Preschool-aged children (ages 4 to 5) are still developing their eating habits and need encouragement to eat healthy meals and snacks. These children are eager to learn, especially from other people and will often imitate eating behaviors of adults. They need supervision at mealtime as they are still working on chewing and swallowing skills.
The following are some helpful mealtime hints for preschool-aged children:
- Prepare meals, provide regularly scheduled snacks, and limit unplanned eating.
- Poor behavior at mealtime should not be allowed. Focus on eating, not playing with food or playing at the dinner table.
- Keep offering a variety of foods. Have the attitude that, sooner or later, your child will learn to eat most all foods.
- Make mealtime as pleasant as possible. Do not put pressure on your child to eat, or force your child to "clean" his/her plate. This may lead overeating which can cause your child to gain too much weight. Children will be hungry at mealtime if snacks have been limited during the day.
- Provide examples of healthy eating habits. Preschoolers mimic what they see their parents doing. If you have unhealthy eating habits, your child will not learn to eat healthy.
The food guide pyramid is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. The food guide pyramid can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food pyramid to guide parents in selecting foods for children 2 years and older.
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The Food Pyramid is divided into six colored bands representing the five food groups plus oils:
- Orange represents grains: Make half the grains consumed each day whole grains. Whole-grain foods include oatmeal, whole-wheat flour, whole cornmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread. Check the food label on processed foods - the words “whole” or “whole grain” should be listed before the specific grain in the product.
- Green represents vegetables: Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green- and orange-colored kinds, legumes (peas and beans), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables.
- Red represents fruits: Focus on fruits. Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.
- Yellow represents oils: Know the limits on fats, sugars, and salt (sodium). Make most of your fat sources from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Limit solid fats like butter, stick margarine, shortening, and lard, as well as foods that contain these.
- Blue represents milk: Get your calcium-rich foods. Milk and milk products contain calcium and vitamin D, both important ingredients in building and maintaining bone tissue. Use low-fat or fat-free milk after the age of two years. However, during the first year of life, infants should be fed breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Whole cow’s milk may be introduced after an infant’s first birthday, but lower-fat or skim milk should not be used until the child is at least two years old.
- Purple represents meat and beans: Go lean on protein. Choose low fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine - choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.
Activity is also represented on the pyramid by the steps and the person climbing them, as a reminder of the importance of daily physical activity.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (the most recent guidelines), a decrease in energy intake of 50 to 100 calories per day for children who are gaining excess fat can reduce the rate at which they gain weight. With this reduction in energy intake, they will grow into a healthy weight as they age. Help your child to find higher-calorie foods that can be cut from his/her daily intake.
- Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing regular daily meal times with social interaction and demonstration of healthy eating behaviors.
- Involve children in the selection and preparation of foods and teach them to make healthy choices by providing opportunities to select foods based on their nutritional value.
- For children in general, reported dietary intakes of the following are low enough to be of concern by the USDA: vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Select foods with these nutrients when possible.
- Most Americans need to reduce the amount of calories they consume. When it comes to weight control, calories do count. Controlling portion sizes and eating non-processed foods helps limit calorie intake and increase nutrients.
- Parents are encouraged to provide recommended serving sizes for children.
- Parents are encouraged to limit children’s video, television watching, and computer use to less than two hours daily and replace the sedentary activities with activities that require more movement.
- Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for maintenance of good health and fitness and for healthy weight during growth.
- To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during physical activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after the physical activity is completed.
To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your child’s age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the Food Pyramid and 2005 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the Food Pyramid is designed for persons over the age of two who do not have chronic health conditions.
Always consult your child’s physician regarding his/her healthy diet and exercise requirements.
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