the maid has told him a cockroach or crow or tiger is going to come.

~ Do not physically force your child to eat. I was once witness to a child being held down by both his parents as a third person poured milk down his throat as he spluttered, coughed, choked and howled. Nor should you use fear tactics to make your child eat, "Better eat or one big monster is going to come…"

~ A child has to eat at the table. Do not chase him around the room with spoonfuls of food.

~ Have a strict policy about sweet items in your house.

I fight a constant battle against the tide of cookies, candy and ice cream that enters our home in the form of gifts and handouts. Suddenly, our children have access to more chocolate bars or Gems or chewing gum in a day then we had in a month.

I read a dentist advisory that it is best to allow your child to have something sweet once in the day ideally close to bed time when he brushes his teeth. Handing out or allowing your child tiny quantities through the day (a toffee at 11 am, a peppermint after lunch and cookies at tea) is the worst thing you can do to your child's teeth. 

~ A child's breakfast is the most difficult to plan. It is also one of the most important meals of the day. Make sure he eats even a small quantity of fruit, granola or porridge, idlis.

~ Develop a few simple food rules with your children that will do away with daily food battle. Like he has to have half a portion of dal at every mealtime or one cup of milk at bedtime. Children like routines and they make life easier for you.

~ Your children need to know that there are so many who don't get two square meals a day. They need to learn to appreciate food and not waste it. Teach your children to take small helpings of food.

~ Calcium intake is vital to a child's health. My child's principal mentioned to us that she sees more children with broken bones than earlier because she feels children have poorer and poorer calcium intake. Your child has to get calcium in some form -- banana shake, raita or fruit puddings.

~ Meanwhile, as you gather interesting recipes for your child, here are a few to get you started.

Chatpata corn

This recipe is courtesy my colleague Rajesh Karkera who feeds us this in office. I tried it on my kids. They love it.


1 ½ cup fresh corn, taken off the cob (should be nice, sweet corn)
¼ cup boiled water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of lal mirchi (red chilli) powder
1 teaspoon butter


In a glass bowl, add water and corn.

Microwave for a few minutes till corn is cooked and much of the water is absorbed.

If you don't have a microwave, just boil or pressure cook the corn.

Add the salt, lemon juice, lal mirchi and butter.

Vegetable Sandwich

There is no magic in this. You get sandwiches like this all over. But if you can get your kids to eat all these vegetables in one sandwich, you are doing fine.


1 hot dog roll
2 slices red onion
1 iceberg lettuce leaf
1 slice cheese (Amul Pizza Cheese melts well)
2 slices cucumber (pickled cucumber tastes better; you could also use gherkins, available at food stores)
2 slices red capsicum
2 black olives, deseeded and sliced
Dollop of mayonnaise
Dash of mustard


Slice the hot dog roll open.

Butter the bread.

Layer the vegetables and cheese on one side of the sandwich.

Sprinkle salt and pepper.

Spread the mustard and mayonnaise on top.

Close up the sandwich and use toothpicks to anchor shut.

You may like to warm it for just a few minutes in the microwave or grill to get the cheese soft.

~ In case you want to make pickled cucumber at home:


2 cucumbers
1 sprig chopped dill
2 cups water
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp sugar


Chop two cucumbers into finger-sized pieces.

Boil 2 cups of water. Turn off the flame once the water boils.

Add 1 tbsp white vinegar.

Add salt.

Add one tsp sugar.

Add one sprig chopped dill.

Add the cucumbers.


It will be ready for use in 24 hours.

Rice Salad

Use a base of rice to get your kids to have some salad.

Capsicum is a great source of Vitamin C. If this salad works for your kids, you can consider adding additional vegetables into it.


1/2 tin baked beans
1/2 cup Basmati rice, boiled
1 yellow capsicum, diced small
1 small clove garlic, minced fine
1 stalk spring onion, sliced fine
10 green olives, deseeded and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil


Use a can opener to open the baked beans.

Place half of the baked beans (reserve other half for some other purpose) in a strainer.

Wash out the tomato sauce.

Add baked beans, minced garlic, capsicum, spring onions, olives, olive oil, salt to the cooked rice.


Share your children's favourite recipes with us.


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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: good food habits in children

Hi I am a mother of a 8 year old son who is hyperactive,I have done a lot of trials with his food and also ...

Posted by anjali Mehta

Sub: Does Your Child Eat Healthy?

Excellent Article that would be useful to all parents!!!

Posted by Dr YNI Anand


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