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Toddler feeding: the nuts and bolts for feeding children 1-3 years old

It is important for parents and care​givers to avoid force-feeding children by recognising their satiety cues. The best way to ensure adequate nutrition is to provide balanced meals at structured timings throughout the day.

“Allow your child to eat according to his appetite. Offer a smaller portion first and give more when he requests for it,” says Jasly Koo, Dietitian, from the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics​ at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital​, a member of the SingHealth​ group.

Common feeding problems in children and strategies to try

  1. ​Problem: Eating only certain ty​pes of foods

  2. Stra​tegies to tr​y
    1. ​​​Offer finger foods. They are usually better accepted as they allow children to self-feed.
    2. As parents, you can set a good example by eating a variety of foods and not pass comments about your own likes and dislikes.
    3. Serve a small portion of your child’s favourite food together with other foods you want to introduce.
    4. Continue to offer new foods, but do not force, cajole or bribe your child to eat it. With repeated exposure (up to 20 times) with 2-3 days between each trial, most children will try the new food. If not, accept that the child has specific likes and dislikes, just like adults. This is usually a passing phase and may get better with time, so you can try again a few months later.
  3. Problem: Refusing vegetables

  4. Strategies to try:
    1. Vegetables don’t have to be green and leafy. Try yellow, white or orange non-leafy vegetables such as corn, cauliflower, button mushrooms, pumpkin, carrots etc.
    2. Add vegetables to foods and sauces, rather than serving on its own, e.g. add shredded carrots and chopped button mushrooms to spaghetti sauce.
    3. For older children, serve skewers of fruit chunks with cherry tomatoes or sliced cucumber.
  5. Problem: Refusing to chew

  6. Strategies to try:
    1. ​Parents should observe if the child has the oro-motor skills needed for chewing.
    2. Children may not chew because they are too used to eating blended or finely chopped foods. To overcome this, increase the food texture gradually e.g. if the child’s porridge is blended, gradually make the porridge less blended or shorten the cooking time.
  7. Problem: Taking a long time to eat and keeping food in the mouth (rumination)

  8. Strategies to try:
    1. ​Consider that your child may not have the oro-motor skills to manage the foods that you are offering.
    2. Ensure portion sizes are not too excessive. Try serving a smaller portion and then offering more when your child completes the meal.
    3. Minimize distractions, e.g​. TV, toys, running around.
    4. Make sure he is hungry by not offering snacks, milk and drinks within an hour before meals.

    It is tough to change a child’s eating pattern when it becomes entrenched, so the best advice would be to avoid letting this develop in the first place.

  9. Problem: Your toddler/child wants to choose his food

  10. It is common for toddlers around the age of 18 months to become more independent. This includes wanting a say in the foods being offered.

    Strategies to try:
    1. ​​​Parents can try giving the child a choice of two items, e.g. rice or noodles rather than asking an open-​ended question like what the child would like to eat or if the child wants to eat rice.
    2. It also goes without saying that the adults have to be consistent in their messages to the child, as it is common for the parents to be firm whilst the grandparents may be more indulgent.
    3. For parents who are trying to regain control over the child’s food choices, a rewards chart may work for young children, i.e. to give the child a small reward (e.g. an extra 10-15 minute bedtime story) for replacing his daily fries with rice/noodles/potatoes 3 days a week, and then slowly decreasing the frequency of providing fries to once in 1-2 weeks.​ ​​

What are the 4 misconceptions parents have about eating healthily? Find out on the previous page.

See next page for ​do's and don'ts of feeding toddlers under the age of 3​​.​​

Ref: O17