The trick to getting your fussy eater to eat well is to ensure that your little one enjoys their food from the get-go. It’s up to you as the parent to raise your munchkin to have an enduring interest in delicious and healthy food.
Why is it so important? Most kids who are poor eaters suffer from vitamin D and iron deficiencies, which could affect their growth. Also, as a picky eater, your child could develop a selective-eating adult, even showing signs of anxiety and depression, according to a US study published in the journal Pediatrics.
So how do you keep junior on the healthy and willing-to-try path? In Dina Rose’s book, It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating, the sociologist-and-feeding-expert notes that junior will be more curious and open-minded about food when parents shift their emphasis to showing them how to eat right — instead of nagging. Here are tips to try:
Dining as a family also benefits your mini-me’s emotional and social development…
1) Establish mealtime rules
Children thrive on routines as they get a sense of security knowing what comes next and what is expected of them. Always serve meals at set times, placing the food on a high-chair tray or — ideally — at the dining table, and away from distractions such as the television.
By the way, keep snacks to a minimum — either mid-morning or mid-afternoon — so as to not ruin the appetite for main meals. Get them to be part of the family meal. Notes Claudia Correia, a dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, “This way, the children will understand that mealtimes are a time to eat and be with the family and not to play.”
2) Encourage communal and independent eating
Dining as a family also benefits your mini-me’s emotional and social development, Correia adds. Plus, you can also model the behaviours you want them to adopt, such as a willingness to try broccoli if they see you eating it.
Even if bub is still on purées, pique their curiosity by offering some of what the family is eating to play around with — just make sure it has little or no salt. They might just pop it into their mouth and enjoy it.
Also, as messy as it can get, junior will love feeding themselves. Place a washable mat under the high chair, hand over a spoon and a tub of yoghurt and watch them go to town with it.
Three more tactics to keep your munchkin’s tastebuds active and willing…
3) Offer choices
Consultant nutritionist Clement Gan points out that many parents often overlook the importance of taste preferences. Instead of just focusing on filling their tummy, teach your tyke to taste a variety of flavours at every meal. Serve a small portion of veggies, meat and rice or bread with a side serving of fruit.
Cut everything up into bite-sized pieces, so your sweetie doesn’t feel overwhelmed by its size. “Variety also means the child will not be tired of eating from a fixed menu, which might cause them to dislike the foods that they have been eating repeatedly,” Gan adds.
4) Make food fun and relevant
Help your child connect with the food he eats instead of turning mealtimes into a battleground. Try reading books about food such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Or sing songs — what better way to celebrate snack time than with Cookie Monster’s theme song C is for Cookie?
“Variety also means the child will not be tired of eating from a fixed menu, which might cause them to dislike the foods that they have been eating repeatedly.”
5) Make food fun
Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a paediatric specialist at Raffles Children’s Centre, also suggests cutting veggies like carrots and cucumbers into different shapes and arranging them in pretty patterns on the plate.
If junior is old enough, encourage him to help you, even play with food! “Show them how to dunk vegetable sticks in tasty dips and pop into their mouths,” adds Dr Sinnathamby. “And give them funny names like ‘crazy carrots’!”.
6) Involve them in shopping/growing/cooking
When they are older, shop for groceries or start a vegetable mini-garden together. Learning more about where food comes from and getting involved in the prep process will spark their interest in what they eat.