Friday, October 10, 2008

How I Got My Kids to Eat Better (Part 1)

I have been getting some comments from friends and anonymous readers on the blog about this topic, so I figured it is a lot easier to just reply here as a proper post. 

The following is a sample of a recent comment which I received that pretty much summed up some of the queries I got.  explanation.

Anonymous said...
hi, how i envy u... ur little one can eat so well. my little one is abt the same age as ur chipsy but many food are still of challenging size and texture to him. I've been trying to expose him as much as i could despite all the failed attempt. how do u do it?

My reply as follows: 

Hi anonymous, I know how you feel as I felt the same before with my #1. I was more anxious before when #1 refused food or didn't eat well but after gaining more parenting experience, now I am rather relaxed with Chipsy even if he doesn't eat well for a few meals. He may seem to eat really well, but there are also food which he rejects. But I don't fret much as I know that eventually he will accept most food that I serve him and even if he rejects some food (which is only natural since we adults also have food preferences/dislikes), he can always acquire the necessary goodness from alternative sources.


Due to the nature of the subject matter, I decided to split up my reply in 2 posts to ensure more thorough coverage and explanation.

Just some background here.. When Marcus was 13 months old, he started to become a really fussy eater and for the next 1.5 yrs, he would eat very small quantity and limited variety on most days. I have always been cooking his meals since he started solids and he ate really well in terms of quantity and variety before he turned 1. 

Then he went through periods when he would eat only 'white food' (like boiled egg white, rice, rice cakes, potato etc) or just periods of no meat/fish etc and he also disliked soup, porridge, meat, fruits and brown rice. 

After a tiring 1.5 yrs for me, he began to be more accepting of more food and ways of cooking. For the past 18 months or so, he has been eating 90% of whatever I serve him and is a dream to feed.

Nicholas presented me with similar challenges when he turned 1, but I am pleased to say with some creativity and perserverence on my part, he does accept new food gradually and his present repertoire is rather good.

What did I do to gain their acceptance of new food and textures? I am not an expert but these are what I used to do and still do with Nicholas, so I hope you find them helpful.

1. Feed only the nutritious food and cut out all unhealthy options.
When Marcus only wanted white rice and boiled egg white (he would reject even the smallest piece of yolk if he spotted or tasted it), I fed him what he wanted (since rice and egg white are still nutritious food, especially egg white) but also offered him nutritious alternatives (like brown rice cakes, scrambled egg white etc) to expose him to different textures but still made of the same ingredient, whenever he was hungry instead of feeling desperate enough to give him junk food.

When Nicholas first turned 1, he began to reject all the food which he used to love and would only eat potato, sweet potato, rice and noodles. So I gave him plenty of these. 

I also started introducing more whole grains like brown rice and red rice and giving him plenty of whole wheat pasta and whole grain noodles like those made from millet, quinoa and buckwheat, instead of highly processed noodles. I never stopped introducing new food though and now he eats a wide variety.

2. Introduce one new food at a time with his favourite food!
This is less intimidating than a plate half filled with strange and unfamiliar looking food. Dependent on the type of new food, I may place it besides his usual meal or cook it with other ingredients which he would usually eat. 

In Marcus' case when he only ate rice and boiled egg white, it was more challenging as I couldn't cook it together so I often just introduced the new food by hiding a small piece in his spoonful of familiar rice/egg. Sometimes he would reject, but eventually he accepted many new food when he got more familiar with the taste.

3. Be creative in food preparation and presentation
Like when Marcus only wanted only white food, I experimented with fish of all sorts, cooked in all different ways to be served with his rice and egg white. Also potatoes and cauliflower etc... I steamed, baked and stir-fried etc... Eventually he accepted all of these food and also food of other colours.

The boys initially hated soups and prefer to eat their rice and noodles dry. Even pasta was cooked in water and they rejected even the slightest taste of any pasta sauce, homemade or jarred. So I made chicken stock, vegetable stock and also pork stock and added a little to their rice and noodles and let the soup be soaked up before serving. Gradually I increased the quantity of soup added till they didn't even realise that they were eating very soupy rice (not quite porridge yet but rather rice with lots of soup) and were very happy with it.

The same goes with brown rice. I mixed brown rice into their white rice and gradually increased the ratio of brown to white till eventually they eat 100% brown or red rice. When they started to love that, I re-introduced brown rice porridge which I cooked with lots 
of homemade stock, so they get the goodness of other vegetables which they may generally reject or eat in small quantity.

I re-introduced broccoli to Nicholas by showing him how much I love to chomp on my "trees". I did an exaggerated act of taking big bites off the "trees" which he thought was funny and he mimicked me by taking his first bite and ever since, he loves his broccoli.

It took me a while to get Nicholas to eat carrots, peas and sweet corn for instance but now he would eat them with his pasta, porridge, brown rice and soup. He used to reject eggs of all forms but now he eats them scrambled or boiled or added to his porridge. 

