Food nourishes at every age and stage in a child’s life. Careful food choices not only help to ensure the physical nourishment of a child’s growing body and brain, but also to nourish his social, mental, and psychological development.
Whatever the age, kids need the same nutrients as adults. Only the amounts differ. Like you, they need energy from food. In fact, they need more than you do relative to their body weight. They enjoy many of the same foods you like, but the form and combinations may differ.
Bouts of independence are part of being a young child or preschooler (age 3 and above). “Choosy” eating may be your child’s early attempts to make decisions and be assertive – a natural part of growing up. It may reflect a smaller appetite as his growth rate slows a bit. Or his “no” may really mean, “I want your attention.”
Early on, children start avoiding bitter-tasting vegetables. This may be nature’s way of protecting them from poisonous plants which are typically bitter, too. Young children also have more taste buds, and may be more sensitive to flavors than older children and adults.
Here are some tips to help deal with fussy or picky eaters:
- Relax and be patient. Arm yourself with practical solutions to handle the “downs and ups” of child-feeding. Your child won’t starve if you consistently offer healthy choices with reasonable alternatives. Remember that there is a fine line between encouraging your child to eat well and pressuring him to eat.
- Offer choices. Rather than asking open-ended questions such as “What do you want to eat?”, offer two or three food choices. Deciding between or among them gives your child a feeling of control. It is also good practice for learning to make food decisions.
- Make food simple and recognizable. “Unmix” the food if that is an issue. Put aside some ingredients for mixed dishes before assembling the recipe, even for a salad or a sandwich. Then let your child put food together as he likes.
- Involve your child in the process. Even young choosy eaters eat food they help plan, buy, or make. Together, plan a meal around food your child likes. When you shop, ask your child to pick new food for the family to try. Ask him to be your little kitchen helper; even small children can wash fresh fruits or place meat between bread slices for a sandwich.
- Encourage your child to practice serving himself. For example, pouring milk from a small pitcher, spreading peanut butter on bread, or spooning food from a serving bowl to their plate. Don’t worry if they spill food or are messy as that is part of becoming independent.
- Stock your kitchen with child-size dishes and utensils that your child can use with ease, such as: cups easy to get with his small hands, broad, straight, or short-handled utensils, spoons with a wide mouth, forks with blunt tines, and plates with curved lips.
- Prepare alternatives from the same food group. If your child won’t eat certain foods, such as spinach, don’t worry. Just offer food with similar nutrients, such as broccoli. If sweet potatoes are rejected, offer carrots and cantaloupe which are good sources of Vitamin A. If plain milk is rejected, try low-fat fruit yoghurt or low-fat cheese. Foods from the same food group supply similar nutrients.
- Make mealtime fun with a variety of colors and textures. Cut food into interesting shapes and arrange them attractively on the plate.
- Moisten dry foods such as meat if they are hard to chew. A little cheese sauce, vegetable or fruit juice might help. Serve drier foods alongside naturally moist foods such as mashed potatoes or cottage cheese. Or offer “dipping” sauces such as yoghurt dips, hummus, or salsa with finger foods – kids love to dip!
Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Complete Food and Nutrition Guide by Roberta L. Duyff, 5th edition, 2017, USA.
- Include some viands in which vegetables maybe mixed in so your child will be more enticed to eat them. Some examples:
- Lumpia Shanghai
- Meat loaf
- Burgers with grated carrots
- Shredded cabbage
- Sliced potatoes or sweet potatoes
- Sliced squash
- Spaghetti sauce or pasta sauces with carrots, broccoli, spinach
- Macaroni soup
- Misua soup with carrots, cabbage, broccoli, and mushrooms
- Slice your vegetables and fruits. Vegetables like sliced carrots, cucumber, turnips, with dips may be placed in the refrigerator. Also leave sliced fruits like melons, cantaloupes, avocados, watermelon, apples, oranges, grapefruit, pomelo, mangoes, and pineapples covered yet easily accessible inside the refrigerator so that a child can easily reach for these when hungry. Also try shaping the vegetables and fruit slices like animals as decors of viands.
Parents and caregivers of fussy children must be patient when feeding this group. If the children refuse to eat the food served, try serving the food again after several days until they become accustomed to eating various food items. Caregivers must also not show grimaces when feeding them. Preferences of parents are acquired by their children, so parents must always be a role model to their children.
About The Writer
NIEVES C. SERRA, Nutritionist-Dietitian
Ms. Nieves Serra, a registered Dietitian, took up AB major in Nutrition and minor in Home Culture in St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) Manila in 1960. After her graduation in 1964, she took up the ten months Dietetic Internship program at FEU Hospital. She was the only one in her batch at SSC who took the Board Exam, passed it and practiced in the country. She took up M.S. Foods and Nutrition and MBA without thesis from Philippine Women’s University, Manila.
Her career has been devoted to hospital work in the Dietary department of private and government hospitals for a span of 46 years, and 41 years teaching nursing, HRM and nutrition students. She was also a cafeteria concessionaire for 6 years in various industrial companies, a lecturer/speaker in seminars and conventions and a member of various associations such as PASOO, and PHILSPEN.
In 1992, she was awarded the Outstanding Nutritionist-Dietitian of the year by Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC), and was a past president of Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines or NDAP (1988), NDAP Life member (2007 to 2011), and held various positions from 1966 to the present. She is married to her profession, a devout Catholic, and follows the Benedictine motto of her school, St. Scholastica’s College, “Ora et Labora, which means work and pray being a loyal Scholastican and a loyal NDAP member.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.