​It can be frustrating when a child starts picking at his food or fussing when food is offered to him.

“However, it is just as important to note that how parents respond to and their approach towards healthy eating have a huge impact on their children’s eating habits,” says Ms Ong Jia Xin, Dietitian, Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

If your child is a fussy eater or refuses to eat a balanced diet, try these simple tips that will help put a positive spin on your child’s eating experience:

1. Try and try again

Children may have different food preferences, which can change day to day. The most important thing is to be patient and continue to offer your child a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, not just the type he likes. Do not worry if your child eats just a small amount or none – just keep serving that fruit or vegetable as often as possible and be positive about it as you serve it to him.

If you do not succeed at first, try again. Some children may need to be presented with a new food several times, up to 10 times or more, before they will try it. The goal is to make mealtime a positive experience and any amount consumed is a step forward.

2. Just like dad

Parents have an important role to play in establishing a positive mealtime experience for the child. You are, after all, your child’s role model. Having family meals together means that your child is provided the opportunity to learn and watch his parents enjoy a variety of nutritious foods, and he will be more likely to join in.

However, if your child refuses to eat the fruit and vegetables you have offered, avoid forcing or nagging as these are counter-productive in getting him to change his behaviour. It will make mealtimes unpleasant for the family and furthermore, your child will learn to associate food with bad feelings.

3. Well done!

Try to encourage fruit and vegetables consumption by providing non-food or social rewards, such as stickers or one of your child’s favourite activities. Do take note that a child’s portion size may be small and varies with age, appetite and activity levels. So start by serving him food in more manageable portions and gradually build from there.

4. Get your child involved

You could also increase your child’s exposure to and interest in fruits and vegetables during grocery shopping by getting them involved in choosing which fruits and vegetables they would like to have. It is also a good teaching opportunity – you could tell him more about the different fruits and vegetables. And when you get home, he can also help to wash and prepare fruit and vegetables in the kitchen.

5. Make it fun and tasty

Children may also have particular preferences for the taste, texture and presentation of their meals. Those who prefer crunchier textures may do better with raw rather than cooked vegetables.

It may also be more appealing if different coloured fruits and vegetables are served together. If your child is also picky with vegetables, try starting with sweeter and more colourful vegetables like pumpkin, corn, cauliflower or carrots. Incorporate other types of vegetables when your child gets used to eating them.

New types of fruits and vegetables can also be served along with a food that you know he enjoys. You might want to try flavouring them with seasoning, sauces and dips (e.g mayonnaise, hummus, melted cheese) to make them more palatable.

“Above all, be patient and never give up trying,” says Ms Ong.

Ref: Q15