What should I do if my child:
– refuses to eat vegetables?
– refuses to try new food?
– refuses to eat on his own?
– is not interested in food?
– never sit still during mealtime?
– love to watch TV during mealtime?
Do any of these sound familiar to you? These are the questions frequently asked by my readers since I started blogging. When parents or caregivers encounter such problems, it is likely that the child will get the blame. But, if we analyze their situation carefully, we may be alarmed that root of these problems may lie more on the parents or caregivers than the child himself.
What are the common mistakes made by parents or caregivers?
- No mealtime rules
- If mealtime rules are not set, parents or caregivers will find it challenging to control or discipline their child during mealtime. Even though some have put efforts to do so, most of the time they give in easily.
- No mealtime routine
- Without having a proper routine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a child will have a tendency of over or under-eating. He might stuff his/her stomach with more junks than healthy foods. This may cause him to lose his appetite when it comes to the actual mealtime.
- Limited choice of food
- Generally, most parents or caregivers are reluctant to introduce new food as they are afraid that the child may reject the food and go hungry as a result. This will eventually limit his choice of food and also lead to lack of essential nutrition for growth. He will also get bored eating the same food over a long period of time.
- Wrong approach to encourage eating
- Some parents or caregivers can get anxious easily when the child dislikes the taste of certain healthy foods. They will tend to either force him to eat or make him eat a larger portion. This method may cause the child to react negatively towards the food.
- Speed up the eating process
- When a child is slow in eating, the parents or caregivers will become impatient and quickly start feeding the child. This may delay the child from picking up the self-feeding skill. To avoid choking, Asian parents or caregivers tend to blend the food for their child even when they are over a year old. As the blended food doesn’t look and taste appealing, the child will eventually lost his interest during mealtime.
- Bribe the child with sweet treat or distract him with toys, mobile app or television may seem an easy way out to deal with the mealtime battle in the short run. As a result, the child will not be able to learn the correct mealtime manners as well as chew his food properly due to these distractions.
What should parents or caregivers do to cope with picky eaters and mealtime problems?
- Teach the right eating manners
- Teach your child the right eating manners from young. Start by letting him join the family at the dining table so he can pick up the right mealtime manners. Avoid distraction like toys, mobile app and television during mealtime.
- Cultivate healthy eating habit
- Offer your child more fresh fruits and vegetables. (Refer to this post for more tips on how to encourage your child to love green). Cut down on fats, oils and sweets. Avoid food with colouring and preservatives. Snacks that are offered in between meals should be healthy and nutritious (eg, sweet potato crisps, power-packed oat bars and oatmeal raisin banana muffins) . Soft drinks, sweets and packaged food (such as potato chips) should not be allowed.
- Set a good example
- If you don’t want your child to become a picky eater, start to exhibit a good example by following a healthy diet. Do not show your feeling on the food you dislike as it will influence your child to dislike it.
- Set mealtime rules and routine
- Set reasonable rules and routine for mealtime, and stand firm on it. Eg, no playing, having meal at the dining table only, must not leave the table until the meal is finished etc.
- Praise wisely
- Small kids response positively to praises. Praise your child whenever he demonstrates good mealtime manner or is willing to try new food. But, avoid over-praising.
- Relax yourself
- Try to relax when feeding or having meals with your child as he can easily sense your anxiety. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself as it will make matter worst.
- Emphasize the importance of healthy eating
- Do not make your child eat just to please you. Starting teaching your child from young the benefits of having healthy eating habits by saying “milk makes your bones strong”, “salmon makes you smarter”, “sweets will cause tooth decay”. Reinforce these messages to him from time to time.
- Use books and songs
- Reading books and singing songs relating to healthy eating habit can arouse a child’s interest in healthy food. My son loves apple after he learns the song “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” (Eg, apple soup and apple flapjacks)
- Make food look interesting
- Healthy food may not taste blanch or look bored. Be creative and make the food looks interesting by playing around with shape, colour, taste and texture. Here are some suggestions:
- Shape: Ingredients can be minced, diced, sliced or julienned. Cookies cutter and rice mould are my favourite tools for making different type of shapes. (eg, fancy sandwiches with sardine filling, onigiri with salmon and cucumber, oven baked fish fingers)
- Colour: Use different combination of colour to not only brighten up your dish but also provide more nutrients to your child’s diet. (eg, rainbow seafood pasta salad and stir-fry udon with prawns)
- Taste: Enhance the flavour of the food with condiments, spices and herbs. (eg, orange pilaf and oven baked fries)
- Texture: Vary your cooking methods. For example, fish can be steamed, pan-fried or baked. It can also be made into patties or added into soup. If your child doesn’t like cooked vegetables, try offering him raw vegetables instead such as cucumber and carrots sticks with a tasty dip. (eg, salmon in a parcel, teriyaki chicken skew and Japanese egg salad sandwiches)
- Make mealtime fun and enjoyable
- For babies, you can create imaginative stories with food. Eg,”The helicopter (aka spoon) is going to crash! Hurry, open your mouth to rescue it.”
- For toddlers, let them have some “pretentious games” with their food such as using broccoli to make “hair” of a face, “mini tree” or “little flower” or just about anything based on your creative imagination (eg, broccoli and bow-tie). This will definitely make them look forward to their next mealtime.
- Use colourful and cute cutlery and plate to serve the food.
- Introduce new food as frequent as possible
- Be more adventurous with new food but limit to one new food at a time. Pair the new food with his favourite and familiar food such as cheese and eggs or homemade sauce. Eg, my son dislikes eggplant but loves cheese and tomato sauce. So when I baked eggplants with bolognese sauce, it became a big hit. (Another example is cauliflower cheese and burdock root soup)
- Offer new food in small portion but do not force him to eat. Take no offense if he refuses it or couldn’t finish it. Give praise even if he just takes one bite. If he still rejects, stop for a while and reintroduce a few weeks later. Sometimes, it may take 10 attempts or more for him to accept the new food. (Eg, I managed to convince my son to eat coconut with this coconut banana muffins)
- Keep portion small
- Kids have smaller appetite than adults. So, do not pressure your child to eat as much as an adult. Start with a small serving. If he can finish and request for more, then offer a second helping. Also, do not rush your child to finish his meal. Allow him time to consume his food. His stomach will be able to signal if he is full. This helps to avoid over-eating.
- Involved your kid in food preparation and simple cooking process
- Offer smart choices
- Rather than letting your child decide freely on what he wants to eat, give him scope to assert his independence. Eg, let him choose two out of three vegetables offered to him.
- Encourage self-feeding
- When a child reaches one year, encourage him to self-feed and master mealtime skills. Though it can be messy and the child may take a longer time to eat, it’s worth the effort to train him to be more independent.
These tips are written based on my research and personal experience in raising my son. They work for my son. Please use them with your own discretion and do not expect miracle to happen overnight. But, never give up so soon. It is important to be persistence and consistent with your approach. As long as you are determined and keep trying, you will definitely see progress in your child’s eating habits.
Note: This post has been re-written for Singapore Motherhood and Parenting Forum. Please refer to THIS LINK for the featuring.