I am a mother of a four year old girl who has been a picky eater since the time she ate her first morsel of solid food. Some days were a breeze, but some were bad and most were downright miserable. Being a doctor, I know how important healthy diet and nutrition is, but children are not born with the wisdom of the benefits of healthy eating. It is a gradual learning process, for both children and parents alike. We as parents are well aware of the snowball effect a bad diet can have on our bodies and lives.

Making your child eat a healthy meal can be perplexing and frustrating for many parents. I have met many parents who are petrified at the thought of meal times. I have seen friends shedding tears and lamenting about their children’s eating habits. I was overwrought when my daughter turned picky and gave me a tough time. Children also become anxious when they see or hear that they are the cause of stress in their parent’s life.

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Being on the edge or hyper does not work with handling kids especially those who are picky with their food. First we have to understand that it is a phase that children are going through and they will eventually overcome it with time, love and support from the parents. Giving up and yielding to our children’s demands is the common path we take most times and we feel frustrated and helpless when it comes to parenting.

However, We must try not being too hard on kids and reminding ourselves to enjoy their childhood with matching playfulness and optimism. I attained nirvana when I saw my picky eater improving tremendously over time. Let’s pause and ask ourselves this question: “Is it worth the effort to cajole, negotiate and bribe our children to try to eat healthy foods (including vegetables) or should we give in to their comfort foods (e.g. Milk, formula, Junk)?”

The answer is a definite “yes”. There are a million reasons why incorporating vegetables in your little one’s diet is so important, but if you are not sure yet then below are the four most compelling reasons for you to ensure that your child eats at least 5 servings of fruits & vegetables a day:

It Aids growth
Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, fibre, photo chemicals which are vital for our growth.

Prevents obesity
We all love the look of chubby kids, we always hear “aww, aren’t they are just adorable cotton balls”. However, this is not healthy in the long run. Incidences of obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years. Obese youth are at a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. There is also an increased risk of suffering from pre-diabetes (a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk of developing of diabetes). They are prone to bone and joint problems, sleep apnoea and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem. A good intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of obesity amongst children greatly.

Immunity boosters
Being absent from school is very common among children below the age of five due to recurrent illness, frequent visits to paediatricians and repeated courses of antibiotics begin to take a toll on the overall immunity of the children. Vegetables & fruits are natural immunity boosters. Children who consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduce the risk of catching infections from school.

Better digestion
One of the most difficult things as parents is to witness your kids suffering from pain and discomfort caused due to constipation. Children who are on a meat based diet with very low or no servings of fruits and vegetables are more likely to suffer from irregular bowel movement as compared to children who eat a good amount of fruits and vegetables. By increasing their intake it could reduce constipation and irregular bowel movements significantly

I hope you are convinced. If yes, then here are the ten simple ways to incorporate fruits & vegetables in your child’s diet

1. Try similar foods
Try to be slow and consistent when introducing new food in your child’s diet plan. While introducing a new fruit or vegetable, try something that tastes or looks similar to what your child likes. E.g.Sweet potato fries instead of French fries. Instead of crackers, try whole wheat or multi-grain versions Whole wheat pizzas with a variety of vegetable toppings instead of regular pizza. Do not force, terrorise or threaten children to empty their plates, this will eventually lead to eating disorders in children as they will associate meal times with negativity.

2. Eating at home helps
Planning meals ahead of time and eating more often at home helps a lot. Resorting to restaurant food and ready to eat meals is a no brainer but the serving size is typically several times more than a healthy serving at home. According to research, a restaurant meal often contains 18 percent more calories than home cooked food. Do not visit fast food joints which entice children with toys. This leads to impulse eating amongst them.

3. Take Lead
As an adult, set an example yourself for your little ones to emulate. Stop eating foods that you don’t want your kids to eat. If you are not the primary caregiver of your child, instruct and educate your nannies to serve only healthy foods to your little ones. De-clutter your kitchen of all the junk food, discard the energy drinks from the fridge, and get rid of all the mouth-watering bakery items, chocolates and crisps from the cupboards. Simply refuse to visit your favourite bakeries and dessert joints. Fostering healthy eating habits from early childhood is gratifying. However, there is no harm in treating your child once in a week with a small portion of their favourite foods.

4. Variety is the spice of life
Kids get weary and bored of eating the same food again and again. Introduce a “Rainbow Variety” of fruits and vegetables and ensure you don’t repeat the same food in two consecutive meals. Making a schedule and charting out the meal plan in advance is essential so that we don’t resort to unplanned treats. Planning the previous night for the next day is elementary in reducing the stress in the kitchen. Make a repertory of foods that the child likes and repeating it every week is worthwhile.

5. Sneak in vegetables in their regular diets
Incorporate vegetable purees to pasta sauces, add vegetables to their pilaf’s, dish out stuffed parathas, include a variety of vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, beet root and fruits like strawberry, banana etc. in their cakes and muffins.

6. Introduce rewards
Record every successful intake of vegetables in a reward chart and encourage every small victory with a prize (e.g stickers, bubble mixtures, finger paints, water colours, a new book or toy).

7. Role Play
Young kids love “pretend play”. Why not encourage them to become chefs for some time, run restaurants, cafe and supermarkets where they can serve healthy snacks.

8. Increase engagement & participation
In a safe environment, involve older children while cooking meals. Involve younger children making shopping lists and lead in grocery shopping. In this way you are helping them to learn to differentiate between good produce and unhealthy stuff. Stay away from the aisles selling candies, cakes, crisps, juices etc. Growing herbs & vegetables in your backyard and involving your child in gardening it can go a long way in encouraging your child to eat healthy produce.

9. Creative presentation leading to fun mealtimes
Making meal times a fun filled activity goes a long way in promoting healthy eating. Replicate the presentation of restaurant food at home. Children are enticed by creative plating of food. Creating their favourite characters like teddy’s, dinosaurs, cars with fruits and vegetables is time consuming, but worth the effort. Arrange play dates and picnics with other parents and provide healthy menus with vegetables as salads and soups.

10. Creative storytelling
“Talk” to your children about vegetables. Discuss its benefits. Girls from a very tender age become aware of their looks and admire all forms of beauty. Their world revolves around fairies, princesses & magic. Why not tell them an interesting story that eating vegetables will make them healthy and beautiful (e.g. Carrots are good for vision, spinach and green leafy vegetables for long hair etc.) Boys are packed with energy and talk to them about their superheroes eating healthy vegetables to stay strong. Why not create your own character for your kids? A “MangoMan” or “Princess of Brocolli” is not a bad thing if it gets your kids to think of veggies in a positive way.

There are no pre-set rules for healthy parenting. It is a journey which we all need to undertake. There will be days filled with joy and some with difficulties. Let’s try to give the best we can to our children.

All the best!