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A Healthy Diet for Picky Eaters

Is your child a picky eater?  Has the dinner table become a battleground?  Do you worry that your child’s picky eating habits will result in an unbalanced, unhealthy diet?  Does the food your picky eater is willing to eat lack proper nutrients he needs to thrive? If your answer is, “Yes!”, you are not alone.  

Many parents and grandparents throughout Singapore struggle with picky eaters every day.  In fact, a study conducted by specialists from the National University Hospital Paediatric Services found that almost half of parents and grandparents of children aged 1 to 10 who were surveyed felt that their child is a picky eater.  49.6% of those surveyed felt that their child displayed picky eating behaviours at every meal.  

Picky eating over a long period is worrisome because it can lead to an unbalanced diet, lacking in the proper nutrients.  According to Dr. Han Wee Meng, Principal Dietician, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, “...eating unhealthily sets the children up for an increased risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions such as sleep disorders and metabolic problems such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.”

How can you encourage your picky eater to enjoy a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet?  Experts from the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital offer these tips:

Learn what your child needs for a well-balanced diet.  Talk with your doctor or a dietician about your child’s nutritional needs.  These needs will change as your child grows and develops.  Consult the Health Promotion Board’s Healthy Diet Pyramid and daily calorie recommendations to create a healthy diet plan for your whole family.

Teach your child about healthy eating.  Share with your child what you have learned about their dietary needs and how to make healthy eating choices.

Display healthy eating habits.  If you want your child to make healthy food choices, you need to be making those choices as well.  Not only will you improve their health, but you will improve your own health too!

Give your child a voice.  Allow your child to decide how much they will eat.  Do not try to force them to eat a particular amount.  They will eat until they are full.  Forcing a child to eat more than they want to can teach them to ignore the natural feelings of fullness. This can lead to a lifetime of obesity.

Start the day off right with breakfast.  Children who eat breakfast on a regular basis have better concentration and memory retention, are less likely to be hyperactive, and have a foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.  Eating a healthy breakfast also boosts your child’s metabolism so that they can properly burn calories and absorb the nutrients in their food.  

Eat snacks and meals on a regular schedule.  When you give your child snacks and meals on a schedule, you can expect them to be hungry for meals and snacks.  Three meals and three snacks each day meet the needs of most children.

Provide healthy snack choices.  Be sure that your pantry and refrigerator are stocked with healthy snack options.  Provide your child with a wide selection of ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables.  Also have individual packages of whole grain crackers, low-fat yoghurt, and nuts on hand.  Let your child pick which healthy snack they will eat.

Prepare meals at home. When you prepare meals in your own kitchen, you can choose how much salt or sugar is added and which oil to cook with.  You can prepare healthier versions of your family’s favourite dishes.  Preparing meals at home also gives you the opportunity to cook with your child.  They are more likely to try new dishes they have helped to prepare.

Eat dinner as a family.  Dinnertime is a great opportunity for your family to bond together and share experiences.  It is also a good time for you to introduce your child to new foods and model healthy eating habits.

Expose your child to new foods in a neutral environment.  Do not judge or condemn your child if they do not like a new food.  Many children have to try a new food 10 to 15 times before they like it.  If your child tries something new and doesn’t like it, wait a few days and offer it again.  Maybe this time add it to a different dish or pair it with different seasonings. 

Do not let your child fill up on drinks.  If you allow your child to drink juice or milk around meal times, their stomachs will be full.  They will not be hungry for the meal you have prepared.  

Do not resort to bribery.  If you tell your child that they can have a food they really like if they will try a new food, they will automatically think something is wrong with the new food.  Try not to respond if your child has a negative reaction to a new food.  They know that they can get attention by refusing to eat what you have prepared.

Remember, that your child is not going to starve.  Many of their picky preferences are a part of a phase that they will grow out of.  Consistently offering your child nutritious snacks and meals, while modeling good eating habits will give them the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits and good health.