Is your child a fussy eater? Does your child only want to eat one type of food (like bread? Or rice?)? Or does s/he refuse to eat a particular type of food due to its texture, appearance or smell? While some children don’t make a fuss about eating, others have very strong preferences when it comes to food. What should parents do when those preferences aren’t healthy or balanced?
Here are some practical tips on how to improve your child’s eating behaviour:
- Set specific times for meal times and try to have meals together as a family. Children are more willing to try a particular food when they see others eating it.
- Avoid making a separate meal for your children. If they know you will make a specially prepared meal for them if they are fussy, that is what they will demand from you. Dr. Ardyce Yik finds this is quite common in Hong Kong, where children often eat dinner at an earlier time than parents.
- Try to avoid big meal-size snacks between meals. If children eat too much for snacks or “graze”/ snack throughout the day, they won’t be hungry at mealtimes.
- Feed them healthy snacks. Nutritious snacks are a great way to provide added nutrients to growing bodies and to replenish energy. Remove all junk food from your home, or at the very least, don’t eat junk food in front of your children. Children usually follow your actions, not your words.
- Try a variety of healthy foods and snacks with them and see what they prefer. By adding healthful, whole foods into your diet, you are showing them what they should be eating. By letting them choose among healthy options, you are fostering independence and teaching them responsibility.
- Get your children involved and let them participate in the process of preparing meals. It can be shopping for foods at the supermarket or cooking a meal together. Through these opportunities, children learn about healthful food choices, how to read food labels and how to properly prepare a meal, all of which foster lifelong skills for better health. For younger children, they can help count the eggs or wash the vegetables. When they are involved in the meal preparation process, they are more willing to try new foods and eat what they helped to prepare.
- For those who have a strong preference for texture or appearance, be creative in how you cook and present certain foods. For example, if your child likes crunchy or crispy foods, try making yam/ sweet potato/ lotus root chips (slice the vegetable, drizzle with olive oil and bake until crisp). If your child doesn’t like sauces, skip the sauce altogether. If your child only eats foods of a certain colour, slowly introduce other foods by feeding foods of that particular colour mixed with small amounts of other minced or diced foods.
Happy meal planning!