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.

The short answer is no, we should not let our children decide what to eat. Your child can certainly make recommendations or suggestions on what goes into his meals, but the final decision should always lie with you, the parent.

You might not be able to control how much the little one chooses to eat or what he decides to pick up from his plate, but you do have and must have the final say on what to put on the dinner table.

Choices, Within Limits

Say you’re dealing with a fussy eater; it’s fine to let him choose what to eat within limits. Give him healthy options to choose from, not have him dictate what mum and dad cooks.

For example, during snack time, ask him if he wants yogurt or cheese. At mealtimes, if your family routinely has two to three dishes (e.g. two vegetable dishes and one meat dish), you can let him choose to have a bit of both type of veggies or just one type, with the meat dish.

When eating out, the same guidelines apply: offer some healthy options for your little one to choose from, say sliced fish bee hoon, porridge, or yong tau foo. When shopping at the supermarket, why not let your child pick out a new vegetable or fruit he’d like to try for the week?

If you let your child freely decide what to eat, he might stick to his favourite foods and never venture out to try anything else. That would be a great disservice to your child. As mummies and daddies, we want the best nutrition for our growing kids, and for them to learn to enjoy variety!

Related: Nutrition Counts for Your Growing Child

Tips to Get the Little One Eating

Let him help out in the kitchen

If you have difficulty encouraging your child to eat what you make, you can help him be more familiar with the food in a "non-meal" setting. This could include helping you keep the food that you have just brought back from the market/supermarket, or during meal preparation. When children are involved in meal preparation, they might be more willing to attempt a bite. Children are naturally hesitant to try new foods they’ve never seen before, and having him help out in the kitchen is a good way to get him more familiar with the food before he actually eats it. 

Related: Healthy Home Meals on a Budget

Have fun with food

Try to switch it up during meal preparation and make the food more appealing and attractive by adding a dash of colour and arranging the food into interesting shapes and sizes. A sprinkle of the right herbs and spices will also add flavour to a dish, if your child finds that the meal is too bland for his palate.

Something old, something new

Serve up a dish your child is familiar with, alongside the new food item. Encourage him to try a little of the new dish, but reassure him that he can always enjoy the dish that he’s familiar with.

Be a good role model

Encourage your child to try the new food by eating them too! You are the best role model for your child, and seeing you eat the new food will make it more likely for him to accept it.

The bottom line is, let’s make sure that we give our children the nutrition he needs to grow healthy and strong!

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