Challenges for the Nepalese community in Australia

This section is about feeding-related issues that many Nepalese families told us about. These are things that we learned are particularly important to Nepalese parents raising children in Australia.

Visits from grandparents and in-laws | Manging shift work | Do we push children too hard? | Blending food | Paasni | Self-feeding or spoon-feeding? | Maintaining Nepalese culture through food

Visits from grandparents and in-laws

Spending time with grandchildren is important to all our parents! Lots of grandparents and in-laws come to Australia to visit, often for several weeks or months. Having them around is lovely, but it doesn’t always make things easier, especially when it comes to child feeding!

“Feeding was hard when my mum was here because she just pampered my son. When mum was here my life was full of struggle. I was swamped and had too much on my plate.

[parent name]

Sometimes grandparents have strong views about what to feed children and how, and they might disagree with what parents living in Australia want, or the advice they have been given.

“I was trying to follow the doctor’s advice, but that doesn’t necessarily happen when my in-laws are in town. They want me to follow the Nepalese ways of feeding that includes feeding salty food.”

[parent name]

“My in-laws say that because we don’t feed regular food that adults eat, that’s why my son cannot walk at this age. But I think he’s too small to swallow, so I don’t feed solid or salty foods.”

[parent name]

“My mother was here and would massage like the way we do back home. My husband is a nurse and he would stop her from giving rough massages. When she made food my son had constipation. Since then I’ve been concerned so I make excuses that children born in Australia follow different feeding habits.”

[parent name]

We didn’t really get much by way of tips or suggestions here. Perhaps we can offer a view from Binita? Or we could seek some tips for managing grandparent visits by email or Binita could ask informally at playgroups etc[NH1] [NH2] ?

A possible message from us:

It’s important to respect our parents’ views, but it’s not only in Nepalese families where different generations have different ideas about child feeding, and parenting in general. As parents it’s most important that we feel free to take the decisions we are comfortable with and that fit the context of our lives (for example, shift work HLINK), and what we believe is safe and best for our children (see pages on What is okay? Resources/videos, Are we making a mistake? HLINKS).

Managing feeding when parents have shift work jobs

Lots of Nepalese parents in Australia have shift work jobs, often with one parent working during the day, and the other working at night. This can make things tricky!

Sometimes, what children prefer in terms of feeding doesn’t fit neatly with shift work:

“My daughter prefers breastmilk. As long as mum is around, she wants breastmilk. But she doesn’t get to see her mother during the day. When mum is home, she wants breastmilk. We tried different ways. My kids don’t really listen to me because they are always with me in the day.”

[parent name]

Perhaps some input from us here[NH3] ?

Many parents would like to make a feeding routine that suits their children. But, shift work can also make it hard to adapt home routines or timetables to what children seem to prefer.

“Sometimes I come home at 12 and my wife would be at work. I need to sleep but also to look after my children. Can we change our habit/timetable to match their needs? We try to force them to our routine, but we have things and our routines to improve as well!”

[parent name]

“I hope we could follow their routine and make it comfortable for them. We need to understand their feelings instead of forcing them to adapt to our routine. Let’s try to follow their requirements.”

[parent name]

Perhaps some input from us here?

Shift work can also mean it is hard to attend groups or services during the day. One parent had this advice:

“I recommend consulting with a GP doctor, even after hours – but it’s easier said than done. These are the issues we are battling with as well.”

[parent name]

Blending food – too long?

Blending food is quick, easy, and can feel safe because there isn’t so much risk of choking. However, chewing on harder foods is really important for many aspects of children’s development. So it’s tricky knowing when to move on from blended foods, and how to do this safely. This often relates to the Paasni ceremony and what comes after it [HLINK].

“It’s common that we blend things. It’s convenient and it’s a way to avoid messy eating habits. Often even when the kids can eat non-blended solids, they continue with the habit because it’s easier for the parents.”

[parent name]

“At six months, after they are breast fed, if we directly start solid food, they don’t know how to chew. They only swallow. So you blend and make it soft.”

[parent name]

“It’s about choking, making sure that it’s safe. With the Nepalese food we eat a lot of spinach, green vegetables. And that would be difficult for a kid who has just started eating, so blending or purée makes it easy.”

[parent name]

Parents we spoke to had found ways to help children move off blended foods. See more in the ‘Transitions to solids’ section [HLINK] and resources and videos [HLINK] for more tips on switching to solid food.

“My child likes cucumber and he like it and eats it well. Sometimes he might eat the softer part and leave the rest but at least he eats. He eats raw carrots as well, I tried serving him yesterday and he ate it.”

[parent name]

“Solid food is much easier because you can cook and serve them. They might be a bit playful but it’s much easier. These days, when we try to feed them using the spoon it is harder but when we serve in front of them, they try on their own.

[parent name]

Here’s a Speech Pathologist explaining why non-blended foods are important.

“Soft curries or lentil-based dishes are quite soft and can be made quite moist, easy to feed. So, that progress to a texture of food is about other things. Sometimes what we call hard mash should also be offered like, carrot sticks, pieces of apples. When those harder things aren’t offered then that affects the development of the muscles that we need to chew and develop language. So, that’s one of the disadvantages of offering only very soft consistencies over a long period of time.”

