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Make Mealtime Magical: Feeding Picky Kids Through the Holidays

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Picky eaters DCG

Please welcome nutritionist Anna Jacob with some great tips for keeping your kiddos healthy and well-fed this holiday season, mamas!

Kids grow rapidly, and that’s a well-known fact. Apart from the very obvious increases in weight and height, it’s important to know that there’s a lot going on inside a child’s body as well. It’s crucial that parents be smart about meeting their children’s food and nutrition goals each day.

Mealtime Troubles Do Occur
With advances in nutrition knowledge, Singapore’s public health agencies provide detailed advice on the quality of children’s diets – from specifying the food groups to include to prescribing how much to eat each day. Savvy parents use this information to both plan menus and portion out meals. But despite their best efforts, one out of every two parents in Singapore reports that their child is a picky eater. This causes a lot of stress to parents and caregivers![i]

In the past, many parents and physicians felt that picky eating was just a phase, and that most children would get over it soon. However, today we know that persistent picky eating is associated with less nutrient-dense diets, impaired growth and lower cognitive development.[ii]

Here are some quick and easy tips for parents on how to manage picky eating at the family table:

SMSG_Xmas picky eaters

Mealtime Rules

  • Stay in control. Parents should decide on what and when a child eats. Plan menus ahead, shop for healthy meals, and work with caregivers to ensure that your child is offered nutrient dense food and beverage choices throughout the day. Keep a simple record, tally against guidelines and, work towards plugging the nutritional gaps with food first. If that is not an easy and quick fix, use complete and balanced kid-friendly supplements.
  • Create a routine. Kids do best with some routine. Set aside time for regular meals and snacks. Space them out to allow your child to work up an appetite, but make sure that he is not ravenously hungry in between. Help your child to focus on the task at hand –eating. Toys, television and other distractions are best set aside.
  • Model healthy eating. Eat with your child as often as you can at the family table. Make mealtimes enjoyable by keeping the conversation light and engaging. Eat healthy foods and show how to serve up the right portions. Demonstrate table manners. Some kids also respond well to eating in peer groups, so create opportunities for your child to eat with children of the same age.

Feeding Kids Well Through the Holidays

  • Control only what you can. Festivities and breaks do not mean that all your meal-rules need to be broken. Try to keep some semblance of order with meals you can control. 
  • Let your child explore. Some children are likely to try new foods in new places or settings. Others may completely be distracted by all the excitement around them. If it is just for a day, let it be. Get back to routine the next day.
  • Prepare back-up. If your child gets cranky after missing a meal or a regular snack, whip up some familiar food or formula to allow your child to fuel up again. If you are traveling, pack your child’s regular formula and a complete and balanced supplement. This way, even if your child misses a meal or snack, you can be rest assured that he is getting adequate nutrition.

SMSG_Xmas picky eaters 2

Christmas and The Picky Eater
While everyone revels in traditional holiday foods, festive goodies may be new or unfamiliar to your little one. While everyone is tucking in, your child may not want to take a bite. Try these tips to prepare your child for the festive treats:

  • Practice ahead. Prepare roast chicken with stuffing for a dinner meal a week or two before the Christmas festivity. You could also buy slices of turkey to create the semblance of a festive plate. Familiarity with the festive menu may help some children adapt with ease.
  • Carry some comfort food. If your child is not likely to eat unfamiliar food in an unfamiliar location, carry his meals, snacks and formula with you. This way your little one will have his tummy full and be able to cope with the socialisation.
  • Eat before the party. If the festivities are going to be late, make sure your child has taken a nap. You may even want to feed your child a regular meal before you go to the party. Then, your child can pick a few foods he/she wants to try, you will feel relaxed throughout the party.

[i] Goh and Jacob Asia Pacific Family Medicine 2012, 11:5.
[ii] Dubois L, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007;61:846–855. Lindberg L, et al. Acta Paediatrica. 2006;95:425-429. Galloway AT, et al. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105:541-548. Jacobi C, et al. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2003;42:76-84. Dubois L, et al. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2007;4:9.   Chatoor I, et al. Pediatrics. 2004;113:e440-e447.

Lead image sourced via Shutterstock, Image #1 sourced via Shutterstock, Image #2 sourced via Shutterstock

Anna sig


Anna JacobAnna Jacob is the Director of Nutrition from Abbott Nutrition. She was a founding partner and Director of Food and Nutrition Specialists P L, a nutrition consultancy firm set up in Singapore since 1989. She also served as the Associate Director, Scientific Programs for the International Life Sciences Institute Southeast Asia Region (ILSI SEAR).

Anna is a co-author of FirstFoods, SmartFoods for Tweens, Fit Not Fat and The Essential Guide for First-time Asian Mums and Dads. Anna graduated from Women’s Christian College, Madras University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and a Master of Science Degree in Food Service Management and Dietetics. She is a member of the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association (SNDA) since 1985 and served as President (2 terms) as well as Editor of the Journal of the SNDA.

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