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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.

Encourage a Healthy Weight continued...

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.

Fend Off Food Fits

Preschoolers can be picky eaters. They may favor the same few foods for weeks on end, in spite of your attempts at variety. You can't stop children from fussing about food, but you can control the way you react to their demands for chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese every day.

The temptation is to prepare only the foods you are sure your young child will accept. But resist that urge.

Johnson, also a mom, recommends playing down entrenched food preferences while continuing to offer a variety of choices.

"Most children will eventually get bored and at least start picking at the other foods you offer, as long as you don't engage them in a power struggle at the table," she says.

It's normal to become concerned when a child continues to choose the same limited diet. While you're waiting for your child to snap out of his eating rut, put your mind at ease by offering a daily multivitamin appropriate for your child's age. Multivitamins fill in small nutrient gaps in a picky eater's diet, particularly for iron -- a nutrient that's critical to a child's brain development, immune system and energy level.

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Reviewed on December 17, 2008

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