Hands up if you think your child is a fussy eater! You too? Find out how to get our picky eaters to have more culinary adventures instead of grazing over the same foods all the time.

How common is picky eating anyway, you ask? Well, a study published in July 2012 studied the perception of picky eating among children in Singapore and its impact on caregivers. Nearly half — 47.4 per cent to be exact — of Singaporean parents or caregivers surveyed perceive their child as a picky eater. These caregivers had concerns about the impact of picky eating on their child’s physical and mental development. They also admitted to having stress over feeding their picky eaters.

The truth is that most picky eaters are normal. They are merely smaller-sized (in age-weight distribution) and hence eat less when compared to bigger kids. In addition, as children grow older, they are more active and hence spend less time and attention on eating. For parents, it is more essential to train their children in these three ways:

• To recognise hunger and be interested in feeding
• Enjoy family times by eating together, and
• Set appropriate limits for behaviour during mealtimes

On the other hand, it is true that picky eating, in certain situations, may also has its own set of complications. These include growth limitation, suboptimal consumption of certain nutrients, impaired parent-child interaction, and behavioural consequences on the child (eg. withdrawal, anxiety and even aggressive behaviour).

It is also important to recognise whether the child is merely a picky eater or whether he has one of the more serious feeding disorders such as oral sensory aversion and phobia of feeding. Hence a detailed history taking and physical examination by a doctor or paediatrician may be required. We do not want to simply label a child as a picky eater and miss an underlying medical problem, particularly if the child has any symptoms of abdominal discomfort, vomiting, diarrhoea, or poor weight gain.

How to Manage a Picky Eater

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The first approach to managing a picky eater is to correct the parenting style. We must recognise that feeding is a two-way communication – it is the ingestion of food in the context of parent/child interaction. Hence how the parent reacts and handles the child’s feeding attitude is of utmost importance, because excessive parental worry and anxiety to feed the child may easily lead to more feeding resistance and food refusal from the child.

The best parenting style is the responsive style – the parent must understand the child’s cues, respond appropriately to the child’s needs (be it hunger or satiety); has clear expectations and set appropriate limits for the mealtime; and lastly project positive modelling eating habit himself/herself so that the child can learn healthy eating habits from the parent. You can’t expect a child to eat vegetables if the parents are fussy with vegetables themselves, obviously.

8 Things to Do if you have a Fussy Eater

There are many but basic feeding guidelines which can help parents better managing their picky eating toddlers. These include the following:

1. Avoid distractions or minimal distraction during mealtimes
2. Have a neutral attitude of the caregiver or feeder
3. Space out an interval of 3-4 hours in between mealtimes so as to encourage appetite
4. Limit feeding duration to 30 minutes to avoid any build-up of frustration of both the child and the caregiver
5. Serve age-appropriate foods
6. Systematically introduce new food (at least 10-15 times before the child finally accepts it)
7. Encourage independent feeding by the child
8. Tolerate age-appropriate mess

If your child has an interest in food, feeding becomes much less challenging. Bring your child along when you go grocery shopping. Involve him/her in simple food preparation (such as plucking the vegetable leaves, pouring in the sauces, etc). You can also make the food more appealing to your child, for instance, by shaping the foods into different animal shapes or giving food funny names (let’s have “monster brain” — baked cauliflower with cheese — for dinner tonight).

In conclusion, there are two main steps to follow:
(i) Know what a normal or sufficient diet for your child should consist of, and
(ii) Give your child certain ‘anchor’ foods to ensure that he or she gets adequate calories and nutrients.

These tips are helpful when planing a meal for a picky eater.

Eating Well Together as a Family

In conclusion, whether the child is a picky eater or not, as long as the parent has concerns over his feeding, it is always good to talk to the child’s regular doctor or paediatrician and find out what else the parent can do to help. Feeding problems are easier to tackle at a younger age and it is good o start from young to cultivate good healthy eating habits. Eventually, we all enjoy having a good meal with our loved ones.

To learn more about Raffles Children Centre or make an appointment with a paediatrician, visit: https://www.rafflesmedicalgroup.com/specialist-centres/services-by-centre/children

Expert Resource

Dr Chu Hui Ping is a paediatrician, and prior to joining Raffles Hospital, she had been practicing as a consultant in paediatric medicine as well as a specialist in paediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition service. Dr Chu manages general ambulatory paediatric conditions, including childhood vaccinations, developmental assessment, and common paediatric illnesses. Her main areas of interest are recurrent abdominal pain, constipation, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease and feeding issues. She is also experienced in performing oesophago-gastro-duodenoscopy, colonoscopy as well as 24 hour pH and impedance studies in children.

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