Many parents have struggled to get their young children to eat healthily, including multi-disciplinary artist Nandita Mukand. She could not get her younger child Elaine, aged seven, to eat even "three green leaves" whenever vegetables were served at dinner.
But Ms Mukand, 41, says she keeps trying new ways to ensure Elaine gets enough nutrition. She and other parents share foolproof recipes that even their little fussy eaters enjoy.
Toning down curry for toddler
Sometimes, making a nutritious meal is just one of the battles.
Getting a lively toddler like his only child, Thamayanthi, to sit still to eat is another challenge on its own, says Mr Subramaniyan Kalyankumar, 35.
"She takes about 30 minutes to eat. She wants to play," says the software architect at an educational institution.
He is also one of the organisers for the Tamil Language Festival, which runs till the end of the month.
He and his wife Muthaliyappan Sudarmozhi, 25, often find themselves keeping their 21-month-old daughter engaged during mealtimes by playing music or taking her outside their flat for a while.
To adapt to their daughter's taste buds, Ms Sudarmozhi, a housewife, uses less salt and fewer spices in her fish curry.
It is a favourite with Thamayanthi, who has been eating spicy food since she was slightly more than a year old.
"For other food, like dhal and rice, you have to chase her around to eat it. You don't have to for this dish," says Mr Kalyankumar.
Ingredients For the masala paste
1 cup fresh shredded coconut
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
For the curry
1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
A handful of curry leaves
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato , chopped
1 tamarind, the size of a small lemon
Salt, to taste
500g white pomfret, cleaned and cut into small pieces
1 green mango, cut into 4 to 6 pieces
1. Prepare the masala paste: Combine the ingredients with a small amount of water and blend in a blender until it becomes a smooth paste.
2. Heat the sunflower oil in a pan. Add the fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Fry for a minute.
3. Add the onion and tomato. Fry till slightly golden.
4. Stir well, add the masala paste and mix well for a minute.
5. Add juice from the tamarind, some water to make a curry, then add the salt and mix well for two minutes.
6. Add the fish and boil for five to 10 minutes.
7. Add the green mango and boil for five minutes.
8. Garnish with curry leaves and serve. Serves four
Giving more points for eating healthily
Radio host Shan Wee, 35, has had to be creative to encourage his elder son Ciaran to eat.
The One FM 91.3 DJ says the 4½-year-old was "a difficult eater", with little interest in food, whereas his younger son Ruan, who is 21/2, is not picky.
Wee, who is married to wedding planner Artika Sulaiman, 35, had tried a "point system" to appeal to Ciaran's competitive side to get him to eat healthily.
The child, then two years old, was awarded just one point if he ate French fries, 20 points for meatballs and 50 points for broccoli.
The tactic worked a treat.
This and other parenting tips can be found in Wee's first book, 99 Rules For New Dads.
Published by The Straits Times Press, it is scheduled to be launched in bookstores next month.
Ciaran is a better eater these days and Wee is more relaxed about what his sons eat, compared with the early years, when he bought more organic food. His children still have not had soda, though, and candy is kept to a minimum.
While his wife and their domestic helper do more cooking than he does, Wee says one of their favourite recipes, mirin-glazed salmon, comes by way of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.
"The children are generally quite good with rice and fish and it makes me feel healthier. Otherwise, I love my fries, cheeseburgers and pizza," he says.
MIRIN GLAZED SALMON (FROM NIGELLA EXPRESS)
60ml mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
50g light brown sugar
60ml soya sauce
500g salmon (4 x 125g, cut from the thick part, so narrow but thick rather than wide and flat)
2 Tbs rice wine vinegar
1 to 2 spring onions (halved and shredded into fine strips)
Rice or noodles for serving
Sushi ginger (optional)
1. Mix the mirin, brown sugar and soya sauce in a shallow dish and marinate the four pieces of salmon in it for three minutes on one side and two minutes on the other. Meanwhile, heat a large non-stick frying pan on the hob.
2. Cook the salmon in the hot, dry pan for two minutes, then turn it over, add the marinade and cook for another two minutes.
3. Remove the salmon to a plate, add the rice wine vinegar to the hot pan and warm through.
4. Pour the glaze over the salmon and top with spring onion strips.
5. Serve with rice or noodles as preferred. Consider serving some sushi ginger too.
Mashing vegetables with other food
Mixing vegetables with other food is how actress Amy Cheng fights back against eight-year-old son Jivan's war against greens.
"After he went to Primary 1, he didn't want to see anything green or orange on his plate, or anything with fibre," she says.
She has adapted by mashing small portions of carrots or other vegetables - "not enough to put him off" - into his rice.
The Fly Entertainment artist, 47, is the creative director of Act 3 Theatrics.
Its founder and director is her husband R. Chandran, 61.
Cheng, who also has a 20-year- old son Joshua, employs the same technique in her palak paneer for Jivan, which is made with deseeded green chillies so it is less spicy.
The Primary 3 pupil likes the dish mixed with rice and yogurt, with crushed pappadum on top.
