Mealtime battle with kids has always been a problem among parents or caregivers. Whenever this problem arises, it is common that the child gets the blame. Sometimes parents or caregivers may unknowingly encourage poor eating habits.
What could cause this problem?
No mealtime rules:
Parents or caregivers who do not set any mealtime rules 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. They may either coax the child or allow him to eat whatever he likes.
If parents or caregivers are reluctant to introduce new food, a child may have limited food choice and could miss out essential nutrients for his growth. He may also get bored eating the same food group over a long period of time.
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.
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 like to blend the food for their child even when he is above one year old. Blended food doesn’t look and taste good, and hence it will make the child dislikes eating his meal.
Bribe the child with rewards such sweet treat or distract him with toys, mobile app or television may seem an easy way out to end the mealtime battle in the short run. But this may not allow the child to learn the correct mealtime manners. He will also not able to chew his food properly due to these distractions.
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.
2. Cultivate healthy eating habit
Offer your child more fresh fruits and vegetables. 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 (such as oat bars and oatmeal raisin banana muffins). Soft drinks, sweets and packaged food (such as potato chips) should not be allowed.
3. Set a good example
If you dont’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 lead your child to have a bias opinion on the food.
4. 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.
5. Praise wisely
Small kid responses positively to praise. So, praise your child whenever he demonstrates good mealtime manner or is willing to try his new food. But, avoid over-praising.
6. Relax yourself
Try to relax when feeding or having meals with your child as he can easily sense your anxiety. dont’t put too much pressure on yourself as it will make matter worst.
7. 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.
8. 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 to sing the song “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
9. Make food look interesting
Healthy food may not taste blanch or look bored. Be creative to make the food looks appealing. Play around your food with shapes, colour, taste and texture. Here are some suggestions:
- Shapes: Ingredients can be minced, diced, sliced or julienned. Cookies cutter and rice mould are my favourite tools for making different type of shapes.
- Colour: Brighten up the dish and provide more nutrients to your child’s diet.
- Taste: Enhance the flavour of the food with a variety of condiments, spices, herbs and homemade sauce.
- Texture: Vary your cooking methods. 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.
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 form “hair” for a face, arrange them into “mini tree” or “little flower” or just about anything based on your creative imagination. This will definitely make them look forward to their next mealtime.
Use colourful cutlery and plates to serve the food
11. Introduce new food as frequently as possible
Be more adventurous with new food but limit to one new food at a time. Pair the new food with his familiar and favourite food or sauce. Eg, my son dislikes eggplant but loves cheese and tomato sauce. So when I baked eggplants with bolognese sauce, it was a big hit.
12. Keep portions small
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, you may have to make 10 attempts or more to introduce a new food. Thus, dont’t give up so soon!
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.
13. Involve your child in meal preparation and simple cooking processes
Get your child involved in shopping, preparing and cooking his food. It will excite and encourage him to try out the food. You can also try baking simple recipes with your child such as pancakes, muffins and cookies.
14. 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.15. 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 well for my son. Please use them with your own discretion and do not expect miracle to happen overnight. It is important to be persistence and consistent with your approach. As long as you are determined and keep trying, you will definitely see some progress in your child’s eating habits.