Preschool Nutrition: Supporting Healthy Bodies and Minds
July 1, 2021
Is your preschooler in the habit of only wanting to eat certain foods? As parents, we worry whether our children are eating enough of the right foods to properly nourish their growing bodies and minds. We worry whether we are limiting enough of those not-so-healthy food choices. It can be difficult to know how to balance healthy eating with preschoolers. After all, who wants to sit down and eat when there’s so much fun, playing, and learning to do?
If you have a picky eater at home and proper nutrition is a sensitive topic, you are not alone. Here are some tips to help preschoolers learn eating habits that support the growth of healthy bodies and minds, and also help them to live healthier, happier, more active lives.
- If your child is not hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Forcing your child to eat can lead to your child associating mealtime with anxiety or frustration. Try serving your child small portions to avoid overwhelming them, which allows them the opportunity to ask for more.
- Serve meals and snacks at consistent times each day rather than allowing them to snack throughout the day. Set a specific schedule that includes 3 meals and 2 snacks per day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Offer water between meals and snacks so your child will not fill up on juice or milk.
- Increase their physical activity. Make sure they have had plenty of fresh air and exercise so they will be hungry at mealtime.
- Be patient as your child learns the tastes, smells, and textures of new foods. Your child may need repeated exposure to a new food several times before they take a bite. Try serving new foods along with your child’s favorite foods. Continue to offer your child healthy food choices until they become more familiar.
- Offer finger foods or table foods that children can easily feed to themselves that are small and easy to chew, such as banana slices, cut-up grapes, small slices of cooked carrots, or small pieces of toast. Avoid foods that could potentially be swallowed whole and cause choking.
- Engage your child in meal planning, shopping, and preparation so they become more interested in trying new foods. Take them to the grocery store or a local farmers’ market and let them pick out the fruits and vegetables they’d like to try. Don’t buy anything you don’t want your child to eat.
- Set your child up for success by removing distractions during mealtimes. Be sure to turn off electronics so your child can focus on eating. Praise their willingness to try new foods.
- Encourage food exploration. Children are very sensory-oriented, and the shape and color of their food can be just as important to them as the taste. Have your child sort foods by shapes and colors. Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Make food fun and visually appealing by playing a game. “Does this food make a crunch sound when you bite it?” “Can you make a smiley face out of peas?” “Can you build a tower out of your carrots?” “Will you take a bite of food to match each color in the rainbow?”
- Be creative with your ingredients. Add pureed vegetables to pasta sauce. Top cereal with fruit slices. Mix cauliflower into your mac and cheese. Add shredded zucchini and carrots into breakfast muffins. Serve broccoli and other vegetables with a favorite dip or sauce.
- Set a good example by letting your child see you eating a variety of healthy foods. When children observe their parents eating healthy foods, they are more likely to do the same.
At Columbia Academy, we believe that proper nutrition in childhood sets the foundation for lifelong healthy eating habits. Children need the right fuel for growing, learning, and developing. We make it a priority to serve nutritious snacks each day. Our optional hot lunch program provides nutrient-rich lunches featuring whole grain, low-sugar foods that are prepared in our own state-of-the-art kitchen. Preparing lunches on site at our Elementary and Middle School helps to ensure freshness and quality.
It’s important for parents to keep in mind that children’s dietary preferences change as they grow, and that it is completely normal. Over the course of any given week, most children do get plenty of variety and proper nutrition. While your child’s picky eating habits may not change overnight, the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
If you are concerned that your child may be at risk of a nutritional deficiency, it’s important to speak with your child’s pediatrician for guidance and support.
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