Bye-bye Tantrums. Hello Fun.
In this age group, individuality develops. Children become less likely to throw tantrums and more willing to cooperate. Children of this age try to please their parents. Preschoolers want to do things themselves, but they are also willing to learn from you. This give-and-take creates opportunities for you to teach your child about healthy food choices in new and exciting ways.
Energize their diet
Preschool children are more sophisticated eaters and are well aware of their food preferences than younger children. They often enjoy eating as part of a group because they can take part in social activities. Give your child a choice of healthy foods at consistent mealtimes to ensure adequate nutrition. Milk and milk products should be included to meet the calcium need of the growing bones.
Limit the intake of juices and sweetened beverages; instead give fruit and grain-based foods like sandwiches, biscuits, and noodles for snacks. Give sweets only in moderation, because they are high in calories but have low nutrient value. Encourage your child to make good choices without hovering and make sure to provide a variety of healthy foods and a balanced diet -- one that gives him the necessary nutrients and energy to explore new things. Through eating right and playing hard, your preschooler can maintain a healthy weight and stay energized, as he gets ready for the next big step - school.
Make mealtime a shared experience
At your request, a preschooler may be willing to try new foods - especially if you eat the same thing. There is nothing wrong in serving foods that your child likes, but be sure to serve a variety of foods to expand your child's palate. Do not fall into the trap of fixing a different meal specifically for your child - before you know it, you will be fixing two dinners every night. It's better to present a range of foods, even if your child sometimes refuses to eat something on the plate.
It is normal to want your child to eat at dinner, but it is also important to know that skipping one meal will not harm a healthy child. When your child refuses to eat a regular meal or snack and then returns to the kitchen just as it is cleaned up asking for something to eat, tell him pleasantly that the next meal or snack will be coming at the usual time. Children will not starve in that short time and will learn to observe a regular eating schedule.
This is a good time to teach your child how to serve food to himself and to use language skills such as 'please' and 'thank you' when asking for food. Preschoolers also enjoy helping in the kitchen and setting the table.
A pantry fit for a pre-schooler
- Replace low-nutrient, high-calorie foods (cookies, candy, chips and soft drinks) with high-nutrient foods
- Make raw fruits and vegetables available (try thin strips of zucchini, bell pepper, celery and carrots dipped in cottage cheese, yogurt spreads or low-fat salad dressing)
- Go with 100% real fruit and vegetable juices rather than high-sugar, low nutrient artificial fruit drinks and sodas
- Keep a supply of quick, nutritious snacks readily on hand for hungry kids and when you're pressed for time
- Provide necessary nutrients by serving fruits, yogurt and pudding
- Avoid presenting dessert as a reward or incentive for eating
Taking steps towards a lifetime of healthy eating
- Teach your children that nutrition and healthy eating impact growth and health
- Encourage kids to try new foods so they are less likely to criticize or discourage other children from eating
- Manage weight gain by suggesting sports and exercise and instead of sedentary activities like TV viewing
- Use popular role models to encourage healthy eating
- Allow children to help choose and prepare their foods (tear lettuce) and work on table manners (set the table)
- Create a structure for daily meals and snacks to limit all-day grazing and stick to regular mealtimes for the whole family
- Be the best role model possible for your children
- Sit with your child since children generally eat better when an adult sits with them
- Always be patient with slow eaters and eliminate distractions like television, toys or other activities
Identifying picky eaters
Preschool children may become picky eaters (also known as 'fussy eaters', 'choosy' and 'problem eaters' and avoid certain food, or eat only a limited number of foods. Some children in this age group may focus on personal challenges and resist parent’s insistence on healthy eating.
Eating junk food full of energy and fat – but few nutrients – is also a big problem for children at this age. If your child is turning mealtime into a power struggle (only eating when bribed), he may be a picky eater.
"I always tell my kids… you don’t have to eat all of it, but you do have to try it."
- Mother of two, ages 4 and 6