Preschooler Balanced Diet

  • The 2008 Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) identified Preschoolers’ nutritional intake from 2 to 4 years of age.
  • FITS identified the need for more fruits and vegetables, fiber, Potassium and Vitamin E, and less saturated fat and sodium for a Preschooler's balanced diet.
  • Learn about common Preschooler nutrition gaps and what foods you can serve to avoid these gaps.

Nestlé’s 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS)

To better understand Preschoolers’ eating habits and nutrient intake, Nestlé sponsored the 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS). By knowing what Preschoolers are really eating, we can better guide their food choices.

Based on this reputable study, here are some common nutrition gaps we found in Preschoolers around 2 to 4 years of age:

Nutritional gaps in Preschooler food choices

Fruits and vegetables 
Nestlé FITS found that getting enough vegetables is a concern. One third of Preschoolers age 2 and up are not consuming even one serving of vegetables on a given day. Fruits and vegetables offer essential vitamins, minerals and fiber to a Preschooler's balanced diet and are important for healthy growth and development.

How to bridge the gap:
Serve your Preschooler 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables every day. Fruit and vegetable servings can be from fresh, frozen or canned foods, chopped to the right size and texture. Remember, you can still serve purees to your Preschooler—and use her favorite foods to add variety. For example:
Stir ¼ cup GERBER® 3RD FOODS® fruit purees into plain yogurt (or add milk for a smoothie).

About 60% of Toddlers between 12 and 18 months are eating adult, non-whole grain cereals during the day. But eating adult cereals may not be best for your Preschooler. These cereals may not be as rich in Iron as infant cereal and may be high in sugar. 

How to bridge the gap:
Continue to give your Preschooler Iron-rich infant cereal and remember she can be fed cereal at any time of day! Two servings of infant cereal, or ½ cup provides the daily value of Iron needed in your Preschooler's balanced diet.

Desserts and sweetened beverages
There’s not a lot of room in your Preschooler's diet for foods that offer calories but not many nutrients. The study found that more than 70% of Preschoolers consumed a dessert, sweet and/or sweetened beverage on a given day. Desserts, sweets and sweetened beverages can be high in calories compared to the micronutrients they provide and can displace other nutritious foods.

How to bridge the gap:
In place of sweets, serve your Preschooler food choices that are more nutritious options such as: fruits, yogurt, cereals and fortified snacks that are made with whole grains.

Vitamins, minerals and fats lacking in Preschooler diets


Fiber plays an important role in your Preschooler's balanced diet and digestive health. But on a given day, the 2008 study found that virtually no Preschoolers are meeting the recommended daily intake of 19 grams of fiber.

How to bridge the gap:
Offer whole grains, and fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables each day. Try creating smoothies by blending whole fruits (with skins and peels) with yogurt.

Vitamin E
A balanced Preschooler diet includes Vitamin E, an important antioxidant that helps protect the cells in the body from damage. According to the study, more than half of Toddlers (age one year) are not getting the recommended amount of Vitamin E from the foods they eat.

How to bridge the gap:
Foods that have Vitamin E include vegetable oils (canola, corn, soybean), avocados, whole grains, and some leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli). Also fortified products like GERBER® GRADUATES® Lil’ Crunchies®—Apple & Sweet Potato help maintain adequate intakes of Vitamin E.

Potassium is a mineral that helps muscles work properly. Surprisingly the study found that virtually no Preschoolers are meeting the recommended intake of Potassium in their diet.

How to bridge the gap:
Potassium is found in many foods, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, yogurt, bananas and citrus fruits. Include these potassium-rich foods in your Preschooler’s healthy balanced diet.

Healthy fats
Healthy Fats aid in growth and brain development. Fat also helps the body use vitamins, such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Nestlé FITS showed that one third of Preschoolers ages 2 to 4 years are consuming less than the recommended amount of total fat in their diet, yet 75% are consuming too much saturated fat. A Preschooler's balanced diet should include about 30 to 40% of total calories from fat, preferably mono- and polyunsaturated fats like those found in fish, avocados and foods made with vegetable oils, such as canola and soybean oil. These healthy fats are better for her than the fat found in Preschooler food choices like hot dogs, bacon and sausages.

How to bridge the gap:
Try preparing foods with canola oil, which also contains the healthy omega-3 fat, or offer condiments such as mayonnaise or salad dressings made with these oils. Remember to limit foods high in saturated and trans fats. You can also serve GERBER® GRADUATES® Lil’ Sticks® meat and poultry sticks that have 70 mg of omega-3 essential fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) per serving.

How was the information in this article?
How to encourage healthy Preschooler eating habits

Plan your child's menus

How to manage a picky eater
Healthy Eating Habits

Test your technique, finesse your feeding style

Encouraging healthy eating habits
An independent young child
Your healthy eating Preschooler
A day in a Preschooler diet
Truth or Myth?

Preschooler food group guide