Preschoolers can be picky eaters and its perfectly normal for 3,4 or 5 year olds to favour some foods, while hating others. It is however important to note that children at this age require high amounts of energy and nutrients to complement their continued growth and development.
Preschoolers can eat from the family pot, so family meals should feature a variety of healthy foods from all 6 food groups. A young child’s eating plan should consist mostly of healthy foods like staples, such as whole grains, whole-wheat bread and cereals, peas, beans and nuts.
Fish, lean meats, poultry, at least two servings of dairy products daily like milk and eggs, fruits, dark green leafy and yellow vegetables. Ensure that your preschooler gets sufficient intake of iron and calcium as is required for optimal growth. Iron helps muscle function, energy creation, and brain development.
Calcium is a must-have nutrient in children’s diets because it’s a key building block for strong, healthy bones and teeth.
Preschoolers can be given treats, but junk foods like cookies or candies should be limited and kept out of the house to reduce temptation. Don’t go overboard by banning these foods as children can become intensely attracted to forbidden foods. Some go-to snack options are sandwiches, well-cooked vegetables and low-fat dip, yogurt, crackers and cheese, fruit smoothies or popcorn.
It’s not too early to help your child achieve a healthy weight. Don’t overfeed or force your child to eat if he or she is refusing to continue eating after having a few bites. Don’t expect children to clean their plates; as some day’s appetite may be less than others.
Serve appropriate portion sizes, but do not expect your child to always eat everything you serve. Children will eat smaller amounts than teenagers or adults. It is okay if your child does not eat everything on his or her plate. At this age, they should learn to know when they are full. If your child is picky, it’s ok to encourage trying new foods but don’t pressure them.
Remember you want your child to love and enjoy eating, not be scared of it. The taste, smell and appearance of food influence how much your child will eat.
Limit processed food and sugary drinks as these can lead to cavities and unhealthy weight gain. The best drinks are water and milk. Milk provides calcium and Vitamin D. Ice-cream is ok once in a while, it should not be given every day.
Whole, fresh fruit is the better option to fruit juice, even if its 100% juice. If juice is to be given, make it 100% juice and limit it to 5 oz or less per day. It is best to serve juice with a meal, as juice is more likely to cause cavities when served between meals.
When making your own food choices, think of the old saying. “Monkey see, monkey do.” Never forget that your little ones love to mimic adults and they will mirror your eating habits, good or bad. So if you want your child to accept baked potatoes instead of fries, and to prefer milk to sugary soft drinks. Then you must do the same.
(The above reflects the views of the Grenada Food & Nutrition Council)