Feeding your preschooler can be challenging at times. Since one in four children between the ages of two and five are at risk of being overweight, healthy eating is extremely important. Children this age need the same variety of foods in their diets as older children and adults. The portion sizes are about half the size of adult portions. It’s usually not a good idea to use restaurant portion sizes as these are typically much larger than the recommended amounts. Too often preschoolers consume excessive amounts of sugar and juice, and not enough whole fruits and vegetables. The following are the suggested daily nutrition guidelines for preschoolers from ChooseMyPlate.gov:
- Grains: About 3 to 4 ounces, preferably half of them whole grains.
- Vegetables: 1 to 1 ½ cups raw or cooked vegetables. Be sure to offer a variety!
- Fruits: 1 cup fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits. Try to limit juice to 4 to 6 ounces a day.
- Dairy: 2 to 2 ½ cups. Whole milk is recommended for children under 2. Older children can have lower-fat options like low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese.
- Protein: 2 to 3 ounces Choices are lean meat, poultry, fish, an egg, cooked beans, and peanut butter
- Oils: About 3 teaspoons of liquid oil or margarine
Preschoolers need about 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day to help them grow and stay healthy. Restrictive diets for children in this age group are inappropriate. They need fat, calories, and carbohydrates in order to support healthy development. One of the biggest challenges parents may face in feeding their preschooler is finding foods their child will eat.
Preschoolers can be very picky eaters. They may be afraid of trying new foods, or simply may not want to try them. As a result, preschoolers may miss out on valuable vitamins and nutrients needed for growth and development. Providing your preschooler with two to three healthy snacks daily can help curb hunger and crankiness. Healthy snacks can also help fill in nutritional gaps. Give children healthy snack options to choose from. It’s important to continue to offer healthy foods, such as new fruits and vegetables, to your preschooler. It may take several times before the new food is accepted. Try serving low-fat milk or water with snacks, instead of sugar-sweetened beverages or soda. It’s also important to remember that children are more likely to develop positive eating habits when parents and caregivers demonstrate and encourage healthy eating.