Carrots or Chips: Getting Your Preschooler to Eat Healthy

Parents of 2 to 5 years old will surely observe one thing. Every new food you give your child is first inspected, smelt, may be smashed and then possibly popped into the mouth (if you’re lucky). This is indeed the age of discovery and the best time for you to develop your child’s healthy eating habits. The choice of introducing chips or carrots is totally dependent on you.

What Preschoolers Need
Your child is now at an age where she is growing rapidly. Her body is developing, activity level is increasing, and she is becoming more and more curious about her surrounding. Therefore, she needs:

  • Ample energy from food to help her body’s growth and development
  • Sufficient nutrients to make every body part healthy
  • A variety of foods to develop the sense of taste and appreciation for different foods
  • To find food fun and form a habit of healthy eating

An Age of Exploration
Although every child is unique, there are certain attitudes they all have in common at this young age. To help make eating healthy part of your child’s life, it is essential for you to understand some of the behavior patterns of preschoolers.

Curiosity – Kids are curious about everything now. Why the flower blooms, why do you go to work, why is the sky blue...the questions just go on. So when it comes to food and nutrition, their desire to discover new things is the same.

Independence – At this age, preschoolers start enjoying doing things on their own. They like being asked about their food choices and may even help you pick up something from the market, which makes it the perfect time to help them learn about healthy food.

Security – With independence, preschoolers also need to feel secure with familiar surroundings, sounds, favorite toys and personal belonging. This is why routines are very important for them. It is not at all unusual for a preschooler to prefer drinking milk in a particular cup or to eat only at a particular time.

Limited Attention Span – As there are a number of things they are discovering at the same time, the attention towards a particular thing may be limited until your preschooler discovers something more interesting. Eating food may be interesting one instant and become boring the very next moment.

Imitation – Your kid now loves to do what you are doing and this is true in the case of food preferences too. It’s not enough to just cook healthy recipes. If you leave the tomatoes on your plate, chances are your kids will, too.

Healthy Eating
Following a healthy diet shouldn’t become a strict rule you adhere to regardless of your child’s mood or health. It has to be a natural process of introducing nutrient rich food and developing a good habit just like you taught her to brush her teeth twice a day.

A good way to understand the different nutrients your child needs for her growth and grouping food according to their nutrient value is the Food Pyramid. The food guide pyramid is a great visual tool to easily identify those healthy foods your child needs. Using different colored stripes for different food groups, from grains and cereals to oils, you get a good idea of what is needed, and just how much, everyday.

Another very important lesson gleaned from the food pyramid: the need to eat a variety of foods each day. This habit is not only very beneficial for your child but for the whole family as well. By eating a variety of foods, you can be sure that you receive your daily nutrient intake of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, proteins, minerals and fibers. Plus, eating all these different foods help your child to:

  • Get all the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals
  • Develop a liking for different foods by exploring their taste, color, etc.
  • Know more about food from different cultures.

Although this is a good time to encourage your kids to eat low fat foods, there are some young ones who do not eat much to satisfy their energy requirements. Therefore, you have to sensibly choose fat-rich foods, like peanut butter or cheese, to maintain their health requirements without making them overweight.

Nutrients in Foods
So, just what do the different food groups provide for your child when it comes to kids nutrition? Well, milk products provide your child with calcium, which is vitally important to building strong bones and teeth. Milk is by far the best option for meeting those calcium requirements, but other dairy products, like yogurt and cheese, are also healthy and delicious.

Fish, poultry and lean meats, as well as nuts, beans and legumes, are excellent sources of protein as well as fat (and yes, children do need some fat in their healthy diets). As for those fruits and vegetables, young kids love to eat different kinds of fruits since they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Therefore do not limit their fruit intake to just banana and apples. Experiment with grapes, figs, orange, melon, grapefruit, kiwis and whatever else you can find in season at your grocers. Another bonus to eating a variety of fruits is the fact that different fruits contain different vitamins and minerals. Plus, fruit and veggies are the best source of many nutrients.

As for serving sizes, don’t give your child the same sized portions as you serve yourself. Children do need to eat healthy meals, but they don’t need to eat as much as we do.

Snacks, Drinks and Vitamins
Snacks are an important part of your child’s diet as he gains a lot of energy from snacks. Make sure you choose healthy snacks, like fresh and dried fruits, crackers, and yogurt, instead of sugary ones, such as as cookies and snack cakes. While it is important to give your child different snacks everyday, so that they don’t get bored and refuse to eat, avoid overdoing it at snack time. Providing large or continuous snacks can lead to loss of hunger during meal times and cause tooth decay.

If you’re serving a drink with that snack, provide your child with water, milk or 100% fruit juice. Juices that have sugar added (often labeled as fruit drinks or punch) or sodas can fill your child up and give them an unhealthy dose of sugar. Plus, these drinks provide little to no nutrition. To make sure you know just what is going into your child’s drink, consider making them yourself at home. Throw some fruits into a juicer for homemade fruit juice or into a blender with some milk for delicious smoothy.

If your child is eating regularly from all the food groups, giving daily vitamins is not required. Indeed, it is always better to get nutrients from the natural sources than through pills. But if you find it hard to make him eat everything, a multivitamin can be given after consultation with a physician.

Make Food Interesting
To spice up your dinner plate, and make it more likely that your child will eat those healthy foods, here are some tips you can keep in mind.

Presentation - Your preschooler loves to eat things that look visually attractive so use your presentation skills most for their meals. A clown, a smiling face, or a heart shaped bun will be eaten up more enthusiastically than the normal alternatives.

Variety – Even adults get bored of same things. Kids need to discover new tastes, so add as much variety as you can into that food. Different shapes, color, style of preparation, or choices from the same food group can all help to keep your child interested.

Food with Friends – Having a hard time with a picky eater? Your child may be more willing to eat those unknown foods if he sees his friends eating them. So throw a food party where the kids can make their own sandwiches, wraps, pizzas or whatever. Put out some previously turned down foods and watch him eat it up.

Good Example - What you eat is what your child will like to eat too. Make sure your plate has all the right foods when you’re eating. When she watches you enjoying your veggies, she will form the habit of enjoying them too.

Participation – Let your child decide on what to make for the day or buy from the market. When they are involved in the selection process, they will love to eat that item.

No Food Rewards – Don’t get into the habit of promising dessert, but only if they finish that certain item from their dinner plate. This will only contribute to your child hating the food more and having to be forced to eat it in the future. Instead, let them develop their own food preferences.

Things to Remember
Some more helpful tips when it comes to healthy eating:

  • Kids have a good understanding of their stomach capacity so do not force them to eat something if they say they are full.
  • Growing kids’ need change rapidly. Keep pace with these changes by adjusting the quantity of food they eat.
  • Be patient if they refuse to eat something. Reintroduce new food at a different time.
  • Give small servings at regular intervals.
  • Encourage lots of physical activity.
  • Do not make strict guidelines. Let your child eat what he is comfortable with.
  • Enjoy good family time while eating.
  • Two children of the same age may have very different food needs, so do not compare.
  • Provide a comfortable setting, like a nice small chair or his favorite dishes at mealt time

A good habit learned early in life will go a long way in maintaining the health of your child.