How to encourage healthy Preschooler eating habits

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Highlights
  • How you feed your Preschooler is as important as what you fed her.
  • You decide what to offer and when, let your Preschooler decide what and how much to eat.
  • Be a role model for healthy and enjoyable eating habits.

Healthy eating habits begin in childhood, but you may find yourself with a little more work to do as your baby turns into a Preschooler. During this time, you might discover that your child is starting to develop some food dislikes that can test your patience and raise questions for you. Here are some ways to help keep things on track for a continued lifetime of healthy eating habits:

  1. Develop a positive feeding style: Did you know that how you feed your child is as important as what you feed her? Research shows that parents who make reasonable demands about food choice and healthy eating, while paying attention to appetite and food preferences, may raise kids that not only eat healthier, but also have healthier weights, are more physically active, and don’t overeat.

    Offer meals and snacks at regular times and let children eat until they’re full. Plan the menu, make the meal, choose the place and time, and let your child choose what and how much she will eat. This will give her structure, boundaries, and choice, which will help her stay in tune with eating hunger and fullness cues.

  2. Be encouraging during mealtime with your Preschooler: Keep it fun and pleasant for all. Talk about who’s at the table, not who’s eating how much of what. Encourage your Preschooler to try something new on her plate because it’s fun, not because it’s what you want.

  3. Avoid using food as a reward. Use kind words, hugs, and high-fives, not favorite foods, to celebrate good eating behavior. Stickers have been shown to be a winning non-food reward for little ones. Rewarding eating behaviors, or other behaviors, with tasty food (or punishing by taking favorite foods away) may make your child want more sweets and teach her to ignore internal hunger and fullness cues. Another tip—praise your child for tasting a new food, not finishing her serving.

  4. Out of sight, out of mind. With young Preschoolers, it’s easy to manage sweets and treats by keeping unhealthy foods “out of sight” and “out of mind.” Young Preschoolers under the age of two shouldn’t get sweets or empty calorie foods like chips on a regular basis. Why? They have small stomachs, big needs for nutrients, and fast growth rates, making every bite count for nutrition.

    As your Preschooler gets older and begins to ask for sweets, you can find ways to include them as part of a healthy balanced diet. Just be careful to set limits when you do have sweets around and don’t leave them in a place that tempts your child to fixate on them.

  5. Expose your Preschooler to a variety of food.You want your Preschooler to try a variety of food from all the food groups—fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, dairy and nondairy alternatives, and fat—as well as a wide variety of foods, including different flavors, cuisines, and textures. This will help increase the amount of nutrients she gets (from the food groups) and the chances of her having a healthy eating habit who likes all kinds of foods (from the cuisines). Remember, it can take eight to ten tries for a toddler to like a food (even longer for some), so keep up the good work and watch it pay off.

  6. Be a healthy eating role model. It’s a lot easier for your Preschooler to try new foods and like them when she sees her loved ones doing the same—eating with enjoyment. Make sure you smile and talk about how good the food tastes when you eat. You can help your child be more open and curious about foods by showing excitement for new tastes and variety. Also, plan regular meals so your child can eat with the rest of the family.

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