My son will be 5 in August; he is active, has good weight and height. However, he just eats four-five types of food. He refuses to taste anything new. This means we can only feed him ‘roti’, ‘parantha’, ‘puri’, toast, ‘dosa’, French fries, pancakes, milk and some vegetables and fruits. I mix the ‘dal’ and other vegetables (and sometimes mutton ‘keema’ or chicken, etc.) into the ‘atta’ (along with the spices) and feed him a power-packed ‘roti’. Whenever I have tried to feed the ‘dal’ and ‘subzi’ or rice and ‘dal’ separately, he has refused. We have let him go without meals for several hours (as per the paediatrician’s advice) and even then he has stuck to his guns. We have never tried to force-feed him, hoping he’d come around to eating everything on his own. We hoped he’d look at other children in school and come around. But while the rest of his class relishes ‘sheera’, ‘idli’ or ‘pav bhaji’, he comes home hungry and worse still, irritable and tired. I do give him a tiffin now, but I feel I am reinforcing his eating habits. At parties and other social dos people make me feel I have missed some important step in parenting. I feel defeated and the food wars between us put a huge strain on our otherwise good relationship.
So many little kinks develop in the process of child rearing, and to carry around a burden of guilt and regret can only cripple you as a parent. Moreover, some of us need to get off the “feeding equals good parenting” assumption.
What you describe is not an eating disorder really. I believe some children simply do not open up their minds/tastebuds for a long time, often well into young adulthood. From what you describe, he does get his nutrition and has not taken the junk food route.
Sometimes, though parents may be on the right track in terms of what they offer, try to induce and entice etc., children steadfastly remain in this kind of narrow bandwidth of food choices.
You really seem to have tried everything—daam, saam, dand, bhed—enticements, rewards, punishments, stratagems.
Yet it has become, as it usually does, your problem, and not your son’s. Hence the constant and self-defeating negotiations that you are drawn into with him. This can only turn the whole current eating topic into a lifelong issue, with the added negative bonus of spoiling your otherwise fun relationship with him.
Since you are happy with his energy levels, except for when he actually starves, I suggest you simply drop the topic. Don’t drop it in an angry, saddened or withdrawing-from-him way. Just make it go away, the whole discussion, negotiation, and attempts at introducing a more varied diet. Stick with the things he likes and let the whole matter just drop for now. Even when you go for parties that may not have food acceptable to him, you don’t necessarily have to carry his stuff with you—just perhaps keep a fruit or two with you. Right now, don’t even try and spell out the connect between his not eating and his sulky moods.
Back off: Don’t force your child to eat what he does not relish.
The whole topic is going into the psycho-dynamics realm and that’s why you need to just let it go for now. He is perhaps not manipulating you with his food choices, but it will get there if he thinks you are so invested in his eating differently and in tune with other children.
It’s good that he does follow certain ground rules; just stick with those he has already accepted, and don’t discuss the food issue with him or, within his earshot, with anyone. Give this a try for 30-40 days, and tell his teacher too that you are not discussing the issue for now.
If you need to at all, then say a few good things about what he is eating and how he is eating it well. But don’t sound like your life and well-being depend on his eating. You continue eating different foods with appreciation, but don’t make it seem you’re trying to draw him into tasting any of it.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve @livemint.com