Perhaps we could add to this something about safe ages, and how to manage the choking risk?

Paasni

Paasni traditionally comes at 6 months for boys and 5 months for girls. It marks a change away from just breastfeeding. Paasni is traditionally set at these months, but parents told us they changed the timing if it made sense for their child. [NH4] For some it might be a bit later:

“Our daughter was born very very small, so we could not do paasni at five months, she was too young. We did at seven months instead.”

[parent name]

We heard from lots of Nepalese parents that they start with blended foods just after paasni, but some feel like they get into a habit and continue with just blending for too long.

“After Paasni you give blended food because it is a general belief that they’re not ready to swallow food like rice, but they are ready to go with salty food. So, you start blending them just to make it easier. But Saraswati made a really good point that you start blending food at six months because it’s easier and then it’s kind of becomes habit and you continue to two years or something like that they are still on pureed food. So, maybe they’ve lost that interest at actually trying and experimenting solid food.”

[parent name]

“Sometimes even after Paasni, we don’t think they are ready so we don’t give solid food even though we’ve done Paasni”

[parent name]

This parent found a good way to shift from breast feeding to blended foods and then harder foods. She offered different things, and let her child show her what she was ready for:

“I did Paasni and for two weeks I blended the food. But after that I offered solids, not very hard, but like rice. Just normal rice, not purée. I started to offer rice and she was quite happy with that. So I stopped blending. Just started giving normal rice, curries, boiled vegetables.”

[parent name]

See more in the ‘Transitions to solids’ section [HLINK]

This is some advice from a health practitioner, reminding us that the change to solids is gradual and gentle for the child:

“It’s not like we go straight to three meals a day all solid food! We introduce solids slowly. Not one day breastfeed, next day solid food for everything. We can start with things that are softer and not salty, and slowly progress to other kinds of food.”

[parent name]

I think we need something here about ‘not salty’ given that the data (and quote above) says parents are more happy with ‘soft+salty’ after paasni.

Self-feeding or spoon-feeding?

Does your child feed himself or herself? Or do you feed them with a spoon?

Nepalese parents told us that sometimes they prefer to use a spoon and feed the child because it reduces mess, makes feeding quicker, and can seem like it helps them eat more.

“We feed with spoons because they don’t know how to eat. They’re too small and will not finish their food. It gets messy, they’ll spill food everywhere. But if you feed, it is faster and easier and the child will eat properly.”

[parent name]

But! Many children will actually prefer to self-feed, and this can help them explore food, enjoy mealtimes and feel like they are in control. Yes, this way can be a bit messier and sometimes slower, but many parents found it to be better overall. We have videos and resources to help with self-feeding. [HLINK]

“We see actually that kids often prefer self-feeding. Exploring food more, so they self-feed, even just cucumber. So our job is to see the interest of the child and adapt to their interest, so it is more coming from the child.”

[parent name]

Maintaining Nepalese culture through food

Food is a really part of our culture, and it can be hard when you raise children in a different country. Sometimes, everyday life and culture in Australia mean what young Nepalese children eat here isn’t the same as what they’d be eating back in Nepal.

“The main thing most Nepali parents say, my child is not eating rice. That’s it like that’s the end of the world.”

[parent name]

“Some parents take it as a challenge that their kids are switching from rice. Feels like they are into Western food rather than Nepalese. It can be hard to accept. They want their child to go for their traditional food.”

[parent name]

Parents we spoke to had lots of advice and stories about how they were able to offer Nepalese style foods, but also how they felt okay if their child preferred other foods.

“We do sweet potatoes, we fry potatoes. That’s traditional Nepali fried finger food. That’s traditional and every Nepalese family will have it.”

[parent name]

“She’s been eating enough pasta, then why should I give rice?”

[parent name]

“For a few days she did not eat rice, but she loved bread. And I give her two slices of bread, sometimes just toast it a bit and sometimes doesn’t toast and put some butter or something, she eats two slices of bread. This is just equivalent to a little bit rice. I was okay with her eating bread and not rice. This is just a source of carbohydrate, if she is eating bread why should we worry about the rice?” [maybe audio this as well?, fm voice]

[parent name]

“At first, I was giving priority to feed rice. If she really doesn’t eat rice and she is not opening her mouth for rice and she loves bread, so why should I worry. At least she is eating the same thing…same source of carbohydrate. . I just give her alternative. If she didn’t eat rice, then I offer her bread and she love bread. Sometimes she would dip in black tea because sometimes we dip in black tea and she just follow us whatever we do. Sometimes we dip biscuits in black tea….it gets softer and she loves doing that.” [maybe podcast this as well?, fm voice

[parent name]

 [NH1]Anjana says we could contact the Advance Diversity Services grandparents group in Rockdale

 [NH2]Binita says she can do this with her groups for us. This could be part of our second round of FGs.

 [NH3]Or as Anjana suggests, some example or material from other communities: Nepalese aren’t the only ones to work shifts… be good to not be positioned as alone… make connections with similar experiences among others.

 [NH4]Modified a bit after BG’s comment