As a preschooler, your child should be developing a healthy attitude toward eating. Ideally, by this age she no longer uses eating—or not eating—to demonstrate defiance, nor does she confuse food with love or affection. Don’t worry if you are not there yet. Keep working at it and hopefully soon she’ll view eating as a natural response to hunger and meals as a pleasant social experience.
Despite your preschooler’s general enthusiasm for eating, he still may have very specific preferences in food, some of which may vary from day to day. Your child may gobble down a particular food one day, and then push away the plate with the same food the next day. He may ask for a certain food for several days in a row, and then insist that he doesn’t like it anymore. As irritating as it may be to have him turn up her nose at a dish he devoured the day before, it’s normal behavior for a preschooler, and best not to make an issue of it. Let him eat the other foods on his plate or select something else to eat. As long as he chooses foods that aren’t overly sugary, fatty, or salty, don’t object. However, encourage him to try new foods by offering him very small amounts to taste, not by insisting that he eat a full portion of an unfamiliar food.
As a parent, your job is to make sure that your preschooler has nutritious food choices at every meal. If she has healthy options on the dining room table, let her make the decision of what (and how much) to eat. If she’s a picky eater—resisting eating vegetables, for example—don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Keep giving them to her even if she repeatedly rejects the sight of them. Before long, she may change her mind, developing a taste for foods that she once ignored. This is the period of time that healthy snacking and healthy habits get reinforced and/or established.
Now is the time to start to limit sweets, treats and junk foods. Beware of foods marketed to preschoolers that are high in sugar. There is no nutritional value to fruit juice and sweetened beverages. We recommend that your child only be offered milk and water with juice as a special treat.
Offer 12-20 ounces of nonfat milk each day. More than 20 ounces of milk a day can interfere with the absorption of iron and can cause iron deficiency anemia. As well, excess milk consumption can interfere with your baby’s appetite for other nutritious foods.
Remember, meals don’t need to be elaborate to be nutritious. If you have only a few minutes to prepare a meal, try a turkey sandwich, a serving of green beans, an apple, and a glass of nonfat milk. A simple lunch like this takes less time to prepare than driving through a fast-food restaurant, and it is much healthier.
Television advertising, incidentally, can be a serious obstacle to your preschooler’s good nutrition. Some studies show that children who watch over twenty-two hours of TV per week (over three hours of screen time a day) have a greater tendency to become obese. Children this age are extremely receptive to ads for candy and other sugary sweets, especially after they’ve visited other homes where these foods are served. Obesity is a growing problem among children in America. For this reason, you need to be aware of your youngster’s eating habits, at home and away, and monitor them to make sure she’s eating as healthy as possible.
A vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day is recommended for all children.