Feeding preschoolers: Tips for parents and child care providers

Feeding preschoolers can be a challenge; children at this age have already developed feeding routines, as well as strong likes and dislikes.

Feeding preschoolers (ages two through five), can be a challenge; children at this age have already developed feeding routines, as well as strong likes and dislikes. While some children are eager to try new foods asking themselves, “do I like this?” and will eat anything. Others may be suspicious of food unfamiliar to them immediately stating, “what’s that stuff, I don’t like it.”

Children’s appetites and the amount of food eaten, will vary from day to day. Getting “unbelievers” to try new foods may cause some anxiety but the planning doesn’t have to be difficult. The following tips can help when planning for the nutritional needs of your family and/or the children in your care.

  • First and foremost; adults model eating behaviors for children. If you drink water or milk at meals you reinforce the message to children that these are drinks our bodies need and they will also drink them. This also applies to food, preschoolers can eat what you eat; they don’t need a different menu and they are watching you.
  • Arm yourself with resources. Parents and child care providers can contact the local Extension office and ask for the educator or program instructor working with nutrition. If you are a child care provider, your state licensing office through the Department of Human Services will have resources. www.choosemyplate.gov is also an excellent site for anybody looking for nutritional information related to preschoolers. The site provides information on the amount of food versus physical activity, what’s a serving size for age groups and suggested menus. You can customize a plan for your child by entering information specific to their age and abilities.
  • Teach children to recognize when they are full. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study notes that adults can interfere with a child’s ability to decide when they’ve had enough to eat. When children are infants they let us know when they are done, trust your preschooler to also decide. A relaxed breakfast, lunch or dinner without distractions tends to help all of us to pay attention to feelings of fullness instead of over-eating.
  • Don’t forget the snacks. Young children have small stomachs and are generally quite active and snacks will round out a day’s nutritional needs. Avoid using treats for snacking. Treats are usually empty calories and need to be kept at a minimum in a preschooler’s diet. There is no need to eliminate treats, just keep in mind that they are usually empty calories.

Planning for and feeding preschoolers a nutritionally balanced diet gives young children a necessary foundation for health. Children who receive healthy foods are more likely to develop healthy life-long eating habits, have fewer development problems, lower obesity rates, are sick less often and have a stronger chance to reach their full potential.

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