How to get your preschooler to eat more healthy food

How to get your preschooler to eat more healthy food

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Eating well gives your preschooler the energy he needs to learn and grow. And it'll help him stay healthy, maintain a healthy weight, and establish good lifelong eating habits. Here are some ways to make nutritious food the most appealing choice:

Get your preschooler involved

A great way to get your preschooler excited about eating a range of healthy foods is to involve him in the family's meal-planning decisions. Let him help you make out menus and a grocery list. Have him check to see whether you're out of grapes and suggest favorite suppers or breakfasts.

When you take him food shopping, ask him to hold the grocery list for you as you shop. Give him a few choices to make along the way: Peaches or mangoes? Peas or carrots? Graham crackers or fig bars?

Show your child how you check for specific ingredients on the nutrition labels of the foods you choose — and those you put back on the shelf.

Make a habit of selecting one new fruit or vegetable to try each week, keeping in mind that your child may not be interested in trying something unfamiliar until it's been offered numerous times.

To encourage your child to take some responsibility for his own nutrition, you could help him create his own daily food chart, with boxes for each category: fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat/protein. (Check out the United States Department of Agriculture's ready-made chart to get started.)

Show your child how to color in or check off the appropriate boxes when he finishes a meal or snack. Then look at the chart together at the end of each day to tally how well he did in meeting his nutritional goals.

Encourage his involvement in the kitchen

Invite your preschooler to help you in the kitchen. Enlist his help putting toppings on the pizza or vegetables on kabobs. Show him how to wash lettuce and toss a salad. Once he can handle it, help him measure ingredients — an excellent foundation for learning fractions!

Make meals and snacks fun

Arrange carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers to look like a face on your preschooler's plate. Make pancakes in the shape of his initials and cut toast into a heart shape. Offer yogurt or low-fat salad dressing for him to dip pretzels, vegetables, or fruit slices in, and outfit him with a lively placemat and dinnerware.

Go to the source

Take your preschooler on an outing to an orchard, berry farm, or dairy so he can see where the food on his plate comes from. The novelty just might inspire him to try something he wouldn't otherwise be interested in.

There's nothing like seeing your own food grow to motivate kids to eat their fruits and veggies. Think about planting your own. Even if you don't have much space, you can grow tomatoes or strawberries in a container on a balcony or patio. A study published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows that preschoolers in rural areas are more likely to eat more fruits and veggies if they're grown at home.

Be picky about juices

Fruit juices count toward your preschooler's daily fruit intake, but be careful about the kind and amount of juice you offer. Serve your preschooler only 100 percent fruit juice or fruit-vegetable juice combinations. (These are full of nutrients and contain less natural sugar than many fruit juices.) Some kids even enjoy vegetable juices straight up!

If your preschooler won't drink milk, you may want to find juices that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, but don't offer fruit "drinks" because they may contain as little as 10 percent juice and an array of flavorings and sweeteners.

Keep in mind that even the healthiest fruit juices can easily become too much of a good thing. Juice can contribute to childhood obesity and malnourishment because a child who drinks a great deal of juice gets extra calories and, at the same time, not all the nutrients he needs. It can also lead to tooth decay, especially if your child carries around a sippy cup all day long.

So limit your child to 4 ounces of fruit juice per day and use fresh fruit to meet the rest of his requirement. When he's thirsty, offer him water. (You can also water down your child's juice, half and half, for the flavor of juice with fewer extra calories.)

Shake and bake

Smoothies are an easy way to get fruit and other nutritious foods into your child's diet. All you need is a blender and a few simple ingredients. You can use your choice of fresh fruit, frozen fruit such as berries or bananas (peel before freezing), or even canned pineapple or peaches (strain the syrup first).

You might want to include tofu or hard-cooked egg whites — they add protein without changing the taste or texture — and a bit of ground flax seed for extra fiber and omega 3s. Blend with fruit juice or add milk, yogurt, or frozen yogurt for a creamier drink and a dose of calcium.

Whole wheat and bran muffins and quick breads are a good source of grains and fiber, and they can also be a vehicle for fruits and vegetables. Make or buy them with bananas, blueberries, carrots, pineapple, or zucchini.

Fortify but don't fool

You might try incorporating healthy foods into dishes you know your preschooler likes, but don't be sneaky about it. (Even if he falls for it now, he may later feel betrayed when he figures out what's up.)

Tell him that you're giving him some special pasta spirals tonight — with spinach mixed in or with broccoli and cheese on top. Better to be up-front and encourage an adventurous approach to eating.

Make it count

Be aware of your child's nutritional needs, but don't worry about them. It's not hard to meet a preschooler's daily requirements. Here are some easy ways to serve up good nutrition:

  • One tablespoon of peanut butter on one slice of whole wheat bread and an 8-ounce glass of low-fat milk provides plenty of nutrition. Before the age of 4, this menu will fulfill all of your preschooler's protein requirement, one third of his grain recommendation, 50 percent of his daily dairy, 65 percent of his need for zinc, 32 percent of vitamin E, 18 percent of iron, and 65 percent of his calcium needs. For a 4-year-old, it will fulfill 77 percent of his protein needs, 20 percent of his grain recommendation, 50 percent of his dairy, 39 percent of zinc, 28 percent of vitamin E, 13 percent of iron, and 41 percent of his calcium needs.
  • A bowl of bran cereal with raisins (three-quarters cup cereal with three-quarters cup low-fat milk) and half a cup of orange juice will provide an excellent start to a preschooler's day. Before age 4, this menu will fulfill half of your preschooler's fruit recommendation and almost half of his dairy needs, a third of his grain recommendation, 81 percent of protein, 51 percent of iron, 63 percent of zinc, and over 100 percent of his daily need for vitamin C. Once he's 4 years old, it will fulfill a third of his fruit and almost half his dairy requirements, 20 percent of his grain, 56 percent of his protein, 36 percent of his iron, 38 percent of zinc, and over 100 percent of his daily vitamin C needs.
  • If your preschooler is younger than 4, one slice of cheese pizza will provide 89 percent of his protein, 28 percent of his calcium, 35 percent of his iron, and 22 percent of his vitamin A needs for the day. Once he's 4 years old, a slice of cheese pizza will fulfill 61 percent of his protein needs, 18 percent of his calcium, 24 percent of his iron, and 16 percent of his daily need for vitamin A.

Find fast-food alternatives

Most fast food is full of fat, sugar, salt, and excess calories. An occasional fast-food burger and fries won't cause any harm, but if you have an alternative, take it. Teach your child to select from the healthy options on the menu — yes to the grilled chicken sandwich, no to the fried onion rings, and forget about super-sizing the meal!

Or pick and choose: Have the burger but choose apple slices or carrot sticks instead of fries. Do your best to limit these kinds of meals to no more than once a week.

Be a good role model

As you consider all the ways of getting your preschooler to eat well, remember to practice what you preach. If your child sees you eating lots of junk food or skipping meals, you can't expect him to eat properly. Make an effort to eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and you and your child will both be better off.

Be upbeat

Forget the food fights. Let your child decide how much he wants to eat. And don't use a sweet treat as a bribe or withhold it as a punishment.

Try to make mealtime together — at the table, not in front of the television — as enjoyable as possible, so that your child can establish a good, healthy relationship with food.

Watch the video: Picky Eaters! How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy - Part 1. Keri Glassman (June 2022).