This article first appeared in the December 2004 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
1. Set a good example. A child’s eating habits are usually a reflection of the parents’. What your child sees you eat is what he would like to try, too. “Be a good role model for your child -- eat a variety of healthy meals,” says pediatrician Geraldine Batino-Baquiran of the San Juan De Dios Hospital in Manila. “Also, refrain from purchasing junk or non-nutritious food. The mere sight of these encourages their intake.”
2. Schedule meals and snacks. A toddler who is given a snack or a bottle of milk a few minutes before mealtime will feel full. Ellen Satter, author of Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense, suggests, “Snacks should fall at midpoints between meals. Depending on your family’s schedule, you might give your child two to three snacks a day.”
3. Get a head start. Early development of good eating habits and food attitudes leads to a lifetime of healthy eating. Baquiran says that a growing child’s diet should include dairy products, fruits and vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, and fish.
4. Let them cook. Invite your children to help out in the kitchen. For instance, let them wash tomatoes, scrub potatoes, and tear lettuce. Amelia Ann Alba, mom of Miguel, 4, Isabelle, 2, and Franco, 4 months, says she invites her older kids into the kitchen to help prepare the food. “That way, they’re excited to eat their own creations.”
5. Make good food accessible. Clear space in the refrigerator or kitchen shelf for your child. My daughter, Nadine, has a shelf in our refrigerator designated for her snacks. We put it in the lower section so she can reach it without help. She loves the thought that this is her space and her food. Likewise, I am able to monitor her intake by making sure that her food choices in the space are healthy and nutritious.
6. Serve it differently. When a child refuses a food item, this does not mean you can no longer offer or serve it again, Baquiran says. “Preparing the food in a different manner can encourage a reluctant eater. For instance, instead of frying chicken, one may opt to grill it for a different taste.”
7. Disguise the veggies. To encourage picky eaters to try vegetables, slip in diced or grated veggie into a child’s favorite dish. “I grind carrots and mix them into hamburger patties or spaghetti sauce,” says Yvette Denoga, mom of Iñigo, five, and Ines, three.
8. Stash it in sauce. Camouflage new food with the child’s favorite sauce or dip. Kym Bonzon, mom of Prairie, 5, shares, “For example, ox tongue looks like beef when cut into small cubes and disguised with white sauce or tomato sauce.”
9. Keep track. So you don’t have to worry about what your child eats, Satter suggests to make sure that the snacks and meals are nutritious. “Proteins, carbohydrates, or fats will do the best job of keeping hunger at bay for a few hours.”
10. Avoid personal biases. When introducing new food, avoid announcing your own prejudices. “Sometimes a parent would say, ‘Try this vegetable although it is bitter.’ Let a child discover and explore the various tastes of food and decide for himself his preferences,” reveals Baquiran.
11. Be creative. Pancakes, waffles, or sandwiches, which are common favorites of children, may be cut or sliced into very interesting shapes. Amelia says that she lets her children make faces with the eggs and bread using ketchup or mayonnaise so that they get excited with the food that they eat.
12. Expect food fixations. Baquiran says that this is a passing phase. “There is really a time when your toddler will eat only macaroni and cheese or only French fries. This is a phase. However, a parent should continuously prepare a variety of nutritious meals to help her child develop a wide food preference at the earliest time possible.”
13. Dip and dunk. “Babies and toddlers are so intent on mastering eating skills that they’re more likely to try foods that they can practice with easily,” says Dr. William Sears, M.D., co-author of The Family Nutrition Book. “Kids also like to dip and dunk. Providing them with some healthy salad dressing or yogurt is a good way to get them to try new foods and to boost the meal’s nutrition.”
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14. Smother it in cream. Josie de los Reyes gets her six-year-old Christian to eat fruits by topping them with all-purpose cream and a sprinkling of sugar. “I do this when he’s tired of eating plain banana or ripe mango,” she says.
15. Invite a pal. “Having a friend or a relative of the same age over can entice your child to eat,” says Baquiran. Group feeding lets the other kids set the example.
16. Leave ’em alone. Steph Tuazon shares, “Sometimes (14-month-old) Bianca doesn’t want to eat with a spoon so I let her eat with her hands. She seems to enjoy picking up the food from the bowl and putting it directly in her mouth. It’s messy but it works. At least she’s eating -- and independently at that.”
17. Match old with new. Satter advises to “offer new food but pair it with something familiar.” This way your child can try out new foods but still be comfortable with something she’s used to. Says Steph, “When my other daughter, CK, turned one year old, she started to become picky. Sometimes she just wants to eat fruits or jelly. What I do, I add a slice of the fruit on the spoon with the rice and viand.”
18. Play the name game. Baquiran advises parents to invent playful names for food items. “Names such as banana boats, cheese blocks (cut in cubes), carrot swords (served as thin strips), broccoli trees (steamed broccoli florets), egg canoes (hard-boiled egg wedges), apple moons (thinly sliced), or even Popeye’s spinach will put fun in eating it.”
19. Loosen up. Baquiran also adds that as long as your child’s weight falls within the normal growth curve, you can relax. “I used to worry that (two-and-a-half-year-old) Ines would get skinny,” says Asun Soler. “But forcing the child to eat might yield wrong eating habits as well. I just make sure that she doesn’t skip milk. As long as she is healthy and active, I don’t sweat the small stuff!”