Bento art is another way to make food presentation interesting. So is using interesting cutlery and plates to serve up meals. Presenting meals in smaller portion is less intimidating to little ones too. It also helps to gather a few other hungry children and serve them the same food as children tend to love eating together with other kids and they are more adventurous to try new food if they see another kid enjoying it.

That's all for now. In the Part 2 of this series, I will touch on what I feel is a related and very important subject - ranking food by nutritional value and prioritising what we serve to kids. Also, I will share my list of what I think are the super foods which I ensure my boys eat regularly and the challenging food which I am still working on. So look out for it! 


Anonymous said...

wow! tk u so much for ur reply as a post.

i must say i've not gone thru all tt u've gone thru to get ur children to eat.

basically my child seems to be not keen in food. he doesnt seems to be hungry. at times he'll be curious in some food and after a few bites/sips, tts it. he has enough. he's just not greedy enough to chomp down everything and not to mention ask for more.

we've no chance to feed him any junk food. 3 meals a day (and sometimes supper) and he'll be full, no allowance for snacks or other junk.

he doesnt has a fav food or any food tt he hates. most of the time he just eats whatever we feed him. but he's slow in challenging texture. eg. if the meat is not minced fine enough, he'll gag on it. anything too big piece he'll gag on it too. eg. a grape i'll hv to cut it into 5 tiny pieces for him.

im trying my best to make all his meals nutritional. i make soup stock for all his porridge, pasta, mee sua, etc. i include every little (literally) things. as long as they're fine enough, he has no problem eating them. so i guess he's not fussy in terms of the taste of food but rather the texture of the food.

even until now i still puree the apples for him. yes he's can munch on finely-cut apples but only tt few patheric pieces/mouthful. if i dun puree it, he'll not get sufficient amt of fruits.

so on top of the pureed fruits, i'll oso let him eat the cut apples on his own (just for tt munching experience).

i tried to be creative too. When I make star-shaped pancakes, he'll be excited and after a few bites, he's not interested anymore. When I cut out bread on cookies cutter, he's excited too but he'll bite once onto each piece and tts it. When I make a flower-shaped thin carrot slice, he played with it instead of eating it. A lot of food has gone down my tummy instead.

Every meal time is always full of encouragement, coaxing, eating with him, playing with the food to make it interesting enough to go into his mouth, etc. Sometimes it can be tiring I must admit but im not abt to give up of course. That's why im always seeking out advice from others.

im constantly looking at books on children's nutritions. my child is a small eater, therefore all the more i know i must feed him with only the good stuff. really no allowance for junk!!

once again thk u so much for ur advice. i look forward to learning more from u.

Domestic Goddess said...

Anonymous, now that you have shared more details, a few things came to my mind instantly.

1. Children never allow themselves to be hungry. They eat when they are and stop once they are full. So if he doesn't cry for food/milk, then he has enough. So is he drinking a lot of milk? If he is, then perhaps try cutting down on milk so he will be hungrier at mealtimes.

2. You mentioned 3 meals a day. Well, it's hard to tell if that is too much to begin with since I don't know how much you serve per meal. I don't follow the 3 meals a day rule for my kids. Some days, they eat 3 big meals, some days, only 1 big meal and lots of nutritious snacks/small meals throughout the day. It all depends on their appetite that day and also what they eat for the meal before. As long as they eat nutritious stuff, even if they only eat 1 big meal that day, I feel 'job accomplished'.

3. Sounds like your son is quite accepting of lots of food so the challenge is on the chunkiness and texture of food. I remember you said he is 2. Well, i stopped pureeing any food for my kids by the time they turned 1. Even by 9 mths, they started chunkier texture and were chewing on crackers and rice cakes which I know some parents/kids find too dry and hard. I don't worry much about choking/gagging when I feed them as i was always sitting opposite them when they eat and I watched their every mouthful.

I think that helps in their acceptance of chunky, hard and dry food. Marcus for instance, started eating cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds when he turned 2. Nicholas likes rice cakes and oat cakes which are dry to most and will occasionally eat a few pieces of cashew nuts. And he started eating brown rice when he was 15 mths, not porridge!

Maybe puree some apples and mix with some grated apples to increase the chunkiness and slowly make it less of a puree until he can accept thin slices of apples.

4. I've learnt and accept that ome kids just don't fancy certain texture so when Nicholas rejects fruits of all kinds, except avocado, I let him be and concentrate on other substitutes for the minerals/vitamins that he missed out. Plus I give him a really potent multivitamin supplement everyday, so I feel assured that he is covered no matter what.

5. I no longer gauge how well my sons eat on a daily basis. I look at their diet for the whole week. And if they are sick or we are travelling (which always mean they don't eat as well), I also don't beat myself up. I just ensure they eat really nutritious food when their appetite returns.

Will write more in a proper post soon. Hope you find above useful. Try them and let me know!


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