Choosing the Right Foods for Your Preschooler

Preschooler (24+ months)
By Gerber

Preschool Food Plan

As your little one grows and starts to have a mind of her own, you can guide her to explore and choose nutritious foods and learn healthy eating habits. 

Serve nutritious foods for the whole family and share healthy snacks. Provide foods in a variety of colors for a variety of nutrients. Offer small portions and follow their hunger and fullness cues.

This preschooler food group guide shows serving sizes that can help meet their nutrition needs.

 

Food Groups Serving Size Examples Total Daily Goals
Milk ½ cup to 1 cup low-fat milk or low-fat plain yogurt;
½ slice of hard cheese
16 fl. oz.
Vegetables ⅓ cup soft cooked, peeled, diced or cut vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, sweet potato 1 cup
Fruits ⅓ cup soft peeled, diced or cut fruit like banana, kiwi, peaches 1 cup
Meat/Beans 1-2 tablespoons easy-to-chew cooked, diced or cut meat; 1 scrambled egg; ¼ cup refried beans 2 oz. 
Grains
(Choose whole grains whenever you can)
½ cup cooked pasta; 1 slice of bread or whole-grain bread, ½ cup whole-grain brown rice 3 oz. equivalent
Fats/Oils 1 tablespoon dressing, mayonnaise, cooking oil or soft margarine 1 to 2 tablespoons

 

Here are a few ideas for providing nutritious food choices for your preschooler:


Add a little fish

Fish is a source of high-quality protein, with some even having healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Canned white tuna**, shrimp, salmon, pollock or catfish are good choices that are low in mercury. Children can have up to 12 oz. per week of these fish, or others that have been shown to be low in mercury. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish—they all have high levels of mercury and are not good for Preschooler nutrition.


**Canned white tuna should be limited to less than 6 oz. weekly.


Get colorful

Serving your child vegetables in a rainbow of colors will provide them with a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Here are a few examples of colorful vegetables to try:


White: soft-cooked white potatoes or cooked cauliflower

Yellow: soft-cooked summer squash or cooked corn

Orange: mashed sweet potatoes or soft-cooked carrots

Red: diced fresh tomatoes or diced, cooked red sweet peppers

Green: soft-cooked green beans, peas or finely chopped romaine lettuce

Purple: soft-cooked purple cabbage or eggplant


Don't go overboard on beverages

Milk is an excellent source of bone-building Calcium, but giving your child more milk than is recommended may leave them less hungry for other nutritious foods. The recommended amount of low-fat (1%) or fat free (skim) milk for children 2+ is 2 cups or 16 fl. oz. per day.


Limit foods with empty calories

Nutrient dense fruits (peeled and diced before serving), vegetables (cooked, peeled, and diced before serving), and yogurt should be their everyday choices, with sweet treats saved for special occasions.


Keep nutritious foods on hand

Stay stocked up with food like whole-grain crackers, dried fruit snacks made with real fruit, yogurt and canned or fresh fruit that are prepared especially for Preschooler developmental needs.


Go for key nutrients

According to the Gerber Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) More than 75% of kiddos between 1 and 3 years don't get the recommended amount of vitamin D from their diet. Meanwhile fewer than 10% receive the adequate amounts of fiber and potassium. Combined with that fact that Vitamin E and mono/polyunsaturated fats are gaps for at least 10% of Preschoolers, there's a lot of room for dietary improvement. Here are some foods you can add to help.


Vitamin D:
 foods fortified with vitamin D such as milk, yogurt, cereals and orange juices

Vitamin E: avocados and foods made with canola, corn, or soybean oils, like salad dressings

Fiber: fruits, vegetables, beans, brown rice, and other whole grains

Potassium: bananas, orange juice, and cooked potatoes

Mono/Polyunsaturated Fats: fish, vegetable oils and salad dressings, flaxseed and chia


More tips for eating right

  • A third of the daily calories in a Preschooler's diet comes from snacks, so include a variety of food groups in your child’s snack choices to make every little bite count.
  • You don't have to cover all the food groups in one meal—try spreading servings from different food groups throughout the day.
  • Avoid sugar or artificially sweetened beverages.
  • Fats are needed for growth and brain development. Include healthy fats by offering nut butters, avocados, olive oils and a variety of fish that are low in mercury.
  • Many Preschoolers may be getting more sodium than is recommended. Try to use less salt when cooking and don’t offer the salt shaker at the table.
  • Always pay attention to your Preschooler's hunger and fullness cues to make sure they're getting the right amount of food for their unique needs.