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Feeding and nutrition
By the age of two-going-on-three, your child is comfortable at the family table and has absorbed the rules and routines of mealtimes. In his growing quest for independence, however, he's likely to challenge those routines. Suddenly he is skeptical about every new food on his plate. He ignores his favourite food. He only eats one kind of sandwich. He demands snacks at all hours and then stubbornly refuses dinner. How you deal with this stage will be important in helping your child develop a healthy attitude toward food as he grows.
What does my child need now?
Your child continues to need meals and snacks made up from the four essential food groups -- grain products, milk products, fruits and vegetables, and meat or protein-rich meat alternatives. You may need to increase the quantities as she grows. Canada's Food Guide takes into account the smaller appetites of two- to five-year-olds and specifies appropriate portions, ranging from a half to a full serving.
Depending upon your child's age and activity level, she should be eating between 5 and 12 child-size servings of grain products each day; 2 to 3 servings of milk products; 5 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit; and 2 to 3 servings of meat or protein-rich meat alternatives. If you can't believe that your little person could eat so much food, keep in mind that half a slice of bread equals one child-size serving of grain products; a juice box equals two servings of vegetables or fruit; and a mere tablespoon of peanut butter equals one child-size serving of a meat alternative. Take time to record your child's diet for one or two weeks, and you'll probably find that he's consuming the minimum daily requirements.
Your child may already have a breakfast routine. Don't let anything get in the way of that good habit. A nutritious breakfast kick-starts your child's brain functions and enhances his ability to learn. Eating breakfast also positively affects a child's mood and behaviour.
Strategies for picky eaters
The major complaints from parents of preschool-age children are that they will not eat and that they will only eat junk foods. Remember The Golden Rules of Feeding: You decide what to serve and when and where to serve it; it's up to the child to decide whether or how much to eat. When well-intentioned parents try to cross that line and wheedle, cajole, or threaten their preschooler into clearing his plate, they set up a power struggle that can make mealtimes miserable for the entire family. If you can accept that food is one of the first things your child can say No! to and have control over, it will help you disengage from the battle.
Set clear boundaries around food and eating. If your child chooses not to eat at a particular mealtime, don't scold or lecture. And don't become a short-order cook who jumps up from the table to prepare a separate meal for your finicky eater. First make sure your child isn't ill: nausea could put a child off his food, or an ear infection could make it difficult for him to swallow. If there isn't a medical problem, then let your child leave the table without a fuss, just reminding him that the kitchen doesn't open again until snack time. Then keep your word. You will probably have to live with some short-term fussing, but don't weaken. Your child will be genuinely hungry the next time he arrives at the table.
More strategies for the picky eater
Some other strategies to interest your preschooler in the food you serve:
• Eat the way you want your child to eat.
• Eat together as a family at least once a day. Talk with your child about the most interesting, or worst, or best things that happened to each of you that day. Encourage conversation and discussion.
• Take your child shopping. Let her help select the produce and other foods that will be served during the week.
• Let your child help in the kitchen. He's more likely to eat dinner when he's seen what's gone into it, and he'll be proud of his contribution.
• Grow some of your own food -- even if it's just a potful of parsley. One little girl who despised green beans claimed them to be her favourite food after she grew some in her dad's vegetable garden.
• Give unfamiliar foods silly or exotic names. Who could resist Toad-in-the-Hole?
• Serve food cut into interesting shapes. Use a metal cookie cutter to cut shapes out of sandwiches.
• Choose healthy fast foods. Pick up barbecued chicken from the supermarket; boil up some perogie; microwave a burrito; add some cheese and vegetables to a plain pizza crust.
• Serve vegetables raw.
• Let your child dip his vegetables -- in yogurt, preferably, but in ketchup or salad dressing, if you're desperate.
• Offer plenty of water -- which prevents dehydration and constipation and won't dull your child's appetite.
• Don't keep junk foods around the house, so that neither you nor your child will be tempted by them.
• Peer pressure can work magic. Your child may be more willing to try new foods at preschool or when he has a friend to dinner.
Preventing long-term eating disorders
If your child has problems with food and eating, think carefully about whether your own attitudes may be influencing him. The primary purpose of food is to nourish the body. It should not be used as a reward or as a punishment.
Don't soothe a disappointed child with a cookie, or discipline a mischievous act by withholding dessert. Reward the child's success with an extra bedtime story instead of candy. When food becomes entangled with feelings of self-worth, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and chronic dieting can result in later years. Your positive, non-judgmental approach will help your child have a healthy attitude toward food and eating throughout his life.