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Food & Nutrition

Cultivate Good Eating Habits in Your Child

May 21, 2018

Good nutrition plays an important role in a child’s growth and development.   Discover ways to get your kids to eat healthily from nutrition experts at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Are meal times a battle zone in your house? Are you tearing your hair out trying to get your child to eat proper meals?

All parents want their children to be as healthy as they can be. However, many can attest to the fact that getting children to eat healthy foods is not always easy. Despite the challenges, we still persist.

The importance of cultivating good eating habits in children

Good nutrition is very important for young children to support their health, growth and development.

Healthy eating can stabilise children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods. It can also help children feel good, stay at a normal weight, and have lots of energy for school and play.

“Establishing good eating habits can help your children maintain a healthy weight and normal growth. They are also likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle when they become adults,” says Dr Han Wee Meng, Head and Senior Principal Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

“Furthermore, eating unhealthily sets the children up for an increased risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions such as sleep disorders and metabolic problems such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.”

Dr Han adds that eating unhealthily may also limit the variety of nutrient intake, particularly those in vegetables and fruits like vitamins, phytochemicals and fibre, which are important for maintaining good health.

Tips to get your children​ to eat healthily

Children’s dietary habits are largely formed before the age of five. Therefore, as challenging as it is to get toddlers to eat well, early childhood is actually an ideal time to start teaching them about healthy eating habits. Also, the patterns they develop now will likely be the ones they will carry into adulthood.

It is important to note that as toddlers struggle to develop a sense of autonomy, they prefer self-feeding and become selective in their choices of foods. And if they feel pressured and forced to eat, their need for autonomy may lead them to resist eating.

More ways to cultivate good eating habits

Good nutrition is very important for young children to support their health, growth and development.

Dr Han Wee Meng, Head and Senior Principal Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, together with Dr Chua Mei Chien, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, and Ms Christine Ong, Senior Principal Dietitian at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the  SingHealth group, share tips to help you embark on a smoother journey in feeding your children and cultivating good eating habits.

Educate yourself on healthy eating

This is the most important step. You can teach your children healthy eating only if you know what eating healthily means – more fruits and vegetables, less oily and fried foods.

Share the responsibility

You decide when, where, and what the family eats; the child chooses whether and how much to eat from the options you provide.

Teaching children healthy eating habits involves helping them to recognise when they feel hungry and when they feel full. Young children are good at listening to their bodies. They eat when they are hungry, and they stop when they are full. When we try to control how much children eat, we interfere with this natural ability. Keeping this division of responsibility helps your child stay in touch with those internal cues.

Listen to your child

Children who are pushed to have “one more bite” often learn to ignore their bodies’ signals, and that can lead to overeating and weight problems later on.

No healthy child has ever starved to death from stubbornly refusing food! As long as your child is growing well and active, rest assured that he or she is getting enough to eat.

Dr Chua: Don’t expect your child to finish every meal. Also, have realistic expectations by offering only child portions.

Breakfast is important

Start your child’s day with a healthy breakfast. Eating breakfast regularly helps children develop healthy eating habits, improves concentration and memory, and reduces hyperactivity, among other numerous benefits. It also helps upstart children’s metabolism which aids in the absorption of nutrients.

Furthermore, a nutritious breakfast has been linked to having better eating habits throughout the day.

Set up a regular snack and meal schedule

Most children do well with three meals and two or three snacks a day. When your child’s body is used to a schedule, hunger and appetite become more regular.

Dr Han: Meals should be served at regular times with each meal lasting not more than 30 minutes.

Cook more meals at home

Cooking meals at home allow more control over the amount of oil and salt used. Healthy options can also be added.

Dr Han: When dining out as a family, always go for healthier food options. If there are no weight issues, eating fast food not more than twice a week would still be within recommendations. Healthy tips when eating fast food include: avoid upsizing when ordering set meals, ask for little or no mayonnaise in burgers, and remove the skin of fried chicken.

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