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Health & Parenting

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Serve Up Good Nutrition for Preschool Children

Get even picky eaters to eat healthfully – with a minimum of fuss.

Monkey See, Monkey Do continued...

"Studies show that children adopt their parents' eating habits starting early in life," Johnson says. "Don't expect your child to eat better than you do."

Little ones love to imitate adults, and they will mimic your eating habits, whether they are good or in need of improvement. Capitalize on a youngster's natural curiosity by substituting healthier foods at the dinner table. Chances are, he'll have what you're having, and you'll be broadening his food horizons while arousing a minimum of suspicion.

Here are some suggested stand-ins that offer variety and good nutrition:

  • Couscous instead of white rice
  • Sweet potatoes for white potatoes
  • Canadian bacon for bacon
  • Mashed potatoes made with reduced-fat milk for french fries
  • Fig bars for high-fat cookies
  • Tube yogurt (freeze first for easier handling) for ice cream
  • Reduced-fat cheddar for regular cheese.

Snacks Fill Nutrient Gaps

Scheduling meals and snacks helps ensure a healthy diet for preschoolers. Problem is, young children don't always follow a rigid eating plan. Illnesses, including ear infections and colds; fatigue; and growth spurts can temporarily change the frequency and amount your young child consumes.

Healthy between-meal snacks help fill in nutrient gaps in a little one's diet. The best snacks are nutritious foods eaten in amounts that take the edge off your son or daughter's hunger. Don't worry if they're not ravenous at their next meal.

"When you offer nutritious snacks, your child gets what they need, so it doesn't matter if they don't eat a lot at dinner," says Mitchell.

Feed your child in a designated area, preferably a kitchen or dining room table. Sitting down to eat, and only to eat, helps children pay attention to their feelings of fullness, Mitchell says.

Try these nutritious and delicious snack options for your preschooler:

  • 1/2 sandwich
  • Well-cooked vegetables and low-fat dip
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Milk
  • Chopped hard-boiled eggs or scrambled eggs
  • Dry cereal; cereal with milk
  • Low-fat microwave popcorn (starting at age 4).

Encourage a Healthy Weight

Your child is still young, but it's not too early to help him achieve a healthy weight. Respecting a preschooler's ability to decide how much to eat and when is central to that effort. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study suggests how capable children are of regulating their intake – and how adults can interfere with that innate ability.

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