Toddlers and preschoolers generally need around 1600 calories per day. They may become more picky eaters than they were as infants, and become more of a challenge at meal time, creating worry for a lot of parents that they are not getting proper nutrition. It is common for them to graze throughout the day, or eat really well at one meal or on a particular day, but not so well at other meals or other days.
As a general rule of thumb, you should look at your child’s eating habits over the course of a week as opposed to one particular meal or day, to gauge whether you feel they are taking in adequate nutrients. The most important thing to remember when feeding your child is to provide a variety of healthy options at each meal and snacks and to let them choose how much and which foods to eat.
If your child refuses a particular food, continue to try to offer the food because it often takes 8-10 tries offering a new food for a child to acquire a taste for it. Some good guidelines to follow as you prepare meals for your child are to fill at least half their plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables (3 cups per day), make at least 1/2 of their grains whole grains (5 ounces per day), offer low fat dairy options (2.5 cups per day) and aim for 2 servings or around 5 ounces of lean meat, beans, eggs or nuts daily.
Plan for three meals per day with two healthy snacks, as preschoolers often do not eat enough at a meal to stay full until the next meal. Eating together as a family and letting your child see you enjoy healthy foods also goes a long way in encouraging healthy eating.
Other fun ideas for snack time and to encourage healthy eating include having your child help cook and prepare healthy snacks with you, using cookie cutters to cut fruits and vegetables into fun shapes, or having a tasting party with a variety of fruits and vegetables with healthy dips for them to sample.
A great resource that offers daily food plans for preschoolers and great recipes for fun healthy snacks, and nutrition activities can be found at choosemyplate.gov.
By Jenell Fitzgerald, CPNP