By Health Promotion Board in collaboration with A/Prof Marion Aw, Senior Consultant, Division of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Nutrition, Hepatology and Liver Transplantation, National University Hospital.

A picky eater can frustrate even the most patient parent—don’t worry though, fussiness is a phase some toddlers go through. Don’t turn meal and snack times into a power struggle and throw in the towel just yet! Here are some simple tips to get fussy eaters to be more adventurous with food so that they can have more healthy food options to choose from as they grow up.

Keep Mealtimes Relaxed for Your Fussy Eater

Don’t stress your kid out about food! A stressed child is likely to refuse new food and stick to familiar favourites such as chicken nuggets. Keep the meal environment calm, and keep distractions like the TV, toys, and tablets away—this helps your child concentrate on eating. Smile at and chat with your toddler to keep him engaged so that your child doesn’t cause a fuss and is more receptive and open to try new foods.

Related: Health Hazards of Electronic Devices for Kids

Make Food Fun with Colourful Toddler Meals

Kids are attracted to colour and interesting shapes, so why not make their meals as colourful and interesting as possible? Moulds and cutters in various shapes can bring an otherwise boring dish to life! Good-looking food will help whet your child’s appetite and make it more fun and enticing for kids to eat.

Related: Look What I Brought for Recess!

Eat as a Family and Build Good Eating Behaviours

Telling your kids to eat something isn’t as effective as showing them. Your child will eat what you eat. Whatever you put on your kid’s plate should also be on everyone’s plate at the dining table, minus the salt and sugar. Do make sure your child eats food from the major food groups—wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, and meat/others. This is a great opportunity for everyone to get together and make healthy food choices as a family.

Eating together as a family at the dinner table is also an excellent way to demonstrate good eating habits and behaviours from parent to child. Use this time to foster strong family bonds by communicating and interacting with each other.

Related: Nutrition for Your Toddler

Try (and Try) Again for Your Picky Eater

It won’t be easy to wear down your child’s resolute refusal to eat new foods overnight. Patience and positivity are key when it comes to fussy eating. If your toddler refuses to eat something and causes a huge fuss when introduced to new foods, you can offer it up to him during the next meal. Keep trying and continuously encourage them to try to eat it, even if it’s just one bite.

Particularly when it comes to new foods: you may need to offer that new food as many as 10 times before your toddler expresses a willingness to try the food. If you give up and let them have their way now, it’ll be much harder to break the habit in future. That said, do not force him to eat if he stubbornly refuses to eat.

What to Avoid When Your Kid Simply Refuses to Eat

We want kids to build a healthy relationship with food, so here are a few things parents should avoid doing.

Do not:

  • Shame your kid and blame or scold him for being a fussy eater.
  • Bribe them in order to get them to eat.
  • Offer his favourite food as a reward for eating.
  • Let them snack too much, especially before meals. If you must, make sure they’re light, healthy snacks. When kids are hungry, they’ll be less picky at meal times and be more open to eating new things.
  • Force them to finish the entire meal. The portions of a toddler meal may not seem a lot to an adult but kids should never be forced to chomp down and finish everything on their kids' plate. Encourage them to take at least one bite, and if they really can’t finish the meal, don’t push it.

What If My Fussy Eater Loves to Eat Greens?

Even if your picky eater’s favourite food is a healthy item such as broccoli or green peas, it doesn’t mean that you should stop encouraging your child to try new things and eat a variety of healthy foods.

Remember that there should be different types of healthy food choices from all the major food groups in your toddler’s meals. This includes healthy fats which can be obtained from fish, avocados, most nuts, and some plant-based oils such as olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.

So I Don’t Have to Worry about My Child’s Fussy Eating?

It is not uncommon for young children to express some fussiness around eating, especially when it comes to new foods.

Even as adults, not all of us are adventurous in trying new exotic cuisines from around the world. The important thing is to ensure that your toddler is getting enough nutrition from a variety of healthy foods. As long as he is growing up healthy and happy, you’re doing an incredible job!

However, if you suspect that your child isn’t growing well because he keeps refusing food, or that your toddler’s eating behaviour is causing you a fair amount of anxiety, it is best to discuss this with your doctor.

Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.

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