Teaching young kids about nutrition and choosing healthy food choices can be tricky. When we give too much information about foods, eating time will become more like a lecture and preschoolers will feel burdened. However, if we delay teaching this important topic, before you know it, young kids already picked up bad eating habits.
So, it is important to introduce nutrition at a young age, but make it as enjoyable as possible. Preschoolers are still developing eating habits, and they are very willing to learn- through your words and your deeds. Talk to young kids about how the food they put inside their body affects their health, why it matters and how to make the healthiest choices. They need encouragement to eat healthy and they learn best by imitating adults.
Teach by example. Young kids copy what their parents and other trusted adults, like their teachers, are doing. Show them what eating ‘right’ looks like. Fill your own plate with the right proportion of whole grains, lean protein, vegetables and fruits.
Make eating time pleasant. Don’t make eating time a lecture time. Make it an enjoyable bonding time. Don’t pressure them to eat more or to ‘clean’ their plate. Teach them how to listen to their body, and to stop when they are full. Be sure to take distractions away, such as gadgets and toys as they distract kids from listening to their body cues. You and the kids should focus on eating, not on playing. Furthermore, playing or running around may cause choking. Discourage poor behavior at mealtime and sit with them while eating.
Always offer a variety of foods. Make it a goal that your child will not become a picky eater in the future. However, the key is to offer and not to force. Also, kids should learn that all kinds of food have a place in their diet. For example, don’t call fries bad food, rather, teach that these kinds of food have limited nutrition and should be eaten at smaller portions. In such a way, kids will think twice before choosing them as a snack.
Limit unplanned eating. Give meals on time and give regularly scheduled snacks. Limit sweets. Kids will be hungry enough at scheduled meal times if unplanned snacks have been limited.
Talk to your doctor. Do you feel that the child needs to lose or gain weight? Don’t make a diet for them, consult a physician. They can help you with discussing food groups, portions, eating behaviors and weight.
What nutrients do preschoolers need?
Their plates should consists of these food group categories:
- Grains. Aim for mostly whole-grains, like brown rice, whole-wheat and oatmeal.
- Vegetables. Make eating vegetables fun and healthier by choosing brightly colored vegetables that may include dark greens, red, orange, beans, etc.
- Protein. Aim for lean proteins, like low-fat and lean meats. Fish, nuts, beans and seeds are a better option. Don’t skip on dairy. Focus on low-fat products and those that are high in calcium.
- Fruits. Fresh, canned, dried or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit category. The recommended portion for kids 1-3 is around 4 ounces of fruit intake daily and 4-6 ounces for kids 4-6 years of age.
Most importantly, always encourage physical exercise together with a healthy diet.