Remember children’s needs for proper nutrition

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Remember children’s needs for proper nutrition

Scenario: You have a three year old in your care who has refused to drink orange juice for a week. He says that only milk will do because he only likes “white” food – and orange juice isn’t white.

This kind of unpredictable and unusual eating behavior is very common among preschool children aged two to five year. In fact, many parents of preschoolers feel that meal and snack times frequently turn into struggles for control over what to eat, how much to eat, and even when to eat.

Feeding your preschooler does not have to involve endless discussions, demands or screaming bouts. All you need is some understanding, patience and trust.

One of the most basic truths about your preschooler is that she or he is a child – not an adult in kid’s clothing.

Children have different physical and emotional needs than adults. These differences apply to the type and amount of food they eat, as well as to their behavior at eating time. Realizing that these differences exist, and that they are normal and healthy for your child, can help you to minimize tensions centered around food. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Children need smaller portions than adults. Approximately one tablespoon of each type of food for every year of the child’s age is an ample portion size in most cases. For example, a three year old’s plate might contain three tablespoons of chicken, three tablespoons of rice and three tablespoons of mixed vegetables (see CACFP meal pattern chart for required amounts for reimbursable meals).

Children need to snack throughout the day in addition to being offered regularly scheduled meals. Try to discourage large snacks or beverages other than water when it is close to meal time. This way, your preschooler will be hungry enough to eat with the rest of the family.

Children are different from adults in that they are growing and developing rapidly. This means that they have increased needs for calories and nutrients that must be met by adequate amounts of food in a balanced and varied diet. It’s not necessary to eliminate any foods from your child’s diet – even the higher fat ones. Just serve them in moderation and balance them with more frequent servings of other lower-fat choices.

While it is important to keep the fat, saturated fat and cholesterol at recommended levels in your preschooler’s diet, don’t go overboard. Without enough calories and nutrients, your child cannot grow and develop to his or her full potential.

Young children may be suspicious of new foods and recipes. Give preschoolers time to try out a new food. If it doesn’t go over with a bag at first, try it several times more over the course of several months before declaring the dish a disaster.

The form a food takes can frequently determine whether or not it gets eaten. For example, it isn’t uncommon for raw, crunch vegetables to be preferred over soft, hot ones. Foods that can be eaten with the fingers usually find their way into the mouths of children more frequently than those needing utensils. To avoid choking, cut foods that are hard to chew into very small pieces for younger children.

While children need protection and direction in many areas, they also know best when it comes to regulating what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. Studies have shown that over time, preschool children can and do construct diets with enough calories and nutrients when they are allowed to make their own food choices from a variety of foods. Children have their own internal signals for hunger, satiety and nutrient needs that can guide them to make appropriate decisions about food.

Does this mean that our two to five year olds should be on their own when it comes to nutrition? Not at all. Experts agree that it is the parents’ responsibility to provide balanced, varied and tasty meals and snacks for their children. But forcing preschoolers to try every food or clean their plates is not helpful and may be harmful to the children’s future eating behaviors.

Your role consists of offering your preschooler choices from among the different food groups. Don’t be disappointed or upset if he or she doesn’t sample or finish all of them. Remember, offer a balanced, varied and tasty diet, but try not to force food choices.

Adapted from: Nutrition Update

Updated October 22, 2019 9:03am