Preschool Mealtime Guide
The servings below show an overall average, but can vary based on your child's specific age, gender and activity level. Be sure to adjust based on your child's hunger cues.
Serve a variety of color and texture. While most of a child's daily nutritional intake comes from meals, snacks can support and enhance your child's healthy eating plan.
Clean Plate Club?
Although preschoolers intake from meal to meal may appear erratic, they actually have the capacity to adjust their food intake to meet their body's needs on average. But this ability can be diminished when large food portion sizes are frequently offered.
Young children don't have the ability to choose a well-balanced diet. They depend on adults to offer a variety of nutritious and developmentally appropriate foods.
How can you raise intuitive eaters?
Pay attention to serving sizes. Serve meals on smaller plates, bowls and cups, which encourage age-appropriate serving sizes. Don’t make children clean their plates or offer dessert as a reward for finishing their meal.
Remember, your job as a parent is to offer nutritious foods, a calm environment for eating and regular meal and snack times. Your child’s job is then to decide whether to eat what is offered and how much.
For children, the biggest source of added sugar is usually not in what they eat, but rather what they drink.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to what your child is drinking. Many drinks have sugar and syrups added when they are made. Added sugars can increase risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and tooth decay.
How to minimize sugary drinks:
- Serve water and milk at meals instead of soda, sports drinks, lemonade, or sweet tea.
- Limit fruit juice to 4 oz between ages 1-3, 4-6 oz between ages 4-6, and 8 oz after age 7.
- Offer your child whole fruit instead, which has less sugar and has fiber and other important nutrients!
Between 12-24 months, toddlers develop motor skills to use utensils. Giving opportunities to master self-feeding skills allows the older toddler (2 years) to consume most of the same food offered to the family (with some extra preparation to prevent choking).
Toddlers learn through exploration of the world around them. By providing structured mealtimes at the dining table, supportive social interaction and guidance while eating - your child will learn about social rules like manners and mealtime behavior by simply watching you! Just be patient and positive while your toddler transitions from this free exploration of the world in infancy to the big kid world that does indeed, comes with some rules.
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Sources: Pediatric Nutrition. 8th Ed. 2019. American Academy of Pediatrics. Frank R. Greer, MD, FAAP; Ronald E. Kleinman, MD, FAAP. *This website has been developed by Ahimsa LLC. This site offers health and nutritional information and is designed for educational purposes only. While many of our experts are practicing clinicians, viewing this site, receipt of information contained on this site or the transmission of information from or to this site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Always seek the advice of your child’s own physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Please click here for more information on our disclaimer.