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As a kid, I hated vegetables with a vengeance. It didn’t help that I was the youngest and could convince my parents to give in to my whims with just the right amount of lambing. Fast forward many years later and I realized how frustrating it is to have a child who’s a picky eater after seeing my niece whine and throw a tantrum whenever my sister mixed in small amounts of vegetables in her food — and she wasn’t even my child!
There are ways to train your baby to develop healthy eating habits. At the 56th Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) Annual Convention held last April 7 to 10, 2019, Dr. Edilberto Garcia Jr., M.D., a pediatrician and fellow of PPS who holds clinic at Manila Doctors Hospital led a lecture titled “Addressing Picky Eaters: Strategies for the Pediatrician.” In his lecture, he outlined some important reminders when it comes to feeding babies and toddlers, which is especially helpful to parents of picky eaters.
Thankfully, another pediatrician who attended his talk was kind enough to share what she learned with us. Dr. Cristal Laquindanum, M.D., who goes by the Twitter handle @millennialpedia, gave SmartParenting.com.phpermission to share her notes about the lecture.
Toddlers can be especially fussy during meal times that it’s tempting to give them a gadget just to get them to settle down and eat. But “don’t give in to the usual ‘they won’t eat without it,’ [spiel]” according to Dr. Garcia. TVs, cellphones, or tablets are distractions not just for your kids, but for you, too.
2. Maintain a pleasant, neutral attitude throughout the meal
The modeling technique yields the highest food acceptance. Show your kids that you also eat vegetables and that you enjoy it so she will be reassured and copy you. Don’t force them to eat and avoid saying things like, “Kainin mo ‘to, kung hindi, ‘di ka makakalaro” or “Di ka tatayo kung di ka kakain.” It’s counterproductive and will leave them with a bad impression of meal times.
Limit meal duration to twenty minutes. Dragging mealtimes is not fun for the child and can be frustrating. If they don’t finish eating by then, take the food out of the table and refrain from giving your child food until the next meal or snack time.
According to Dr. Laquindanum’s Twitter thread, Dr. Garcia suggests giving four to six meals and snacks a day with only water in between. If possible, avoid giving milk in between meals as it might be the only thing your child wants to consume during the day.
4. Serve age-appropriate food
According to the Twitter thread, babies six months old can be given pureed food and finger food at eight months old. Lumpy or chopped food may be given to babies 10 months old, and table food may be given to kids aged 12 months.
When your child turns one, it is acceptable for them to eat healthy food which adults can also eat. Find a feeding guide for your babies and toddlers here and here.
According to Dr. Laquindanum, Dr. Garcia suggests to try the following: If you’re starting at six months old, give one kind of food for three days then switch to another one on the fourth day. Exposing infants early to the taste of commonly rejected food, such as vegetables, is a powerful strategy to increase food preference beyond the pickiness phase. It takes about 15 times of trying the same food before you can actually say that the kid doesn’t like it — don’t give up on the first few tries!
6. Encourage self-feeding
Yes, it’s messy, but it will benefit your kids. Let your toddler eat using his hands or let them try to use the spoon even if the food spills. This will enable him to feel the food’s texture and encourage food acceptance. It will also leave your hands free to do other things!
Always remember to make meal times enjoyable for your little ones. Your child’s willingness to try food will depend on the eating environment, too!