July 30, 2021 | Deepak Gaikwad, Co-Founder, Alemeno
Can you imagine finding a new place without Google maps support? Sounds like a difficult task, isn’t it? But, we managed to reach new places on our own before maps became a go-to tool. I bet none of us would want to go back to old ways of reaching new places.
We stick to difficult — in some cases, frustrating — ways of doing things until a simpler solution arrives to change our behaviour. We recently stumbled upon one such age-old issue that goes unnoticed: the way parents deal with the eating behaviour of their kids. As a kid, I have been through it and I am sure many of us have been there. Here is how we found the elephant in the room.
The epiphany happened during the first covid-19 lockdown period in India. It so happened that Vidita — my 8-year-old niece — and her mom were staying with us during the lockdown. After a long time, I was spending quality time with my family. We cooked and ate together; binged content on OTT platforms; and fought over Ludo. I noticed Vidita’s mealtime were often filled with some sort of struggle over food. She had her food preferences. Fair enough! But the problem was that her preferences included very few items. She hardly liked any vegetables. She was selective about fruits. And, milk was a big NO. Like most other kids, she preferred confectionery over normal healthy food. If she did not like the food served, she would take forever to finish it. At times, someone else had to feed her. Often these mealtimes would be filled with small tension, and would eventually impact the mood of the parent and child. Something had to be done about this.
Once I was explaining the benefits of eating a variety of food to Vidita. It hardly made any difference to her. On top of that my mother was quick to tell everyone that I was no different. Mom further added that I barely ate anything spicy. For years, I lived only on sweetened Milk and Chapati. I was a little embarrassed to lecture Vidita anymore. I had conveniently forgotten my own eating behaviour. It kind of dawned upon me: ensuring kids get balanced nutrition is a tough job. Most of us, during our childhood, have had unhealthy food choices and made parents’ life a bit difficult. Our parents used to tell us stories or distracted us with spoon aeroplanes; these days new parents use YouTube Kids or TV to make sure kids eat their meals. Times have changed but the struggles have remained the same. Something had to be done about this.
I teamed up with a few friends; we wanted to know how big this problem really is. We read and learnt about numerous things: what makes healthy nutrition; the health impact if kids don’t get balanced nutrition; various child nutrition and health programs across the world etc. We could hardly make any sense of it. So, we decided to run a survey (this is what you do if you have spent your entire career with early-stage start-ups :)).
We had to ask parents about their problems. A top tier B -school grad friend had taken the mantle to show his survey skills. We finalized the survey and got a decent number of parents to participate.
There were few other important questions in the survey but the question below was expected to enlighten us on the parents’ challenges. Here is the question
On a scale of 1–10, rank following as a potential barrier when it comes to ensuring your kids get balanced meals (1 = not a problem; 10 = a big barrier)
We had our preconceptions on the survey outcome. I was dead sure #1 and #3 are likely to be marked as the most troubling problems. I could not have been more wrong. Through this survey, parents were shouting at us: our biggest problem is to convince kids to eat their meals. Things were clearer now. We focussed our research on keywords related to parents’ responses. There you go, more evidence: published papers; articles from experts; discussions in parents’ groups etc.
There is a term for this behaviour: picky or fussy eating habits. This behaviour is so prevalent that it would mostly go unnoticed unless you are a parent. I do feel such behaviour is a part of growing up. Still, anything that reduces parents’ struggle will be a massive help. More importantly, a good solution could lead to tension-free meal time and possibly to a stronger parents-kids bond.
For us, the problem was too big now. Something had to be done about it.
PS: We did something! We designed a few cool activities for kids and delivered them through an online summer camp. It had fabulous participation and had a significant positive impact on kids’ healthy eating habits. Will write about it some other day.
PPS: We have an Android app, Alemeno, that helps parents inculcate healthy eating habits in kids. Please share it with relevant parents you may know.