Feeding & Nutrition Tips: Your 3-Year-Old

5 Tips for Parents:

  • Accept strong preferences about foods. Your three-year-old may be enthusiastic about eating, but he or she may have very specific food preferences. Some preferences may vary from day to day. For example, your child may gobble down a particular food one day, and then push away the same food the next day. She may ask for a certain food for several days in a row, and then insist that she doesn’t like it anymore. As irritating as this behavior can feel, it is very typical for a three-year-old. It is best not to make an issue of it. Instead, continue to offer a variety of healthy foods, and let your child choose which of them and how much he or she will eat.
  • Encourage, but don’t force trying new foods. Offer very small amounts of a new food for your child to taste (an “adventure bite”), along with other foods he or she already likes. Do not expect your child to eat a full portion of an unfamiliar food.
  • Offer nutritious food choices at every meal. As a parent, your job is to make sure that your three-year-old has nutritious food choices at every meal. After offering healthy options at the table, let him or her make the decision of how much to eat. If your child shows picky eating preferences—resisting vegetables, for example—don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Keep offering a variety of healthy foods, even if your child did not like them before. Developing a taste for foods can require up to 15-20 repeated exposures. This is also an important time to establish healthy snacking and meal habits.
  • Meals can be simple and nutritious. Remember, meals at this age don’t need to be fancy. In fact, most three-year-olds prefer simpler preparation. If you only a few minutes to prepare a meal, try simple meals that include a protein source, whole grain, fruit, vegetable, and dairy. For example, a turkey or peanut butter sandwich, a serving of carrots, an apple, and a glass of milk. A simple lunch like this takes less time to prepare than driving through a fast-food restaurant—and it is much healthier!
  • Turn off the TV—especially at mealtimes. Television advertising can be a big challenge to your three-year-old’s good nutrition. Young children are easily influenced by ads for unhealthy foods like sugary cereals, fast food, and sweets. The best way to avoid this is put in place a “media curfew” at mealtime and bedtime, putting all devices away or plugging them into a charging station for the night.

Sample Menu for a Preschooler

During the preschool years, your child should be eating the same foods as the rest of the family, with an emphasis on those with nutritional value. This includes fresh vegetables and fruits, nonfat or low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheeses), lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish, lean hamburger), and whole grain cereals and bread. At the same time, limit or eliminate the junk food in your child’s diet, and get rid of sugared beverages as well. See the following sample menu ideas for a four-year-old child.

Note: This menu is planned for a four-year-old child who weighs approximately 36 pounds (16.5 kg).

1 teaspoon = 1⁄3 tablespoon (5 mL)

1 tablespoon = ½ ounce (15 mL)

1 ounce = 30 mL

1 cup = 8 ounces (240 mL)

Breakfast

  • ½ cup nonfat or low-fat milk
  • ½ cup cereal
  • 4–6 oz. or ½ cup cantaloupe or strawberries or banana

Snack​

  • ½ cup nonfat or low-fat milk
  • ½ cup fruit such as melon, banana, or berries
  • ½ cup yogurt

Lunch

  • ½ cup nonfat or low-fat milk
  • 1 sandwich—2 slices whole wheat bread with 1–2 oz. of meat and cheese, veggie and dressing (if needed) or peanut butter and jelly
  • ¼ cup dark-yellow or dark-green vegetable

 Snack

  • 1 teaspoon peanut butter with 1 slice whole wheat bread or 5 crackers or string cheese or cut-up fruit

Dinner

  • ½ cup nonfat or low-fat milk
  • 2 ounces meat, fish, or chicken
  • ½ cup pasta, rice, or potato
  • ¼ cup vegetable

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