Meal times, story times!

Today toddlers are expected to eat by themselves as early as they begin semi-solid foods. Feeding them is frowned upon. While it might be a good way to inculcate independence, I feel it robs them of the emotional bond and physical contact that come with a loved one feeding them.

In our times, we told them stories, showed them the crows and dogs and the moon as we gave them little spoonfuls of food. They ate a little more, ate everything we fed them and were none the worse for it as generations of adults would vouch.

Not all kids were easy to feed though. There were the fussy eaters, and naughty ones, who ran around the house, with the one feeding them running behind with the bowl of food! Overall though, distracting a child to make her or him eat was the easiest way to get a wholesome meal into their little bellies.

I remember my little two-year-old nephew who was a darling but was impossible to feed. He loved all fruits and he loved even his unsweetened milk but hated proper food. Fortunately, he enjoyed animal stories and so we made them up with lots of sound and action which he loved. The problem was, he got so absorbed in the tale that he forgot to open his mouth or chew his food!

So the little lion/cheetah/elephant in the story had to eat his food given to him by his mother too – by opening his mouth wide, of course!

I would say: ‘How did the baby lion open his mouth when his aunty gave him mummum?’ The little mouth would open most obligingly to demonstrate and a spoonful of mashed food would slide in smoothly. Now it was time to make the cub chew his food and naturally the little boy had to show me how he did it!

You won’t believe me if I told you that I managed giving him his entire dinner one day by just asking the two questions over and over between narrating the exploits of the cubs in the jungle. I am sure the super-smart kids of today would have got wiser after a couple of times as they realised that it was not the lion cub which was eating but they were! Thank god for the naiveté of kids back then!

I feel that even today, stories make the food go down faster, and not just for toddlers. It is for this reason that I never objected to my boys reading while eating. The only rule was that they could read only if they were eating alone. I know of a lot of children and adults who have this habit. Psst…I read while eating alone even now!

How can I forget the moon while talking about meal times and toddlers? The three were inseparable. There are rhymes in many regional languages serenading the moon, affectionately referring to it as ‘mama’ and calling it down to play with the child. How many meals have gone down generations of little throats by looking at the moon and listening to stories about it? There are many Chanda mama songs too. This one was the favourite of my kids. Listen to all the lovely food being described!

Coming back to the current trend of insisting on children eating by themselves, how many of them eat without distraction if they do it at all? The difference is that the idiot box has taken over from the mother or other elders sans the emotional bonding and closeness. And I don’t think it is a good way to eat watching inane cartoons and sundry serials, do you?

The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard! 

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