Starting healthy habits for life: 2-5 years

Dinner with preschoolersPreschool is an exciting time when kids are curious and love to try new things. This is the perfect time to start your child eating a variety of nutritious foods. Variety will help them get the nutrients they need and provide a source of pleasure as they discover new tastes and textures.

Tips and Basics

  • You are in control of the food and drinks that are offered. Your child is in control of whether or not she eats them and how much.
  • Offer the right portion sizes. Depending on your child’s age and appetite, this might be a full Food Guide serving or only half. Start with a small amount and give seconds if he wants. Serving too much at once can make a child feel like not eating at all.
  • Every day is different. Remember that appetites can change from day to day or meal to meal. Children should never be forced to eat or to stop eating. Accept that your child will eat as much as she feels she needs.
  • Eat together. Children tends to copy what adults do. Serve food at the table and get rid of distractions. Turn off the TV/tablet/computer/Smartphone and don’t allow toys or books at the table. Enjoy your time together.
  • Have regular meal and snack times. This should usually be 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day. Don’t serve snacks within an hour of a meal. Other than water, try not to offer foods or beverages outside of these times. Extra snacks can lead to tooth decay and interfere with the development of healthy eating habits.
  • Make eating easy. Cut food into small bits. Cook meat until it is softer. Be creative and colourful. Accept that messes are a part of learning to eat.
  • Offer a variety of foods at each meal. Always include some foods that your child has eaten before. Don’t draw attention to the new food. Just serve it and let your child decide if he wants to try it.
  • Don’t force them. If your child refuses a food, DO NOT try to make him eat it. Coaxing, forcing, bribing, punishing or playing food games may create problems and cause stress.
  • Don’t prepare something different for your child if she refuses all or part of the family meal. If you do, she will quickly learn that she can ask for something different, and she will be less likely to eat the foods you have already prepared. If you allow your child to pick and choose from the variety of foods you have prepared for the family, eventually she will learn to try new foods.
  • Be patient. You may need to offer a new food 20 times – yes, that much or more before your child tries it. And he may taste it many times before he decides to eat it. Let your child learn to enjoy foods at his own pace.

For more information, there is a great resource for parents and caregivers you can download from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health called You, Your Child, and Food – Healthy Eating for Preschool Children: Age 2-5 Years.

If you have specific questions, check in with with your health care provider.

 
Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

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