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Making food enjoyable

Tips to get your child to eat right for healthy growth.

WHAT can a parent to do if a child refuses to eat certain foods or insists on eating only one or two types of food for days or weeks?

For many children, especially those between the ages of one and 10, eating can be a chore. In fact, studies show that up to 45% of children have problems during mealtimes. Below are eight common mealtime problems and tips to help you overcome them.

1. My child won’t eat anything but white rice! He’s been like this for the past two weeks. What can I do?

The insistence on eating only a certain kind of food is known as “food jags”. This happens to many children, but there’s no need to be alarmed. Coax, persuade or even tease them to eat something from each major food group. If your children are adamant about eating only fried rice for a week, try chopping up a variety of vegetables into various sizes and shapes and sneaking the greens into the rice. Also, you can add some protein foods such as chicken and beef pieces, prawn, eggs, sausages, or fish balls.

2. How can I get my two children to eat vegetables? They won’t touch anything green.

This problem could be because your children weren’t properly introduced to vegetables during the complementary feeding stage. When faced with this situation, try serving different kinds of vegetables that are cooked or prepared in various ways. Be creative and serve them in interesting, unexpected ways. You could also lead by example: eat vegetables in front of your children and make it obvious that you’re enjoying every mouthful.

3. My four-year-old son eats very little. Should I be concerned?

Not if this occurs occasionally and he’s growing well. Children have smaller stomachs, and three main meals may be more than they can handle. Try smaller portions at frequent intervals, or three small main meals and two to three well-spaced snacks throughout the day. This ensures he gets enough nutrients and energy. Think quality, not quantity – a small serving of nutritious food is more beneficial than a big helping of empty calories. Focus on what he is eating instead of how much. If your son’s poor appetite is prolonged, however, and he exhibits weight loss, he may require medical assessment.

4. My daughter’s appetite is so erratic – one day she’ll eat, the next day she won’t. Shouldn’t she be eating the same amount every day?

Variations in appetite are normal; they occur in children as well as adults. It’s good, however, to find out if your daughter likes food prepared in certain ways (for example, scrambled egg as opposed to hard-boiled). If she likes foods in a certain way, you can try preparing other foods in the same manner and see how receptive she is.

5. My children would rather run around and play than eat their food.

Your children are growing up and discovering the world around them. Unfortunately, this could lead to a temporary loss of interest in eating. This is perfectly normal and isn’t a cause for concern. However, if the problem persists and your children aren’t growing well, you may want to ask a doctor, dietician or nutritionist for help.

6. My son loves to keep food in his mouth instead of swallowing it. How can I stop him from doing this?

This could arise because your son is distracted during mealtimes. Is the TV on during lunch? Are toys strewn all over the dining table during dinner? Removing these distractions and ensuring a calm eating environment might help address the problem. Make eating the primary focus and make it enjoyable. Another reason could be that your son has had enough to eat. Are you giving him too big spoonfuls of food? Are you feeding him with adult-sized spoons? Use child-friendly cutlery instead. It helps if your child has his meal together with the whole family.

7. I try to keep my children’s mealtimes regular but sometimes it’s tough when a mealtime comes around and they’re not hungry. What can I do?

Check if your children have been munching on high-sugar or high-calorie snacks all day long. Make sure they’re also not filling up on milk and juice between meals as this could ruin their appetites. As a rule, snacks should not be given less than 1½-2 hours before a main meal.

8. Why is my child giving me such a hard time?

Mealtime problems crop up for a variety of reasons – a lack of familiarity with new foods, distractions or illness. Your children are at the age where they begin to assert their independence. They want to make their own food choices and test the limits set by their parents. This usually happens at the age of two years when they become more independent and their response to everything you want them to do (and eat) is met with a defiant “No”.


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