By Priscilla J. Dunstan, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Exercise and good nutrition are key for preventing obesity in our children. How and what our children eat is often dictated by their dominant sense. By understanding their view of food, we, as parents, can be better equipped to encourage healthy eating.
Being energetic, busy little people, tactile children often find sitting down to meals frustrating. They have a tendency to keep getting up from the table, use their fingers instead of cutlery, and create an extreme amount of mess about them. Try to stick to easy-to-eat, healthy finger foods, as this will lessen the frustration for all. If you’re having trouble getting your tactile child to eat vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods, consider offering them up after a play session at the park, once back in the car or stroller, you will have a captive audience who will be hungry enough to gobble down carrot sticks, apple chunks or broccoli florets. They can often view eating as an inconvenience, so include them in the preparation, so that eating becomes part of a larger “game.”
Auditory children tend to eat in an ordered, but binge-like way. It is not uncommon for auditory children to eat nothing but mac and cheese for several days, then decide they don’t like it and eat nothing but carrot sticks for the next week. Because of this, it’s best to keep meals simple and at least offer up alternatives to go alongside their main preference. Keep sound distractions to a minimum during meal time, as your auditory children can get off track easily, and either not eat, or binge eat on undesirable foods. Routine is important to this sense, both in the regularity of mealtimes, and also in the pattern of food. Consider associating specific times of the day with food types: for example, eating fruit after school, or always having vegetables for dinner.
Visual children are picky about how food looks, so it’s easy for busy parents to get caught in the visual trap of feeding them repackaged foods. Processed foods may “look” good, and you know your fussy child will eat them, but they do not make a healthy diet. Instead, try to present healthy food in a visually pleasant way, by making healthy food “look” better than junk food. This can be as simple as a smiley face made of fruit on the breakfast pancake, or simply placing the food on a favorite plate. For an older child, consider showing photos of what happens to peoples’ bodies when they eat nothing but junk food, and comparing it to bodies of people who eat a well-balanced diet. The comparison will go a long way to explaining why a healthy choice is better for them than a processed one.
It’s especially important that taste/smell children learn to choose healthy foods early, as they are predisposed to eat in order to alleviate strong feelings. Don’t use sweets to bribe your taste and smell child! Suggest other ways to alleviate their feelings such as going for a walk, calling a friend or drawing a picture. They will be particular about brands, and will the first to point out that not all strawberry yogurt tastes the same.
Save yourself some anxiety and buy the brand they like. This simple change can be the difference between a balanced healthy diet and a single-food diet. Associate good feelings and feelings of improvement with a healthy meal whenever possible and be sure to invite them to help cook dinner. You will be surprised how their desire to be with you and help is an asset in the kitchen, although at first they will favor simpler uncomplicated flavors.
Being aware and adaptive towards your child’s dominant sense will make eating healthy food easier, and that’s the first step to a lifetime of good food choices.
Priscilla J. Dunstan is a child and parenting behavior expert and consultant and the author of “Child Sense.” Learn more about Priscilla and her parenting discoveries at www.childsense.com.