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Serve Up Good Nutrition for Preschool Children

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

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.

When researchers served preschoolers a double portion of macaroni and cheese, the children took bigger bites and ate more. But when the researchers placed the double-sized portion in a serving bowl and let the children serve themselves, the children chose an appropriate amount of food for their ages: about a 1/2-cup portion for 3-year-olds and 3/4 cup for 4 and 5-year-olds.

Limiting television -- even educational shows -- also improves preschoolers' chances for a healthy weight. Three-year-olds who watched two or more hours of television daily were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than children who watched less, according to recent research in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

"It's tempting to allow a preschooler to watch TV so that you can get a few minutes to yourself, but it's a tough habit to break," Mitchell says. And while Mitchell, a mother of two, does not expect parents to banish television, she is adamant about separating eating and the television set.

What's the problem with eating in front of the TV? Writing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers recently found that preschoolers of normal weight who often eat while watching television tend to eat more, possibly because they are distracted from normal cues for fullness.

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