Early childhood is an important time for a child as he or she picks up important life skills and habits that will be carried into adulthood, including eating habits.

Dr Han Wee Meng, Head and Senior Principal Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department,, together with Dr Chua Mei Chien, Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology and Ms Christine Ong, Senior Principal Dietitian – all from the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, share simple tips on how you can get your child to enjoy eating healthily.

Make healthy eating a way of life for your kids

Have family meals together

Eating together as a family not only provides some bonding time, it is also the perfect opportunity to introduce new types of food to younger children.

Dr Chua: Enjoy meal times together so that your child can observe your skills for eating.

Be a good role model to your child

The childhood impulse to imitate is strong, so it is important you act as a role model for your children.

Dr Han: Children are great imitators, so they pick up the eating habits from their family members. To cultivate good eating habits in children, parents should set the example by including plenty of vegetables and a selection of non-fried items at each meal.

Stock your house with healthy snacks

Keep a variety of fruits, vegetables, ready-to-eat snacks such as low fat yoghurt, whole grain crackers, cheese, nuts, etc.

Offer choices

Toddlers are all about independence, so offer them healthy options to choose from. This satisfies their desire for control while still making sure they are eating healthy food.

Do not negotiate with your kids

Do not use food as a reward or bribe. Bribing will only encourage your child to reject food. When you say “If you eat X, then you can have Y”, the message you’re implicitly sending is “X is not going to be good.”

Children also learn quickly that they can manipulate their parents by refusing food. Some children refuse food to gain attention.

Introduce new foods without pressure

It takes about 10 to 15 exposures for kids to like a new food. So if your child makes a face and spits the food out, it is okay. Try it again another time.

Dr Chua: Continue to offer new foods, together with the child’s usual food. With repeated exposure with two to three 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.

Limit sweet drinks

Avoid filling up on juices and milk close to meal times, as this will fill up the toddler’s small capacity leaving them with no appetite for a proper meal.

Ms Ong: Cut down intake of sweet drinks such as fruit juices and ensure that milk intake is not excessive. Toddlers only need about 500ml of milk per day.

Educate your child on nutrition

Books are a good way to introduce good eating habits. Books can help plant the seed of healthy habits. Children often model characters and behaviours they read about in their favourite stories.

Keeping your children’s hearts is the single most important thing to do as your child grows up. If they are willing to hear you and trust in your leadership, it will make cultivating good eating habits in your children easier.

Feeding one’s children is an ongoing responsibility of parenthood that often becomes complicated by stage-specific needs. But with love and a lot of patience, we can all hope to raise happy and healthy children by encouraging proper eating and exercise habits, and supplying structure and consistency.

Ref: S13