Panicking over picky eaters

Does your child only eat one or two types of food, or certain food groups?

Does he reject all green-coloured foods, and anything that looks like a vegetable?

Does he only eat sweet or salty-flavoured foods?

Is he easily distracted, and more interested in playing than eating?

As a parent, are you worried that your child may suffer from lack of nutrition? Do you serve your child different meals from the rest of the family, or do you have your meals cooked in a different style from that of your children's?

It is not uncommon for parents to worry about their child's health, especially at an age when they are still developing and need essential nutrients for both physical and mental growth. Toddlers and young children are at a phase of their lives when they are finding out their preferences, and may thus be more partial to certain foods, while ignoring or resisting the rest.

Parents take their role of providing good nutrition very seriously, and become anxious when their children do not eat well, or continually reject the meals provided.

Too often, parents succumb to their children's wants and give them what they prefer, such as cookies or fried nuggets, worried that they may not be getting enough.

Giving in too soon is one of the common mistakes parents make, eventually paving the path for their children to get their hearts' desire whenever they wish for it.

Children will not starve or lose out on a lot of nutrients if they were to go hungry for a few hours; and a hungry child would most likely eat the healthy meals that you have prepared for them.

Techniques to try

Try these out

There are a few ways in which you can deal with your picky child, eventually getting him to eat a wider variety of foods during mealtimes.

·Keep a record. Is your child eating outside of mealtimes? You may think that your child is not eating much because he does not eat during meals. But are you keeping track of all the times he snacks on something, such as a few pieces of crackers before lunch? Or a packet of juice in the evening, or a popiah roll or steamed pau before his dinner?

Although healthy snacks are important, constantly snacking throughout the day causes him to lose interest in mealtimes, or he is just not hungry enough then. Unhealthy snacks like potato crisps, or kuih-muih, may also lead your child towards a preference for sweet and salty foods.

·Routines may be boring, but they work. Ensure that meals are given at the same time daily so as to get them into a routine; when mealtimes are predictable, children will be more cooperative too.

Also, young children have smaller appetites; thus, it would be better to provide them with three main meals, and two snacks every day in small portions. Time the snacks at least one-and-a-half to two hours before mealtimes.

·Let them choose to eat. If your child refuses to eat meals, you can excuse him from the table, and cling wrap his plate up to put in the fridge. Do not offer him anything else, and if he is hungry later on, you can heat up the saved food and serve it to him.

Too often, parents offer their children alternatives before they actually start to feel hungry, which gives them the impression that if they choose not to eat the meals prepared, they can eventually get whatever food they want.

·Include your child in meal planning. Get your child's input on planning the family menu, and include meals that they love too. This way, they can see that you are willing to accommodate their favourite meals, such as a tuna sandwich dinner; and they learn that they must be willing to eat your chosen meals too, eg steamed chicken.

Also, make sure that the whole family eats the same meals; don't prepare separate meals for the children and separate meals for the adults.

·Include your child in meal preparation. Children love being involved and will be much more willing to try what they have helped you prepare. There are many small tasks that your child can help you with in the kitchen as you prepare and cook your meal, like washing vegetables/fruits, and even plucking green leafy vegetables.

Older children can even help with the cooking itself.

Do not be alarmed or worried about your child's lack of nutrition if he seems to be eating less than usual. Children generally grow out of their picky phase.

However, you can influence your child's taste buds now by guiding him towards healthier options. This will help him lead a healthier lifestyle in the future!

Providing alternatives

Providing alternatives

All children need sufficient amounts of essential nutrients for proper growth and development, both physically and mentally. In most cases and situations, even picky eaters are able to derive their nutrients from the little food that they consume.

However, in very rare cases, some children may have trouble obtaining the required nutrients, which may lead to health problems, if ignored. This is true only in cases of very extreme selective picky eaters who refuse to eat almost all types of food.

In this situation, it is important to talk to your child's paediatrician, who may or may not prescribe supplementation, but do bear in mind that this is only viable as a short-term corrective measure.

For long-term corrective measures, it is advisable to find food sources that cater to your child's preferences, which also offer all the essential nutrients your child needs to help your picky eater get all the nutritional requirements he needs for optimal growth and health.

In the event that you need to provide your child with a short-term corrective measure, you may need to think about getting some form of complete nutritional supplementation that contains all the micro- and macro-nutrients such as calcium, iron, protein, and other vitamins and minerals needed in the correct amounts for children.

This option is beneficial for extremely picky eaters who often refuse to eat most types of foods, and thus, miss out on a lot of essential nutrients.

Complete nutritional supplementation can help provide your child with the necessary nutrients that are required for optimal growth and development, while also preventing developmental problems that may arise from malnutrition.

When advised by your child's paediatrician or nutritionist, choose a nutrition supplement that provides many different essential nutrients, especially those that has been proven to improve weight and height in children.

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