Importance of Healthy Eating for Preschoolers
we understand the importance of good nutrition has on a child’s health and well-being. We also understand the struggles many parents have with getting their toddler or preschooler to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Mealtimes become a battle of wills that often end in tears, and even when you fix their favorite foods, it’s still a tossup as to whether or not they’ll eat it.
Getting Toddlers and Preschoolers Involved in Their Food
Many of the battles that come from eating stem from preschoolers and toddlers wanting to assert control. Eating (or not eating!) is one of the few things they have a say in. When you give your child the opportunity to get involved and make choices for themselves, they’ll be excited, and when they’re excited – they’ll eat!
START A VEGETABLE GARDEN
They get to learn about where their food comes from, and small children love watching the phases of growth as their plants sprout, grow taller, and produce food they can pick! For your home garden, consider zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots which are all easy to grow and can be planted in a small garden patch or even in a 5-gallon bucket.
TAKE YOUR KIDS TO THE GROCERY STORE
We know that small children at the grocery store can be a challenge. They see the sugary cereals, chips, and treats, and you’re focused on getting what you need and getting out. Instead of a full-scale shopping trip, take them specifically to look at the produce section. Give them choices and let them “test” the produce by smelling and touching, and letting them put the “perfect” fruits and vegetables into the cart. They’re more likely to eat things they pick out!
LET YOUR KIDS COOK WITH YOU
It’s never too early to have your kids help you in the kitchen, and just like with gardening and shopping, when they are involved in the cooking process, they’re more likely to eat what is fixed. Even toddlers can stir in a mixing bowl, pour dry and liquids that you measure, mash cooked vegetables, and sprinkle cheese, nuts, or seeds. Preschool-aged children can measure ingredients, tear greens and snap beans, rinse fruits and vegetables, and even cut softer foods with a plastic or blunt knife.
Dress Up Foods for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Sometimes, getting a child to eat is all about presentation. After all, we love to eat attractive, appealing foods and are drawn to vivid descriptions in menus. The same ideas apply to children!
- Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches, cheese slices, whole-grain pancakes, and even casserole bakes fun! (Apparently, star-shaped sandwiches taste better!)
- Give boring foods fun names – use your child’s favorite characters as inspiration!
- Serve a rainbow of foods – red bell pepper strips, thin carrot sticks, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi are all bright and cheerful!
- Add dips – Toddlers and preschoolers love to dip and dunk foods. Add some ranch, hummus, salsa, or even ketchup on the side of some sliced raw veggies and let them have fun with it.
Put a Healthy Spin on Favorite Foods
If your child will only eat a very limited variety of “kid foods” like macaroni and cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, and chicken nuggets, and no amount of gardening or dip is changing that, sometimes baby steps are necessary. Instead of trying lots of brand new things, updating a classic with some better ingredients may be right for your child.
- Swap enriched white bread for 100% whole wheat or white whole wheat. Just make sure the ingredients say 100% whole grain or whole wheat.
- Add spinach and use a whole-wheat tortilla to dress up a cheese quesadilla or add some vegetables to a pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce.
- Toss a handful of spinach into a smoothie (call it “Monster Juice” or serve it in an opaque cup).