Special thanks to Chef Gloria De Vera and Warren Manlapaz
It’s a question that’s plagued many parents for decades: how do I get my child to eat healthier? The more you think about it, the more impossible it seems. But that doesn’t mean no one has tried to answer it before. On the contrary, a broad range of professionals have tried to give solutions to the old conundrum. Those who have undertaken the task of finding ways to get children to eat healthier often say the same things. Be a good role model when it comes to eating right. Schedule your eating times and plan your meals. Get the kids involved in the cooking.
The hidden whys
But while these may effectively answer the “how” of the question, only a few have asked “why?”. For instance: why does my child prefer unhealthy food? A lot of it, interestingly enough, can be rooted in biological development. Upon being born, babies have very sensitive taste buds and a preference for sweet things. This preference usually takes over much of what they decide to eat. It’s only after weaning into solids that they become more open to new types of textures and flavors.
While a lot can influence food preferences, the bigger bulk of it is the child’s experience with food. What is initially introduced to them can affect their food choices in the future and if the experience is an unpleasant one, it’s sure to be avoided. This is usually the reason why most children gravitate towards junk food—because it is easier and more pleasant to consume.
Your child’s taste development
”I feel like a lot [of] times, moms shouldn’t force their kids to eat healthy,” says Chef Gloria. “Hindi dapat bigla. It would be better to introduce healthier options little by little.” This said, an understanding of your child’s taste development and preferred food could help you when it comes to getting him or her to eat healthily. Exposing your child to fruits and vegetables early on, for example, can help them be more accepting of it as they grow older. And parents should be more vigilant when introducing their children to new food, ensuring that their consumption of it is not forced. “After introducing a lot of healthier dishes that are unfamiliar to my kids’ palate, they gradually loved the fruits, veggies, and lean meat recipes I served them. My kids eventually preferred less fatty, less salty, and less oily dishes,” says Chef Gloria. A disdain for a certain kind of food in children often ties into feelings of anxiety—a kind of panic that may grow if pressed further, especially with hypersensitive kids.
The road to healthy eating then requires a little discernment. No child is the same, after all – it is up to the parent to note your child’s likes and dislikes when it comes to healthy food, and to encourage it as much as possible. But it also requires a smidge of tenderness as well – to be understanding when your kid really doesn’t want to eat a certain food and to cement a healthy relationship with food altogether.