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In sunny Singapore, food is an essential and core part of our culture. Be it during festivities, family gatherings, special occasions, we celebrate all of them with food! 

However, our love of food, if not properly managed and controlled, can result in health conditions such as diabetes, gout, heart problems and obesity. “Less serious” problems are no walk in the park either –think scurvy, chronic fatigue, constipation, just to name a few. In September 2019, a 19-year-old British teen suffered irreversible sight loss after stubbornly sticking to a diet of potato chips, white bread and processed snacks for years. The family only realised the severity of the situation when he began to lose his hearing at age 14. 

As parents, there seems to be a never-ending to-do list when it comes to our kids; and now we have to monitor their eating too? The frustration is very real, so we’ve come up with some practical and useful tips on how you can cultivate good eating habits with your child, while encouraging them to proactively make healthier, better choices on their own.

Learning to Manage Portion Size

As attractive and memorable the Health Promotion Board’s My Healthy Plate is, we don’t always eat food off the plate, nor do we carry a plate around. It’s also quite a hassle to keep tracking our food intake, let alone ask our kids to do it, so how can we help them learn to manage portion sizes?

image from: https://guitargearfinder.com/guides/guitar-for-small-hands/
image from: https://guitargearfinder.com/guides/guitar-for-small-hands/

One key reason adults tend to overeat is because they use standard portion sizes – when your portion size should be adjusted to your size, activity level and other needs. The same goes for children. While they may sometimes seem to be capable of inhaling huge amounts of food (particularly when it’s their favourite), teaching them how to estimate their portion sizes to meet their needs is a useful lifelong skill. 

Besides, unlike a plate, your palm is with you wherever you go, so it’s a really practical skill to teach and apply wherever you are. Practice it daily and soon you’ll be surprised! Your children will take the initiative to estimate and self-regulate their own portions. 

Eating the rainbow!

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Kids LOVE learning what food does to their bodies and that knowledge can greatly affect their eating decisions. Remember, kids love feeling empowered. Besides, wouldn’t it be better if your kid chose to eat those vegetables, rather than having you nag at them?

We love Nutritionist Jennifer Anderson’s (@kids.eat.in.colour) approach to talking to kids about food:

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Helping with Meal Prep

Sometimes, our children’s disdain or resistance to certain foods may stem from reasons that are beyond our logic. For example, my child didn’t want to eat vegetables because she did not want to “become as ugly as a cow”. 

It often takes a conversation or two to find out, but having your child help with meal prep can help you understand your child and his or her choices.

Age 0 - 1 Food related Song & Dance A Healthy Meal by Pink Fong
Fruit Salad, by the Wiggles
Age 0 – 2 Sensory Play Washing Rice, Rinsing food items, soaking bee hoon, etc.
Age 0 - 3 Sensory Play Touching and feeling fruits, food packaging, etc.
Age 2 – 4 Sorting Taking items out of grocery bags
Slicing Using a blunt butter knife to cut soft foods, e.g. tofu, leafy vegetables, butter, jelly
Peeling Peeling easy items without any tools, e.g. a cooled hardboiled egg, a clove of garlic (please cut the end off first!)
Science Why must we wash our hands before we prepare food?
Age 3 – 5 Sorting Placing items in the proper places in the kitchen ( dry goods, non-refrigerated items)
Slicing Slicing with other tools, e.g. using an egg slicer, or slicing harder items, e.g. long beans, fishballs, ham, learning to portion out items, e.g. dividing a large piece of mango into smaller cubes.
Understanding quantity, Science Why does the soup move if my hands are shaky? Measuring out quantities for a recipe – the difference between measuring out liquids and solids.
Age 3 and up
Spatial awareness Setting the table – laying out spoons, forks, counting the number required and placing them at the correct placements, Wiping the table – how far to stretch my hand? Did you cover all the parts of the table?
Understanding quantity Why does it matter if I put 1 teaspoon versus 1 tablespoon of sauce? Am I eating enough meat? I need to eat a palm-sized portion. Does my plate look like a healthy plate?
Articulation My favourite food is… The best way to prepare it is…
Age 4 and up Critical Thinking Discuss the family’s meal plan for the week – how many times should we eat chicken? Does that meet the needs of our healthy plate?
Sorting Using fine motor skills to arrange elements of a dish, e.g. using fork and spoon, tongs or a ladle to arrange items on a plate
Articulation and Active Ownership Discuss the elements and steps of a recipe of a dish chosen by your child, let your child propose what he or she can do to help you out.
Age 5 and up Understanding Money, Discovery of the world How much is this? Why is meat more expensive than fruit? Why is this apple more expensive than the other? Talk about where food comes from, how one apple might need more care and love than another, which justifies the price.
Science How can an egg turn out so differently just by choosing a different cooking method?
Active Ownership Plating his or her own food, deciding on his or her own portions and taking the responsibility to have a balanced, healthy plate and finishing it.
Age 6 and up
Reading, Writing, Critical Thinking Updating the family’s grocery list by checking the pantry – let them guess the spelling or copy words from packaging
Slicing, Spatial Awareness Using a small knife to cut harder items, e.g. an orange, or with a fork and knife, cube or slice a steak – different knife blades, different cutting methods (Bonus! Let’s talk about animal teeth!)
Leadership, critical thinking Leading the grocery trip with a grocery list, checking off the boxes for items that have been chosen

The list above is non-exhaustive – add on or modify according to your child’s unique interests and abilities. For example, some children might find cutting a fishball really easy, while others struggle with holding it while using the other hand to slice. The most important thing is to involve your child and enrich your parent-child bond. If your child isn’t interested, it’s okay, try the next time. As mothers ourselves, we know how single-minded children can be! 

Putting your child in charge of certain tasks daily can also ease your household burden and allow them to take ownership in managing their own intake. We’ve prepared a few downloadable worksheets, to help you achieve long lasting eating success!

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