Written by Dr. Liaw Yun Haw
Paediatrics Medicine, KPJ Sabah Specialist Hospital
Many young children are thought by their parents to eat poorly. Although a majority of the children are mildly affected, a small percentage has a feeding disorder. Picky eaters are children who consume an inadequate variety of foods through rejection of both familiar and unfamiliar foods. Picky eating is common and is found in 20-50% of children; it is a temporary phase that many children pass through.
Picky eating peaks at ages 2-3, although it may also be seen in toddlers as young as 1 year old. They have strong food preferences, consume an inadequate variety of foods, restrict the intake of some food groups, unwilling to try new food and eat a limited amount of food. Picky eating increases stress and anxiety levels that can surround difficult mealtimes and can have a detrimental impact on both the child and parent’s psychological wellbeing.
To address this common childhood condition, Nutrition-Behaviour Modification Programme for mild picky eater has been developed with the collaboration of the Malaysian Paediatric Association and Nutrition Society of Malaysia. The main objective is to aid behavioural change in children with picky eating habits.
It empowers parents with invaluable information on nutrition and growth, and supports them with practical suggestions on helping their child outgrow this developmental phase. Successful implementation results in adequate nutrition and pleasant parent-child mealtime experience.
I will discuss one of the topics here.
Healthy mealtime behaviour- suggestion for mealtime practices:
a) Make mealtimes an enjoyable experience for all. Talk about happy and fun things at the dining table.
b) Be a role model to your child by consuming and showing the enjoyment towards a variety of foods.
c) Encourage your child to try new food before giving them their favourite food in the same setting. It may take several times before your child accepts the food.
d) Offer your child small portions and add on as indicated by their appetite. Spend time in preparing a visually appealing plate.
e) Have at least one family meal together every day. Your child would eat better when you are close by, and share their food with them.
f) Allow your child to self-feed. Be patient and understanding even if your child makes a mess.
g) Encourage your child to sit at the table for up to 30 mins during mealtimes, after which their meal should be cleared. There should be 2-3 hour intervals between meals and snacks.
h) Avoid overpraising and/ or punishing your child for mealtime behaviour. Food should not be used as positive or negative re-enforcers.
i) Understand your child’s cues and respond, your child may have had enough food or need a short pause, not familiar with the taste or food may be too hot, lumpy etc.
Make an appointment and talk to your doctor today. Managing picky eating behaviour often requires partnerships among healthcare professionals and families. The interactions and communication between a caregiver and infant influences the infant’s ability to progress in feeding skills and consume a nutritionally adequate diet.