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.

Your child is growing up and he’s begun to express himself in more ways than one. One of them is the absolute refusal to eat what you’ve painstakingly made for him at meal times. Here are a few tips to help you turn meal times from a battlefield into a fun family affair:

Make Meal Times Relaxed

Here’s how mummy and daddy can ease meal time tension: have patience and don’t lose your cool at the dinner table. Do not give your child stress by forcing him to eat through the use of threats or bribes. Praise him when he finishes his food, and do not scold him when he does not.

Try to be consistent and have your meals at the same place if possible—say, at the dining table. Make sure your child is seated and not running around.

Have a Timeout for Tantrums

If your child will not stop throwing a tantrum or starts behaving badly (e.g. throwing food around or biting people), you could try to discipline him by giving him a timeout. This will demonstrate that you do not accept such behaviour.

Set an area of the house as the timeout spot, for example, a chair in a corner. Use a timer to give your child a timeout of 1-2 minutes, or until after he has calmed down. Calmly explain to him why the behaviour was unacceptable, and give him a hug after to reassure him that mummy and daddy love him.

Related: Coping with Your Two-year-old: When a Firm Hand Is Needed

Get Your Child Involved

Bring your child grocery shopping and let your child have some say in what the family has for dinner. Ask him to pick out a vegetable and fruit, and let him help out when preparing the meal. He could perform simple tasks such as washing the lettuce and apples.

He could also have a say in picking out his own utensils and plates. By giving him a bit of responsibility and autonomy in decision-making, your child may become more agreeable at meal times.

Related: Shopping for Fruit and Veggies

A Family That Eats Together

Your child is old enough to sit with the family at the dining table. He might be more open to eating if he sees everyone else in the family savouring the same food. Be a good role model for junior! You shouldn’t expect your child to eat his fruit and veggies when you don’t; everyone at the dining table should be eating healthy.

Related: Cooking for Health—Keeping It Quick and Easy

Limit Snacks and Meal Durations

Limit meal times to 30 minutes. Remove the food from the table after that and remember not to show any signs of anger or displeasure. Do not offer milk or his favourite snacks immediately if the meal is unfinished.

Have a 2- to 3-hour interval between meals and snacks to help your child better develop and respond to hunger cues (i.e. signs that he is physically hungry, like a feeling of emptiness in his stomach).

Offer food when he asks for it, and make sure they’re healthier options like wholemeal bread, wholemeal plain bun/mantou, wholegrain biscuits, fruits, low fat yoghurt, cheese or a hard-boiled egg. At the same time, do not let your child fill up on fluids or snacks if it’s almost time for his meal.

Remember that you should never lose your temper at the dinner table, because it takes two to start a battle.

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