One of the most common concerns parents have is how to deal with a picky eater. While this is a natural part of growing up and maturing, it can still be a frustrating experience.
If you’re facing challenges encouraging your child to eat a balanced diet, we’re here to help. Ms Wong Hui Xin, an experienced dietitian and mother of two, shares her advice on how you can help your children eat better. “It is normal for children to reject certain foods,” she shares. “What’s more important is how we, as parents, react to these rejections and what we can do in the next mealtime.”
Start introducing healthy foods as early as during weaning.
Starting early is key to establishing healthy eating habits. Introducing a variety of nutritious foods during weaning is crucial, as advised by Hui Xin “Weaning is the best time to introduce your child to different textures and flavours.” When introducing solid foods, provide a range of options to expand your child’s preferences.
Hui Xin recommends a gradual approach to ease your child into trying new food. “For example, boil your vegetables for a little longer so that it is softer for your child to try. When they are used to it, you can shorten the cooking time so that the vegetable is a little firmer.”
Make healthy eating easy and fun for your child.
Children may have strong preferences when it comes to food, but that does not mean they are unwilling to try new things. Instead, parents are advised to be patient with them and introduce new foods in a fun and enjoyable way.
Here are some simple strategies to make healthy eating more exciting:
- Get their help in the kitchen or grocery shopping: “Involve your children in preparing their meals or ask them to help with choosing between two healthy choices when you are at the supermarket,” suggests Hui Xin. When children participate in food preparation, they are more likely to try new foods and enjoy eating.
- Plate their meals in interesting ways: You have probably seen beautifully decorated school lunch boxes on the Internet. It does not have to be that complicated. “Even using a cookie cutter to cut your child’s sandwiches into the shape of an animal they like can make eating more interesting,” says Hui Xin. “You can use this opportunity to sneak more vegetables into their foods too.”
- Break up a new food into different meals: Rather than serving new food all at once, try introducing it in different meals and forms. “For example, you can ask them to have a few slices of apples at lunch, let them try apple juice at tea and then try out apple puree for dessert after dinner,” says Hui Xin. This can also help children to get used to different ways of preparing fruits and vegetables.
Children are often more receptive to trying new foods than we think. “Even if they reject a certain food during the meal, take the time to explain how that fruit or vegetable can help them with their growth, such as running faster or jumping higher,” says Hui Xin.
Follow the ‘Healthy Plate’ for a quick guide at mealtimes.
The Healthy Plate is a good set of guidelines to follow when preparing meals. Your plate (and your child’s plate) should be half filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter filled with wholegrains, and a quarter filled with protein.
“As parents, we must role model the right eating behaviours for our child,” says Hui Xin. This starts with mealtimes and what we have on our own plates.
Supplements can help — but avoid relying entirely on them.
If you have a picky eater, you may worry that your child is not getting all the necessary nutrients. “Multi-vitamins and supplements can provide your child with nutrients that their body needs to grow strong and well,” says Hui Xin. However, these should not completely replace whole foods. “For example, vegetables are a source of both vitamins and fibre. Most child supplements may not contain the latter.”
As much as possible, try to ensure that your child gets their nutrients and vitamins from the food they eat. . Supplements and vitamins can be a good complement to their diet.
Most importantly, do not be disheartened. “Children may need to try something between 10 – 20 times before they decide if they like a certain food,” says Hui Xin. Your child may just need a little more time before they develop a taste for fruits and vegetables, and that is perfectly alright.
If you would like more advice or help with your child’s health, you can speak to a child’s health doctor or specialist on the DA app. All you need to do is download the app and sign up for an account. We are here to help anytime you need.