Preschoolers have reached a time in their development where they like to do things for themselves and if shown correctly, can be very capable. As preschoolers tend to be more willing to cooperate with mom, dad and other caretakers than when they were toddlers, it is a wonderful opportunity to teach about healthy foods, a balanced diet and to model good eating habits and table manners. Do your best to continue to encourage healthy eating habits as children grow up into their elementary and teen years and into adulthood.
A variety of nutritious foods provide a child with the nutrition needed for healthy development and growth. A balanced diet and plenty of activity helps a child to maintain a healthy weight. Proper nutrition gives a child energy for learning and playing. Children go through many stages as they grow and their eating habits are often affected by these stages. It is not unusual for preschoolers to go through a short period of time when eating does not interest them. Skipping a meal will not hurt a healthy child.
If a child is active and growing steadily, a small appetite is nothing to worry about. However, sometimes a loss of appetite can be a warning. A child that seldom eats and does not seem to be growing normally could be ill, tense, or worried and should be seen by a doctor.
How Parents Can Help:
1. You can help your child feel more independent by giving him/her food choices. They can be simple, inexpensive, and easy to prepare. Cut up raw vegetables and fruits, cooked vegetables, cheese cubes, cooked and cooled pasta are easy and appetizing choices for preschoolers.
2. Take your child to the grocery store. Involve your child by allowing him/her to shop for groceries with you. Children love to help look and find items in the store. You may ask your child to help count the oranges in your bag or choose something green to take home and eat. Or they may use the produce scale to weigh items. Involving your child in the process of grocery shopping can be an enjoyable experience with many learning opportunities. (Tip: Well-rested and fed children make better shopping companions!)
3. Foods that children can eat with their fingers help foster independence for younger children. Cut foods into small bite-size pieces.
4. Never force-feed a child. Preschool children should learn how to feed themselves, either with their fingers or by practicing using child-sized utensils.
5. Do not force a child to eat a disliked food or to eat when not hungry.
6. Don’t overwhelm your child with large portions. A variety of foods in small portions are much more appealing.
7. Children learn eating habits by watching others and are more likely to try a new food if mom and dad are enjoying it too. Add new foods to your child’s plate regularly to increase variety. If a new food is rejected, try it again later as your child’s tastes and preferences may change as they develop.
8. Children like eating foods that they have helped prepare. Give a child a simple job like washing an apple, peeling the shell off a hard boiled egg or tearing lettuce for a salad.
9. Turn the television or any media devices off during mealtimes! Children may forget to finish eating if distracted.
10. Children eat more when they are feeling calm. Take a few minutes to rest before eating. Choking on food can happen when children are lying down, running, jumping playing, laughing or crying. Be present when your young child is eating.
11. Keep meal conversation pleasant. Choose a topic other than food if your preschooler is reluctant to eat, you may find that your child may forget not to eat and may start nibbling.
12. Make sure your child gets plenty of physical activity, preferably outside to help increase a healthy appetite.
13. Offer snacks that are low in sugar, and high in protein and carbohydrates, between meals. Limit sugary snacks that may affect a child’s ability to concentrate and snacks containing unhealthy trans fats.
14. Consider growing a small garden if you have space in your yard. If you do not have outdoor space, try a kitchen herb pot and have your child sample the herbs and suggest how to use them in cooking.
15. Consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm or head to a nearby U-Pick farm for fresh farm-to-table fruits and vegetables. This is a wonderful learning opportunity for children to understand how food is grown and even pick some items themselves.
We are lucky to have CSA farms and U-Pick farms in our area, such as:
• Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center in Carnation, WA: http://www.oxbow.org/
• The Root Connection in Woodinville, WA: http://rootllc.com/
• Local Roots Farm in Duvall, WA: http://localrootsfarm.com/
• Tonnemaker Valley Farm in Woodinville, WA: http://tonnemaker.com/csa.html
USDA Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children: https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/nutrition-wellness-tips-young-children
USDA Choose My Plate: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/