Tips for Feeding Your Kids
Sorting Out Your “Picky Eater” Child
Are mealtimes with your child a battleground of wills? Is feeding your child a long-drawn out affair that makes you want to pull your hair out? If your child is a picky eater, and you are on the verge of a breakdown, you’d probably find consolation in the fact that your problem is more common than you think.
In a survey conducted by Abbott Nutrition, more than 40% of Singaporean parents responded that their child was a “picky eater”, exhibiting tendencies such as accepting only a few types of food, and being unwilling to try new types of food1.
Many parents worry about what their children eat — and don’t eat. And very rightly so. According to the World Health Organisation, adequate stimulation and nutrition are essential for development during the first three years of life2.
To ensure your kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week, you are allowed to get sneaky and creative with the following appetising tips!
1. Give your child’s appetite the benefit of a doubt.
If your child doesn’t seem interested to eat, maybe, just maybe, he or she is in fact really not hungry! You can try coaxing your child one or two times, at the most three, but after that third attempt, drop it. Never force your child to eat, as she or he may associate unpleasantness with mealtimes, which could ignite or reinforce a lesser interest in eating. To develop a love of food in your child, make mealtimes the focus and free of distractions. Televisions and computers are a definite turn-off !
2. Stick to a regular mealtime schedule.
When meals are served at the same intervals every day, your child’s appetite will have had the chance to develop an appetite and be primed for food. Try to lessen giving juice or milk in between meals, as this decreases appetite for meals.
In addition, don’t’ overwhelm your picky eater with big portions. Start small and take time between mouthfuls to give him or her the opportunity to ask for more.
3. Introduce new foods with the old favourites.
If you want to introduce your picky eater to a new food flavour, try serving it with his or her favourite, e.g., three spoonfuls of favourite apple mash, with a spoonful of “new” peas. If your child spits it out the first time, try again later. Some children need repeated exposure to a new food before they finally accept it.
4. Serve foods that are bright and in various shapes.
To make mealtimes more fun and interesting, cut foods into the various shapes and choose brightly coloured hues. You can then use mealtimes as an opportunity for a lesson on shapes and colours as well! Talking and teaching about a food’s colour, shape, aroma and texture would definitely pave the way for your child to eat it, too! Dark green broccoli, bright orange carrots, brilliant yellow corn, cool green peas, dark red apples can be cut into circles, squares, star shapes, etc using cookie cutters.
5. Let your child help with the food shopping and preparation.
If you let your kids help select the fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, and then let them help prepare it, rinse veggies, set the table, there’s a great chance the foods will end up in their mouths, too!
6. Be sneaky!
Your child will never know she just ate a handful of broccoli or green peppers if you chopped it so small and mixed it in to your favourite spaghetti sauce! Fruit slices in cereal and grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups are sneaky and healthy combinations your child need not know of!
7. Don’t bribe your child to eat with sugary sweets!
One of the most fool-proof ways to sabotage your child’s eating habits is to offer sugary sweets as a reward to eat! This sends the message that sugar is the nirvana of the eating experience and other foods are second choice.
Develop in your child a taste for natural sugars at a young age by giving fruits, yoghurt and wholemeal based breads and desserts.
8. Resist turning into a short-order chef!
You will most certainly be creating a picky eater if your child rejects the meal, and you stumble all over yourself preparing or buying another one. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn’t eat. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.
9. Make a food log.
If you record what your child eats over a span of three days, you might actually find that you have been unduly worried, as you finally see the big picture. The small portions are better than zero portions, and as long as the foods are nutritious and healthy, this will set off your child on the way to healthy eating.
If you are really worried that your picky eater’s growth and development might be compromised, consult your child’s paediatrician or your family doctor. He can offer advice on how to further supplement your child’s diet.