Feeding Your Preschooler

Janis Hunter
Home & Garden Information Center

Getting a two- to five-year-old child to eat nutritious foods can be challenging for parents. At this age many children become picky eaters and may refuse to eat a food just because of its color. Or, they may go on an eating jag and want only one food, such as peanut butter sandwiches, for a week and then completely ignore that food the next week. In addition, parents get conflicting advice from well-meaning relatives, who try to tell them how to feed their child.

Young children are very impressionable. Parents and caregivers play a key role in helping preschoolers develop healthy eating habits and positive attitudes toward food that stay with them later in life.

How does a parent know whether their toddler or preschooler is consuming enough nutritious foods for good health? One of the best signs is that they are growing at the proper rate. Since toddlers and preschoolers tend to eat less and need fewer calories than infants, they grow at a slower rate. The average two to five-year-old gains 4 or 5 pounds and grows about 2½ inches taller each year. Children’s heights and weights vary due to their family history, sex, nutrition, amount of sleep and health status.

USDA’s MyPyramid is the basis for planning meals and snacks. Every day children need to eat a variety of foods from these five major groups: grains; vegetables; fruits; milk, and meat & beans. Each food group provides some, but not all, of the nutrients and energy that preschoolers need. Therefore, all the food groups are equally important for good health and proper growth.

Serve child-sized portions and let the child ask for more if they are still hungry. A good rule of thumb is that a toddler serving size is about 1 tablespoon of food for each year of age. The child’s age, gender and activity level determine the exact amounts needed.

For a general guideline of how much a preschooler should eat from each food group, refer to HGIC 4103, Feeding Your Preschooler. A copy of the food guide for preschoolers is available at the end of the fact sheet and at www.mypyramid.gov/preschoolers. MyPyramid for Preschoolers is designed to assist parents and caregivers in helping two to five-year-olds eat well, stay active and be healthy. It was introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in October 2008.

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