Picky eating is a common problem among children, which happens when they display any of the following behaviour:
- Refuses to eat
- Plays with food
- Eats less than usual
- Dislikes vegetables, fruit, meat or milk
- Dislikes chewing
- Demands the same food at every meal
- Prefers ‘junk food’ to healthy food
- Makes a mess on the table
- Throws tantrums at mealtimes
These behaviours often cause parents to worry that their child is not getting all the nutrients that they need during mealtimes.
How to get your kids to adopt healthy eating habits at mealtimes
Step by step
Introduce only one new food at a time instead of serving a completely new meal. For example, if you want your child to eat an unfamiliar or new food, try to introduce it with something familiar.
Small to big
Serve small portion sizes when introducing new foods. Gradually move on to bigger portions.
Some children have negative associations with certain foods. Try to alter the form and texture of that food to change the association into more positive ones. For instance, some foods remind children of ‘hospital food’ or ‘hotel food’ and they refuse to eat them.
Make meals healthier
Try to improve the nutritive value of the food that your child enjoys. For instance, if your child likes pasta or pizza, try whole-wheat varieties and add vegetables. You may also add a slice of tomato or cheese to sandwiches, fruit to cereal or vegetables to pasta to increase the nutrient density of foods.
Do not bribe
Resist giving your child sweets and fried foods to encourage him to eat. You may be doing more harm than good.
Make mealtimes relaxed and fun
Avoid watching TV and having other distractions around that may lead to overeating or losing interest in food. Talk to your child about the day and share your own experiences so that your child looks forward to mealtimes.
Offer words of encouragement
The key words here are self-respect and self-acceptance. Never criticise your child’s body type.
Involve your child
Get your child to come along with you when you go to the supermarket to buy food or let him choose the menu for 1 day a week. This not only teaches decision-making, but also increases involvement in the preparation of meals. Let your child set the table or help you clear it.
Make a schedule
Serve meals at consistent intervals and times. Discourage eating at unscheduled times. Work with your child to establish the mealtime schedule.
Set a good example
Eat healthy foods with enthusiasm. Never talk about disliking healthy foods when your child is around.
Educate your child
Look for opportunities to teach your child the benefits of healthy eating and an active lifestyle.
Keep a watchful eye and stay calm
If you notice your child is preoccupied with being ‘thin’, discuss with him/her on the importance of a healthy weight. If the picky eating problem persists, consult a doctor.
Take your time to put these simple tips in place, and soon enough, your child will be more open to healthy food choices for meals at home and in school. Do log on to www.pickyeating.com.sg to find out more about picky eating among children. Start to make eating fun for picky eaters with these breakfast ideas now and stand a chance to win your very own sandwich cutter (valued at $9.90).