Healthy eating for toddlers and preschoolers

Healthy eating for toddlers and preschoolers

Author: Canadian Living


Healthy eating for toddlers and preschoolers

Due to the energy demands and growth rates of toddlers (ages 1-3) and preschool children (4-5 years), it is critical that their diet consist of the proper nutrition to support optimal health and development.

Although energy demands vary according to growth rate, body size and physical activity, the average caloric intake of a toddler or preschool child ranges from 1,300 to 1,700 kcal/day.

The diet of a toddler or preschool child should contain the following three aspects:

1. Variety
The diet should comprise different textures, tastes, smells and colours to broaden a child's nutritional intake and eating experience.

2. Balance
A healthy balance of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and essential fats.

3. Moderation
Indulging in sweets, ice cream and other white sugar and refined flour foods only on occasion. Fast food options such as fried foods and those high in saturated fat and trans fatty acids should be kept to a minimum.

Feeding tips for toddlers and preschool children
• Young children have small stomachs yet large energy needs. Feed your children smaller meals at a higher frequency such as three meals and two snacks daily.

• If a child skips a meal or doesn't eat a lot, do not force her to eat. Children know when they are hungry and pressuring them to eat will only alter their internal hunger cue. Forcing a child to eat could also lead to overeating or to the development of aversions to some foods.

• Provide meals and snacks in a quiet, pleasant, distraction-free and safe environment. Serve meals at the table and not while the child is walking around.

• Have your child rest before meals. A tired or energized child may not be interested in eating.

• Give your child adequate time to finish meals and snacks to ensure optimum digestion.

• Provide foods that are easy to handle such as finger foods (e.g. fish sticks).

• Limit the amount of fluids, such as juice or milk, between meals. It may decrease the child's appetite at regularly scheduled meal and snack times.

• Supervise your child while she eats. A choking child may not be able to make noise. Coughing is a sign that a child is removing food from the throat.

Page 1 of 2 – On page 2, learn how to prevent choking and help picky eaters accept new foods.

Tips to help prevent choking
• Cut foods that may potentially lodge in a child's throat (such as hot dogs, grapes or cherries) into lengthwise pieces.

• Cook and mash corn or carrots.

• Spread peanut butter thinly.

Children at this age often refuse various foods that are unfamiliar to them. If this occurs, do not force the issue; simply reintroduce the food at a later time. With more frequent exposure (about eight to 10 exposures), children will usually develop an increased preference for that food.

Try the following tips to help children accept new foods
• Offer a variety of healthy food selections and allow children to choose what they want to eat.

• Serve a new or disliked food with a familiar food.

• Children mimic their parent's behaviours. It is important for healthy eating to become a family affair.

• Do not use dessert as a reward for completing a meal. This teaches children that dessert is the best part of the meal, increases the chances that they will only want sweets and may hinder the acceptance of non-sweet foods.

• Involve children in meal planning, food shopping, preparation and cooking to pique their interest in different foods and healthy eating.

Dr. Joey Shulman D.C., RNCP, is author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003) and The Natural Makeover Diet (2006). For more information, visit

Page 2 of 2 – Want your kids to eat dinner? Find Dr. Joey's advice for this problem on page 1.


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Healthy eating for toddlers and preschoolers