Parents, you play a key role in developing your child’s eating habits. Find out how to make the most of your influence over your children with these tips from the experts.
WORDS RACHEL KWEK
Unfortunately, or fortunately, parents can be contributing to their children’s bad eating habits. Your tot not only eats what is frequently given to him but also eats the way you allow him to. He observes what and how you eat as well and learns from them. The good news is you have incredible power to turn the situation around. Find out how to instil in your child good eating habits that will keep him well-nourished way beyond his toddlerhood.
Feed Them Only the Good Stuff
Be very selective about what you feed your child. Keep junk food like sweets, chips and soft drinks out of their diets. These highly processed foods are usually high in calories but low in nutrients. Hence, Karin Graubard-Reiter, nutritionist and founder of Nutritious N’ Delicious says a fat child is not necessarily well-nourished if his diet is largely made up of such food. Instead of processed food, opt for whole foods whose nutrients are not diminished by processing and are free from unnecessary additives. It also helps to learn how to pick and prepare nutritious foods. Read food labels carefully and make a list of nutrient-packed foods you should regularly stock up on.
If you feed him with certain foods regularly, chances that he would acquire a taste for those foods are high. This may result in picky eating, which makes it challenging for parents to ensure that their children are getting all the nutrients they need. While having a fussy eater can be a significant source of anxiety, Dr Priyantha Edison, staff registrar, Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, SGH, says that it should be seen as a normal phase that all children experience and only becomes a problem when poorly managed. Exposing your tot to a wide variety of healthy foods increases his acceptance of them. Even if he does become picky about what he eats, this strategy makes it likely that what he picks are healthy choices!
Find Healthier Alternatives
Feeding your child with healthier alternatives ensures he gets the best of all the nutrients he needs. For carbohydrates, choose brown rice instead of white and whole wheat bread over white bread. Whole grains like quinoa are not only excellent sources of complex carbohydrates that give him sustained energy but are also high in fibre and a whole lot of other vitamins and minerals. Fish and chicken are leaner sources of protein compared to red meat. Unsaturated fats from sources like oily fish, olive oil, avocados, raw nuts and seeds should supply the fat your child needs.
By replacing ingredients or tweaking preparation methods, you can serve
up healthier versions of your child’s favourite food too.
Involve Your Kids in Food Preparation
Reiter says kids who cook are more likely to eat the food they prepare. Shop for groceries together, get them to help out in the kitchen and teach your child to cook! He would be happy to have a say in what the family would have for dinner or to be able to arrange his food the way he likes too.
Eat Home-cooked Food
Besides being less costly, preparing your own food means you get to decide on all the goodness that your family is going to eat. It’s way healthier than always eating takeaways or fast food!
Create Shortcuts for Healthy Eating
One of the largest obstacles in adopting healthy eating habits is the lack of time. When you are pressed for time or feeling tired, it is easy to turn to poor food choices that are convenient. Why not use recipes for quick and nutritious meals to cut down on meal preparation time? Having a supply of ready-to-eat healthy foods at home also means your family can enjoy healthy food anytime.
Eat as a Family
Make it a habit to sit down and eat as a family. Besides being a wonderful chance for bonding, mealtimes present the opportunity for your child to learn mealtime routines and table manners. Creating enjoyable dining experiences will encourage your child to participate. Remember to put away the gadgets and turn off the television!
He Eats What You Eat
Ever been to a restaurant or party that distinguishes between “adult food” and “kids food”? The truth is they are no different! Your tot can eat pretty much what you can eat (other than alcohol and, to be on the safe side, raw food). Don’t get him used to the idea that he needs “baby food” and be firm about what he can or cannot eat. This helps him develop healthy food choices and prevents picky eating.
Educate Your Kids
Teach them what foods are good for them and why healthy eating is important. Inculcate a respect for food and meal times by setting aside a proper place and time to eat; teach them not to waste food by providing them with just the amount they need. Times when you shop for ingredients, cook and eat together are great opportunities to educate them.
Ensure a Balanced Diet
This is the key to good nutrition. Be sure to include all the food groups in your child’s meals. You’ll always be on the right track with whole grains, good quality protein and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. For children aged three to six, HPB recommends three to four servings of carbohydrates, two servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of meat and others a day. Reiter says eating fresh fruits and vegetables of different colours will make sure your kids get their needed doses of different vitamins and minerals.
Follow a Feeding Schedule
Plan a feeding schedule with three meals and two snacks for your tot and train him to follow it. Teaching children to wait for their next meal or snack even if they are hungry helps regulate their appetite and prevents them from overeating, Dr Edison says. Doing so also increases the likelihood that children will eat what is served. Allowing your tot to feed himself also helps him learn to take charge of what he eats. Dr Edison adds that consuming too much milk or juice in lieu of food can also diminish his appetite.