What are some suggestions for feeding my preschooler?

Feeding Your Preschooler - Ages 4 to 5 Years

Nutrition during preschool years is important for kids' growth and learning and to provide energy for high activity levels. Here are some suggestions for good nutrition during these years.

What should my preschooler be eating?

Your preschooler is now able to feed him- or herself and is able to try a wide variety of foods. Always offer different choices for your child to eat. Offer new textures, colors, and tastes. Make food appealing and fun for your child. Your child should be eating from each of the food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and meat.

How much should my preschooler be eating?

Your job is to decide what foods are offered and when and where they are eaten. Let your child decide which of the foods offered he or she will eat, and how much to eat. Day-to-day and meal-to-meal appetite changes are normal. It is important that you don't make your child clean his or her plate.

The following table gives guidelines for how much your preschooler should be eating each day.

Grain Group - at least 6 servings each day

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 4-6 crackers
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal
  • ½ bun, muffin, or bagel

Fruit and Vegetable Group - at least 5 servings each day

  • ½ cup cooked, canned, or chopped raw
  • ½ - 1 small fruit/vegetable
  • ½ cup juice

Milk Group - at least 3 servings each day

  • ¾ cup milk or yogurt
  • ¾ ounce of cheese

Meat Group - 2 servings each day

  • 1-3 tablespoons lean meat, chicken, fish
  • 4-5 tablespoons dry beans and peas
  • 1 egg

Fat Group - 3-4 servings each day

  • 1 teaspoon margarine, butter, oils

Is there anything I shouldn't feed my preschooler?

It is important to be careful with foods that may cause choking:

  • Slippery foods such as whole grapes; large pieces of meats, poultry, and hot dogs; candy and cough drops.
  • Small, hard foods such as nuts, seeds, popcorn, chips, pretzels, raw carrots, and raisins.
  • Sticky foods such as peanut butter and marshmallows.

Always cut up foods into small pieces and watch your child while he or she is eating.

Also, your child may have some food allergies. The most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts and other nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Many children grow out of food allergies. If you think your child might have a food allergy, talk with your doctor to be sure.

What do I do if my child is a picky eater?

  • Offer new foods one at a time, and remember that children may need to try a new food 10 or more times before they accept it! Also, offer new foods at the start of meals when your child is more hungry.
  • Avoid "short order cooking." Serve at least one food you know your child will like, but then expect him or her to eat the same foods as the rest of the family.
  • Make food simple, plain, and recognizable. Some kids don't like food that is mixed (like a casserole) or food that is touching.
  • Sometimes kids will get "stuck" on a particular food. This is normal and is not harmful. You can always include other options with the food they are "stuck" on to add variety. However, if your child does not eat anything from a whole food group for more than two weeks, talk with a dietitian or your doctor.
  • Never force your child to eat a food he or she doesn't like. Offer multiple choices so that he or she can choose something he or she does like.

What if my child is gaining too much weight?

First of all, it is important to talk with a registered dietitian or your doctor about your child's weight to decide if he or she really is gaining too much. Also, keep in mind that often a child will gain weight before a growth spurt. Here are a few tips to help prevent too much weight gain:

  • Eat regularly scheduled meals and snacks. This will help keep your child from getting too hungry, which often leads to overeating.
  • After your child turns two years old, it is okay to start offering lower-fat foods, such as reduced-fat milk, low-fat cheeses, and lean meats.
  • Encourage activity!
  • Start off a meal by giving your child smaller portions. If he or she is hungry for more, you can always give seconds.

What are some good snacks for my preschooler?

  • Grain group: Animal crackers, dry cereal, graham crackers, toast, air-popped popcorn
  • Vegetable group: Raw vegetables cut up in strips
  • Fruit group: Fresh fruit cut up for finger food, canned fruit, dried fruit
  • Milk group: Cheese, cottage cheese, string cheese, yogurt, frozen yogurt, milk (plain or flavored), pudding
  • Meat group: Peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, lean lunch meat slices such as turkey, chicken, or ham, tuna salad

Additional tips:

  • Set a good example of healthy eating for your child.
  • Plan regular meals and snacks and give kids enough time to eat.
  • Plan a quiet time before meals and snacks. Kids eat better when they are relaxed.
  • Don't use food as a reward.
  • Involve your children in making the food.
  • Use child-size plates, cups, forks, and spoons.

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Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/13/2017.

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