PALAK PANEER FOR AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD
2 to 3 Tbs coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 to 2 tsp cumin seeds
2 crushed cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp dry chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp minced ginger
1 large white onion, diced
2 large green chillies, deseeded
2 tomatoes, quartered
3 packets spinach, washed, drained and coarsely chopped
2 cups paneer
2 tsp salt and 2 tsp white pepper, or to taste
Basmati rice or chapati and pappadum for serving
1. Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick pan, add mustard seeds. Let them pop, which takes about a minute in hot oil, then add the other spices.
2. Fry till the spices are fragrant, about two minutes over a moderate flame.
3. Add ginger, onion and green chillies and fry till fragrant and the onions become translucent, for two to three minutes.
4. Add tomatoes and fry till they soften, another two to three minutes.
5. Add spinach, stir and cover. Let cook eight to 10 minutes until it softens and starts to release liquid.
6. Turn off the fire. Leave the liquid in the pan and take out the cardamom. Blend the cooked vegetables in a blender till they become a smooth paste.
7. Pour the spinach back into the pan, turn on the flame and stir till the liquid is mixed into the puree.
8. Quickly add the paneer, stir and cover. Cook for 15 minutes.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste in the last five minutes of cooking and stir. When the paneer is soft, spoon the dish into a serving bowl and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Eat with basmati rice or chapati and lots of pappadam.
Hiding vegetables in soup
Seven-year-old Elaine Jain declares: "I don't like all vegetables, except peas."
That said, she admits she likes her mother's vegetable soup.
Her mum, multi-disciplinary artist Nandita Mukand, 41, says Elaine was not fussy about eating vegetables as a toddler because they were pureed into her food.
"As she grew older, when she could see the vegetable pieces, she did not want them," she says.
The vegetable soup, a recipe from Mukand's mother, uses two vegetables which are boiled, then blended, so the greens are imperceptible.
Mukand also uses different combinations of vegetables and fruit - such as capsicum and tomato, or pumpkin and apple - to introduce Elaine to different flavours.
Mukand will be exhibiting her work at Singapore Art Museum's annual family-focused contemporary art exhibition, Imaginarium: To The Ends Of The Earth, which opens on May 6 at SAM at 8Q.
Two of her pieces - one inspired by trees at East Coast Park and the other comprising 25,000 seeds and pods - will be on display. They examine how humans, flora and fauna adapt to their habitats.
"The vegetable soup is a simple way to ensure my daughter gets her daily dose of vegetables. The rest of the family also enjoy their daily cups of soup," says Mukand, who is married to Mr Amit Jain, a 41-yearold risk officer in the financial sector. They also have a 10-year-old son, Shrey.
3 cups chopped vegetables (any two types, such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans or spring onions)
1 or 2 of the following seasonings: garlic, nuts, grated ginger, onion or coriander leaves
2 cups water, chicken or fish stock Milk (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil the vegetables in the water or stock, together with one or two of the seasonings, in a covered pot over a slow fire until soft. If the soup looks dry, add more water or stock.
2. Allow to cool, then blend in a blender. You may wish to strain the soup if there are seeds or if you prefer a thinner soup. For a creamier soup, add some milk.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Makes four to six cups for a family of four
Starting the meal with greens
Ms Lin Hui-Yi, 36, ensures her daughter eats leafy vegetables simply by placing a bowl of greens in front of her.
"It's lack of choice. We say she has to finish some before she eats the rest of the meal. We try to make sure she eats at least a handful," says the Singaporean director of a market research firm in China.
She and her husband, photographer and motion director Stefen Chow, 37, a permanent resident here from Malaysia, are based in Beijing.
They are holding an exhibition here, titled Equivalence, from Wednesday to May 14 at Objectifs. Their installation of 1,000 photos of recycled aluminium cans highlights social inequality.
Their daughter Jiahan, three, and one-year-old son Jiehan are otherwise generally compliant with the adults' healthy eating habits.
But Jiehan, who recently started speaking, asks for rou (meat) sometimes when their meals comprise only vegetables, tofu and rice.
Both children like the creaminess of avocado and egg in Ms Lin's salad recipe, a family favourite.
AVOCADO, EGG AND CHICKEN SALAD
IngredientsFor the marinade
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
½ Tbs honey
1 Tbs soya sauce
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cm ginger, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil White pepper (a dash)
For the salad
3 chicken breast halves
Sunflower seeds (a handful)
Pine nuts (a handful)
500g cherry tomatoes
3 Japanese cucumbers
4 hard-boiled eggs
¼ tsp salt
Thai chilli flakes (optional)
1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade and marinate the chicken for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the grill to 180 deg C. Lightly toast the sunflower seeds and pine nuts in the grill.
3. Lay aluminum foil on an oven tray and brush with oil. Place chicken on the tray and grill for 10 minutes on each side or until cooked. Let stand for five minutes, then chop up.
4. Slice cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados and hard-boiled eggs into bite-sized pieces. Combine with grilled chicken in a mixing bowl. Add sunflower seeds and pine nuts, salt to taste and toss. Add Thai chilli flakes on top if desired.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Feeding fussy little eaters'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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