H. Darlene Martin
Extension Nutrition Specialist
Northeast Research and Extension Center
University of Nebraska
University of Nebraska
The preschooler's growth is slower than that of an infant. An average child age 2 through 5 will grow about 2 1/2 inches and gain 4 or 5 pounds each year. Because growth rate is slower, appetites may decrease. The preschool period is an excellent time to help your child become familiar with the idea that eating a proper diet is part of a healthy lifestyle. Attitudes and habits formed during preschool years are likely to be carried into the future. By 15 months of age, most children have developed enough fine motor skills to feed themselves without help.
Basic nutritional needs of children are similar to the nutritional needs of other family members. Amounts needed differ because of age. Offer your child a variety of foods from the basic food groups:
Over time, the preschooler will take in adequate nutrients
when allowed to choose from a variety of healthy foods. Protein
is needed for growth. Protein in the diet is supplied by milk,
meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and dry beans and peas. Calcium
is needed for strong bones and teeth. Dietary calcium is primarily
found in milk and milk products and to a lesser extent in leafy
green vegetables. Iron is an important mineral you get from meat,
poultry, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and iron fortified
cereals. Iron from cereal will be absorbed better when served
with a food rich in vitamin C. Citrus fruits and their juices
and dark green or yellow vegetables are good sources of vitamin
C and vitamin A. Breads and cereals contribute minerals and vitamins.
Plenty of water is needed to regulate body functions in small children. As a percentage of body weight, children have more water in their bodies than adults; therefore, their bodies can become dehydrated more quickly than adult bodies. Offer water to your preschooler several times during the day.
Fat is a necessary nutrient in a child's diet. Fat helps provide extra calories and needed nutrients for active and growing children. No fat restriction should be applied to children below the age of two. For children over the age of two, fat intake should represent about 30 percent of the total caloric intake. As with the adult diet, limit foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol for children over the age of two. Help your child develop beneficial low-fat dietary habits such as drinking skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk. Remember, these recommendations for fat intake are not for children under the age of two years or those children who have special dietary needs.
Sugary foods provide few nutrients and should be eaten on a limited basis. Chewy, sticky, sugary foods may promote tooth decay. Teach children to properly brush their teeth daily to help diminish this effect.
A growth chart is a reliable way to tell if your child's diet is meeting body needs. These charts are available from pediatricians, public health clinics, and child health agencies. Since children grow in spurts, their needs vary. Changes in appetite may reflect these needs. Allow preschoolers to eat until they are full, regardless of how much or how little. To examine what you offer your child to eat, keep track of everything your child eats for two or three days and compare it to the following Feeding Guide (Table I).
Make mealtimes pleasant experiences for your young child by following these tips:
Most preschoolers experience food jags and may for a time eat
only a few self-selected foods. When a parent prods, the child
is less likely to try new foods. Finicky food habits are often
temporary and will disappear if not reinforced by emotions and
unnecessary rules. Food should not become the object of bribes
or punishments. If a food is rejected, do not make an issue of
the situation as this may make your child more determined to refuse
the food being offered. Try the rejected food at a different time.
Allow preschoolers as well as adults to dislike foods. Watch family
behavior. Are some foods rejected by adults in the family? Serve
a variety of foods even if rejected by some adult family members.
Give special consideration to providing foods that appeal to the child's senses. Include finger foods; foods that crunch or crackle when you eat them; foods that differ in texture; foods with different flavor. Foods that are too hot or too cold may be refused. Children may try a new food if it is prepared to be child attractive, such as cut in animal shapes. Present new foods at the beginning of the meal when your child is really hungry. Brightly colored vegetables may also attract a preschooler. Many times the true flavor of foods are overwhelmed with sauces, gravies, syrups, herbs, and spices. A favorite or familiar food served with the new food may encourage the acceptance of different foods.
It is hard for preschoolers to eat enough in three meals to provide the nutrients and calories they need. Offer snacks between meals. Snack time may be a good time to introduce new foods. Many times children will refuse food at mealtime, but accept them at snack time. Snacks should provide more than just calories. Some good snack foods include: dry cereal with milk; meat or peanut butter sandwiches; vegetable or fruit breads such as pumpkin or banana; fresh, dried, or canned fruit; fruit or vegetable juices; plain yogurt or yogurt with fruit; cheese and crackers; or oatmeal cookies and milk.
To promote a positive attitude towards good food habits, it is important that parents and care givers help children understand they are "good kids." What children "do" may be unacceptable at times, but who and what they "are" inside are normal, healthy and okay kids.
|Food group||Suggested daily servings||Suggested serving sizes|
Dry beans and peas
Include all types regularly. Serve dark-green leafy and deep-yellow vegetables often. Serve cooked dry beans and peas several times a week
Include citrus fruits or their juices regularly.
|Breads, cereals, rice and pasta||6-11 servings
Include several servings of whole grain products daily.
|Milk, yogurt and cheese||4 servings||
|Meats, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs and nuts||3-5 servings||
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Available in print - 4 Pages
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 2 - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 20 K
ENTRY DATE:: April 1997