Food Habits In Children: The Right Time To Introduce

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Habit formation is a systematic process that starts to develop from birth. If a behavior is performed
repeatedly in a consistent manner, then a habit is formed. Some habits are foundational: more
basic, like taking shower, brushing, etc., whereas, others are situational, which means they are formed
because of some deliberate repetitive actions, like having an ice cream every time one score A+
in the math tests.

Four Stages of Habit Formation:

Scientifically, there are four stages of habit formation, i.e. Cue (something triggers
our brain to initiate a specific behavior), craving (the motivation or desire to act), response (the
actual activity that eventually becomes a habit), and reward (the satisfaction of the craving).

Formation Of Food Habits In Children:

Similarly, food habits are generally transferred to the child at a very young age from their family,
school, and close surroundings. Based on these habits, children learn to grow their preferences
over staples, like rice, wheat, or maize, as well as proteins, vegetables, and fruits. Hence, these
choices and preferences shape their health condition in adulthood. Along with the healthy ones,
they tend to develop a strong affinity towards sweet and salty desserts and snacks at this age;
sometimes unknowingly adults too contribute to this in the form of rewards by gifting them a
packet of chips or a bar of chocolates every time they accomplish something. The reward
mechanism of having some treats eventually undermines the actual aim of the habit formation
itself as their expectations and preferences build up around this kind of treat rather than the formation
of a habit for their own benefit. Thus, it is important to teach the children very mindfully more
about foods from a very young age so they can make responsible choices and decisions when
needed. Some of the key steps that parents and educational institutes can take to educate and
generate awareness among children toward developing healthy food habits are –

• Making children aware of what they are eating without necessarily labeling the food as
“bad” or “good”, rather emphasizing the importance and optimum quantity of food

• Showing them the labels on packages of the foods they love and demonstrating how to read
them without over-complicating, for example: the first ingredients listed on the label are the
ones present in maximum quantity in the food they are going to have.

• If any existing unhealthy habit is already there, break the chain of repetition of the same
by not harming them mentally but rather more carefully by praising and recognizing their
efforts to change or rectify them.

• Provide the children with an environment of healthy lifestyle enabling them to get
familiarized with good habits.

• It is also important to understand the cues of unhealthy food habits so that it can eliminated
from happening in the first place.

To Conclude, even though every child is different than others, a systematic and positive approach to making children understand things would be beneficial on a general level. If required, more personalized
help can be identified and implemented to make sure every single child’s habit is on a better track, and in the future, they learn to make responsible decisions for themselves.

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