We live in Singapore – a food paradise! Yet, how is it that many parents dread mealtimes or struggle with what their children want to eat? Yes, parents, I hear you. I feel you. We’ve all had our fair share of “difficult eaters”. The most common are the picky eaters, the takes-one-hour-to-finish-the-meal eaters, and the anti-vegetable eaters.
Some other parents have children with other kinds of strange eating habits. For example, one mother lamented to me how her six-year-old would only eat white food, i.e. anything that is white in colour and nothing else. This includes rice, fish balls, tofu and egg whites, but no other food with colour. Another dad said his son would not eat fruits with multiple seeds like watermelon, apples and papaya, but mangoes were fine. Thankfully, most kids grow out of these habits but how does a parent tell if a child is really hungry or just eating out of boredom?
Age and lifestyle are good indicators. Children go through cycles of growth spurts, where at times, they are constantly hungry, while other times, they might just pick on a few spoonfuls. If a child has a very sedentary lifestyle, like playing computer games as opposed to an active and sporty lifestyle, chances are they might just be bored.
Take a look into the wonderful world of your refrigerator and pantry. For a start, that will give you an idea of your own eating habits. The more snacks and unhealthy food you purchase, the more of that you will consume. Good eating habits start with good buying habits. Before going to the supermarket, research and make a list of healthy foods and snacks that you can get for the family. Like a health hunter on a mission, stick to your list of healthy snacks. If going cold turkey is too difficult for your family, slowly introduce a combination of healthy snacks and gradually cut back on your usual sweet and salted treats.
It doesn’t help when marketers make chips, ice cream and chocolate bars in ‘fun’ size. Like me, you might think, “It’s so small, what harm can it do?” But when “just one more” leads to four or five empty wrappers or packets, the fun ends, and the guilt or regret pours in. Self-control involves the discipline of delaying gratification for a greater purpose or cause. Delaying gratification is putting off pleasure now so that you can have a greater pleasure later on.
When you feel like you are losing the battle, remember that ultimately you are the parent. Set snacking and mealtime rules, communicate them to your children, and then stick to it. You choose what your child eats, when and where they eat. Sometimes, learning the lesson the hard way is just what they need.