“When your kid won't eat, you just go crazy. Because you have a physical need to feed them! It's an instinct,” said Louis C. K., an American stand-up comedian, during a comedy bit about his toddler's picky eating. It was getting out of hand that he had the urge to yell at his child, “You’ll die if you don’t eat the food!”
We’ve all been there. Pinoy parents call it "maselan sa pagkain" and most kids go through this stage. Thankfully, “Rejecting new food is normal,” says Dr. Ruby Frane, RND, a clinical nutritionist at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City.
Here are a few expert tips to get your picky eater to be more adventurous.
1. Serve the food again and again. If your child doesn’t like broccoli, don’t give up. You may have to serve it more than 10 times before your child would actually even eat it, said Dr. Frane. Serve the food your child doesn’t like in different recipes -- she’ll soon realize that it’s not going away! “The goal is not to get them to eat the broccoli today, but to help them actually like the broccoli long-term,” Jill Castle, RD, a pediatric nutrition expert, told Parenting.
2. Make the dish visually appetizing. “Research shows that kids will eat more fruits and vegetables when they're presented in visually interesting ways,” said Melissa Halas-Liang, a registered dietician. First, make the food presentation fun. Chop up carrots into flowers, for example, or try those cute bento boxes.
Laleh Mohmedi started with pancakes to get her 3-year-old son to eat new and healthy food. She turned the pancakes into a lion, and her son enjoyed it so much they started making food art for all his meals (it even its own Instagram account!). Read her story here.
If that's too much of a major production, there are tricks that require less effort, and anyone who has worked in corporate will know it. Try “rebranding” ulam and giving them interesting names. Call broccoli “tiny trees” or cauliflower as “snowpuffs.” You can also name dishes after your kids, like “Olivia’s lasagna.” 3. Don’t force it. Be sensitive and responsive to your child's hunger. If he isn’t hungry, you’ll have an even harder time trying to get her to try food she doesn’t like. Remember, your child’s food portions are smaller compared to yours (this guide can help).
And, try not to overfeed your child by forcing her to finish everything on her plate. “Kids know when they’re full, so let them stop. Overeating is one of the major reasons we get too many calories,” said the American Heart Association (AHA). Don’t make meals into a power struggle. Otherwise, your child might associate meals with anxiety or frustration in the future, said Dr. Frane.
4. Reward with praise…not dessert! Research conducted by Aston University found that children who are repeatedly exposed to vegetables and praised for eating them are much likelier to eat their greens. They also found that the “repeat and praise” approach gets kids who previously disliked a type of veggie to like it in the future. Along with that, you have to be eating and enjoying the vegetable yourself too.
“Eating behaviors have been shown to track throughout childhood and into adulthood -- so it is vitally important that children are exposed to fruits and vegetables early in life to inform healthy eating as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” said lead researcher Dr. Claire Farrow.
5. Don’t buy unhealthy food. When your child’s hungry for a snack, what options does she have at home? If you want her to broaden her merienda picks, have pre-sliced fruits and veggies ready for her to munch on in the fridge. Try and avoid buying a lot of packaged snacks too. “If the chips and cookies aren’t around, your kids can’t eat them,” said the AHA.