Nutritious Food Plan for Your Preschooler

  • Your child is probably eating more family foods now.
  • She needs your help in exploring nutritious new foods, tastes and developmentally appropriate textures.
  • Preschoolers need role models and exposure to a wide variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Encourage plenty of active playtime, along with a balanced diet packed with nutritious foods for your Preschooler.

Understanding Preschooler nutrition

Right now, your child is probably eating more of the foods that the rest of the family eats.

She needs your help exploring new tastes and choosing nutritious foods for healthy growth and development. You can help your Preschooler's nutrition by serving a variety of healthy foods for the whole family at meal and snack times.

Since she will let you know which foods she likes and which she doesn’t, it's important to keep serving nutritious foods to your Preschooler—even if she refuses them at first.

Good to know

Preschooler age is a period of intense curiosity and exploration. This also applies to the foods Preschoolers are offered, which they examine by touching, seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting.

Watch this quick video to learn about Preschooler nutritional needs and how you can help your child develop healthy eating habits.

Healthy foods and positive playtime
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 10.4% of children ages 2 to 5 are obese. As your child grows, it’s as important to continue to offer healthy foods to your Preschooler, as it is to be a good role model. Foster good habits by eating together at the dinner table. And serve a variety of healthy foods—even if you don’t like them yourself.

In order to provide the foundation for a healthy weight and a healthy, active life, you should encourage plenty of active play balanced with a nutritious diet.

A balanced diet means eating foods from all of the food groups, every day—whole grains, fruit, vegetables, protein foods, dairy and healthy fats. As you continue to offer healthy foods to your Preschooler, try to serve a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. An array of colors means an array of tastes—and an assortment of nutrients.

Food Groups Daily Intake* Serving Size Examples Product Examples
Dairy 2 cups (16 fl. oz.) ½ - 1 cup ( 8 fl. oz.) fat free, low-fat or reduced-fat milk;
4 oz. container low fat yogurt;
⅓ cup shredded cheddar cheese
Contributes ⅓ cup dairy:
Grains 3 oz. grain equivalents (about 48 g)
at least ½ of grain servings should be whole grain
Each of the following contributes 1 oz. grain equivalent —

1 slice whole grain bread
½ mini bagel
2 small pancakes
½ cup cooked pasta
1 cup ready- to- eat cereal

Contributes ¼ oz. grain equivalent:
2 animal crackers
Contributes ½ oz grain equivalent:

Contributes 1 oz. grain equivalent:
GERBER® GRADUATES® Breakfast Buddies™ Hot Cereal with Fruit – Apple Cinnamon
Vegetables 1 cup ⅓ cup soft, cooked, peeled vegetables Contributes ⅓ cup vegetables:
GERBER® GRADUATES® Veggie Pick-Ups™ – Diced Carrots, Diced Green Beans
Fruits 1 cup
(limit fruit juice to no more than 4 fl. oz. / day)
⅓ cup fruit
½ cup ( 4 fl. oz.) 100% fruit juice
Contributes ⅓ cup fruit:
GERBER® GRADUATES® Fruit Pick-Ups™ - Diced Apples, Mangoes, Peaches

Contributes ½ cup fruit juice:
GERBER® 100% Fruit Juice
Protein Foods 2 oz. Each of the following contribute 1 oz:
1 oz. cooked, easy to chew meat, poultry or fish
1 egg
¼ cup cooked beans
Contributes ¾ oz. poultry:
GERBER® GRADUATES® – Grilled Chicken Nuggets in Chicken Broth
GERBER® GRADUATES®– Turkey Meatballs in Chicken Broth
Fats and Oils 1 tablespoon (3 tsp.) 1 tsp. oil or
1 tblsp. mayonnaise (2 ½ tsp. oil)
* Average estimated intake. Your Preschooler's needs may be greater or less than those stated; always follow your child's hunger and fullness cues. If you have concerns, contact your pediatrician.

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A nutritious diet for your Preschooler

Even if chicken nuggets and French fries are your child's favorite foods, she can still learn to love more nutritious foods including: fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry, fish, and other nutritious foods.

Here are a few ideas for providing the healthy, balanced food choices your Preschooler needs:

Add a little fish
Fish is a source of high-quality protein, and some even have 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
Growing children 2 to 3 years of age need 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables per day, yet in a recent national survey, nearly one-third are not meeting the recommended intake of fruit and over 90% are not meeting the recommended intake of vegetables.

Hard to believe, but it's true! Nutritious foods for your Preschooler should include a daily diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially nutrient-rich, dark-green, leafy vegetables, deep-yellow vegetables, and colorful fruits. Serving your child vegetables in a rainbow of colors will provide her 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 for your child, but giving your child more milk than is recommended may leave her less hungry for other nutritious foods. For optimal Preschooler nutrition, the recommended amount of reduced-fat milk (2%) is 2 cups (16 fl. oz.) per day. In addition to milk, 100% fruit juice and water are also good beverage choices for your child. But, as with milk, don't let your child fill up on juice. Preschoolers shouldn't have more than 4 to 6 fl. oz. (about ½ to ¾ cup) of 100% fruit juice per day.

Add variety to dairy and non-dairy Calcium sources
If your child doesn't like milk, make sure her diet includes other sources of Calcium, such as yogurt or cheese. If she is sensitive to lactose, there are lots of non-dairy Calcium sources available for Preschooler nutrition such as: tofu, white beans, broccoli, collard greens, and canned baked beans. Many foods also have Calcium added, including: orange juice, breakfast cereals, instant oatmeal, breads, and soy-milk.

Limit sweetened foods
Babies are born with a natural preference for sweet tastes, so it's no surprise that many Preschoolers love cookies, candy, and other sweetened foods. Nutrient-dense, age-appropriate nutritious foods for your Preschooler—such as fruit (peeled and diced before serving), vegetables (cooked, peeled, and diced before serving), yogurt and cereal—are good alternatives to sweetened foods and can help establish healthy eating habits.

Keep nutritious foods on hand
Replace sugary sweets and salty chips with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Keep nutritious snacks on hand, 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
Many Preschoolers don’t get the recommended amount of Vitamin E, fiber, or Potassium each day. Here are some healthy foods for your Preschooler that provide these nutrients:

  • 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

Top Tip

Follow your Preschooler's hunger and fullness cues. Never force her to finish a snack or meal. Remember this rule: It's your job to provide nutritious foods at regular meal and snack times, but it's her job to decide whether and how much to eat.

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