Are meal times a battle zone in your house? Are you tearing your hair out trying to get your child to eat proper meals?

All parents want their children to be as healthy as they can be. However, many can attest to the fact that getting children to eat healthy foods is not always easy. Despite the challenges, we still persist.


Children’s dietary habits are largely formed before the age of five. Therefore, as challenging as it is to get toddlers to eat well, early childhood is actually an ideal time to start teaching them about healthy eating habits. Also, the patterns they develop now will likely be the ones they will carry into adulthood.

It is important to note that as toddlers struggle to develop a sense of autonomy, they prefer self-feeding and become selective in their choices of foods. And if they feel pressured and forced to eat, their need for autonomy may lead them to resist eating.

Good nutrition is very important for young children to support their health, growth and development.

Dr Han, Head and Senior Principal Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, together with Dr Chua Mei Chien, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, both from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the  SingHealth group, share tips to help you embark on a smoother journey in feeding your children and cultivating good eating habits.

1. Educate yourself on healthy eating

This is the most important step. You can teach your children healthy eating only if you know what eating healthily means – having a balance of food from each food group, including a colour range of vegetables, more fruits and vegetables,  less oily and fried foods, limiting processed foods.

2. 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.

3. Listen to your child

Teaching children healthy eating habits involves helping them to recognise when they feel hungry and when they feel full. Young children are good at listening to their bodies. They eat when they are hungry, and they stop when they are full. When we try to control how much children eat, we interfere with this natural ability. 

Children who are pushed to have “one more bite” often learn to ignore their bodies’ signals, and that can lead to overeating and weight problems later on.

No healthy child has ever starved to death from stubbornly refusing food! As long as your child is growing well and active, rest assured that he or she is getting enough to eat.

Dr Chua: Don’t expect your child to finish every meal. Also, have realistic expectations by offering only child portions.

4. Breakfast is important

Start your child’s day with a healthy breakfast. Eating breakfast regularly helps children develop healthy eating habits, improves concentration and memory, and reduces hyperactivity, among other numerous benefits. It also helps upstart children’s metabolism which aids in the absorption of nutrients.

Furthermore, a nutritious breakfast has been linked to having better eating habits throughout the day.

5. Set up a regular snack and meal schedule, and stock up on healthy snacks

Most children do well with three meals and two or three snacks a day. When your child’s body is used to a schedule, hunger and appetite become more regular. Keep your house stocked with a variety of fruits, vegetables, ready-to-eat snacks such as low fat yoghurt, whole grain crackers, cheese, nuts, etc.

Dr Han: Meals should be served at regular times with each meal lasting not more than 30 minutes.

6. Cook more meals at home

Cooking meals at home allow more control over the amount of oil and salt used. Healthy options can also be added. Cooking meals at home does not have to be elaborate. Even a one-dish meal e.g. rice cooker chicken rice or spaghetti bolognaise, can also be a nutritious meal option.

Dr Han: When dining out as a family, always go for healthier food options, where available. If there are no weight issues, eating fast food not more than twice a week would still be within recommendations. Healthy tips when eating fast food include: avoid upsizing when ordering set meals, ask for little or no mayonnaise in burgers, and remove the skin of fried chicken.

7. 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.

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.


Good nutrition is very important for young children to support their health, growth and development.

Healthy eating can stabilise children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods. It can also help children feel good, stay at a normal weight, and have lots of energy for school and play.

“Establishing good eating habits can help your children maintain a healthy weight and normal growth. They are also likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle when they become adults,” says Dr Han.

“Furthermore, eating unhealthily sets the children up for an increased risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions such as sleep disorders and metabolic problems such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.”

Dr Han adds that eating unhealthily may also limit the variety of nutrient intake, particularly those in vegetables and fruits like vitamins, phytochemicals and fibre, which are important for maintaining good health.

In conclusion

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