What to do with picky eaters

Su Seau Yeen instructing the children during one of the Junior Nutri Chef classes. – Photo copyright Junior Nutri Chef

IT’S a new year and your kids are still determined not to eat their vegetables? Here’s what you can do – send them to Junior Nutri Chef’s Picky Eater No More classes.

This is where they will learn to cook meals and dishes that include vegetables. They will also go on field trips to farms and factories to see where their food comes from.

Baker Su Seau Yeen, who is one of the founders, explains:

“If you want to convince someone to really eat all kinds of food, they have to be involved from the start, not towards the end. It’s impossible to put a plate in front of them and expect them to eat. That’s why we encourage parents not to spoonfeed their children in the final step when the kids are going to eat. They have to be the ones picking up the food and eating it.

“When they join our programme, they can go home with the food they cooked and tell their parents what are the health benefits of this food. They would also tell their parents what they did – peeled, steamed or cooked.”

Su says it is hard for parents to encourage their children to eat their vegetables because parents generally like to cook the food that their children enjoy eating.

“Just look at my daughter. When she’s with me, she eats homecooked food, and I tend to cook things that she likes. So, when she went to kindergarten, she was forced to eat all sorts of different foods because that is what they cooked.

“It’s the same concept here. When children are in someone else’s territory and they have fun cooking the food from scratch, they will want to try the food. We also do things like cupcakes with a twist. We might add some vegetables in it. They will enjoy it because it’s cupcakes – their favourite! We sometimes add a twist to a normal recipe to include the food that they should take, and when they are involved in the preparation process, they will be convinced to eat it,” says Su.

Jasmine Kok (left) and Su Seau Yeen, founders of Junior Nutri Chef, are enthusiastic about teaching children about cooking and eating nutritious and healthy food.

Founded with her partner Jasmine Kok, a dietitian, Junior Nutri Chef is relatively new, having just strated operations last year. Kok and Su conducted classes last year and saw good response to their Picky Eater No More programme. In fact, parents “complained” that the programme was too short.

This year, they are making it a year-long programme and children can sign up for one class, four classes or even the whole year. Each class is fresh and children joining a month later won’t feel left behind.

The children are split up according to their age – four to seven, and eight to 12. Each class is about two hours long. Classes are held every Saturday and Sunday in Bandar Sri Damansara, Selangor, as well as the Junior Nutri Chef centre in Puchong.

According to Kok, the programme is built on scientific research on how to deal with picky eaters. Before launching it, she even travelled to Taiwan to see how similar programmes are conducted there.

Children in the kitchen learning to prepare dishes. – Photo copyright Junior Nutri Chef

In last year’s programme, there were children who had never seen certain foods before.

“Some didn’t know if cucumbers grow above or below the soil. They didn’t know the shape of some vegetables. They asked, where do you buy it, where do vegetables come from? They thought the source was the supermarket. That’s why it’s very important that we teach them about food from young.

“I also conduct counselling in a hospital, where I help adults with diet therapy. My patients are those with diabetes or high cholesterol. At that age, when they are not educated on all this, it is very hard to manage them. So, most of them have to go on drug therapy, and that is often for their lifetime,” says Kok.

She hopes that by having this programme, children will be educated and it will prevent them from succumbing to these diseases when they are older.

She explains that every month the classes adopt a new theme, with the concept being from farm to table.

For example, February is vegetables month, so the children would be introduced to colourful vegetables and every week might focus on a different colour. The first week might consist of red vegetables, while the second week might be yellow. Before class starts, there is an interactive session with a nutritionist where the children would learn about the food they are going to cook and the nutrient content.

This year, Su and Kok plan to take the kids on a field trip to a fish farm and a bread factory. The children would also get a chance to plant some vegetables at an organic farm in Semenyih. Parents can accompany the kids, especially if the children are very young.

Each child will be assigned a booklet where their progress will be tracked, for the benefit of parents.

Kok informs that last year, some children started out not wanting to eat spring onions, but soon they were not only eating it, but also advising their parents to cook colourful vegetables.

Besides Picky Eater No More, there is also an advanced course called Junior Food Doctor. This is where children are taught which foods are good and bad for common health problems like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. It gives children a basic level of awareness so they can then advise their grandparents and parents what to eat and what to avoid.

“We hope to empower the children with the skills and information, not only in nutrition but also cooking, so that they can sustain and maintain a healthy lifestyle when they become adults. This will help them when they leave for college. Most important is their health,” says Kok.

Junior Nutri Chef’s Picky Eater No More classes begin on Feb 26, 2017, in Puchong.

As Junior Nutri Chef is a social enterprise, part of the profits go to the underprivileged children, through cooking programmes held at orphanages.