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A picky preschooler with ice cream in mouth

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Tips for Parents: Picky Pre-School Eaters

Español/Spanish: Consejos para padres - Los niños especialies para comer

Preschooler’s eating habits and preferences tend to reflect a new sense of independence.  Young children just naturally display eating quirks.  And like children of any age, their tastes are forever changing.

Here are some Tips for Parents to help your picky eaters eat better:

  • Relax.  Be prepared to deal with your child’s refusals to eat unfamiliar foods.
  • Be creative.  Try serving the usual cup of milk in a new mug, or with a fancy straw.  This helps to add interest to a mealtime staple.  Try using brightly colored plastic dishes, placemats, and napkins.  You can dress-up plastic cups or glasses with colorful store bought stickers.
  • Boost the nutrition value of foods.  You can also make foods that your child likes to eat more nutritious by adding ingredients such as non-fat powdered milk or egg whites to macaroni and cheese or other casserole dishes.  You might also try adding non-fat powdered milk to meatloaf and hamburger recipes.  You can increase the protein, calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin A in all your family favorites.  The egg white of 1 egg will add an additional 3.4 grams of protein, and 2gm calcium, 0 fat and 0 cholesterol (all for only 16 calories!)  One tablespoon of nonfat dry milk will add 10gm protein, .2gm fat, 1.56 gm carbohydrate, 6 mg cholesterol and 377 mg calcium (all for only 19 calories).
  • Keep on cutting.  Try using cookie cutters to cut star-shaped sandwiches, triangle French toast, and unusual shaped cheese.  Serve brightly colored fruits, like berries, or cut up melon. 
  • Make a face of fruit.  Use strawberries or grapes for the eyes, sliced orange wedges as ears, a banana for the mouth, and triangle shaped melon for a nose.  Your imagination has no limits!
  • Think small.  Little people have little stomachs; they can’t eat a lot at one meal.  Encourage “mini meals” throughout the day so you don’t overwhelm your child at meal time.
  • Now is the time to serve small unusual shaped sandwiches for lunch, fruit faces as a snack, and juices instead of soda pop for a treat.
  • Set a good example.  Children should enjoy family meal times as early as possible—not fear or dread them.

Eating well can help your child learn better

  • Good nutrition promotes health and healthy kids learn better.  Poorly nourished children are more likely to be sick, absent from school, and, therefore, miss out on learning.
  • A healthy kid has the energy needed to learn.  Children who do not get enough food (or eat the proper foods) do not have the energy to get through the school day. Healthy kids learn from their environment.  Poorly nourished children lack energy to learn and play, and communicate less with their peers.
  • Good nutrition provides building blocks for the brain.  School-aged children with iron deficiencies, for example, may show a lack of nutrition in the classroom and have learning disabilities.
  • Foods that may interfere with learning:  Sugar! It’s in foods like candy, cookies, soft drinks, sweetened cereals, and many canned foods and it reduces the ability to concentrate and interfere with short-term memory. 
  • Foods containing caffeine such as coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, and cola drinks may interfere with a child’s ability to sit still and concentrate. Foods containing additives such as artificial flavoring, color, and preservatives are suspected of interfering with the ability to concentrate and pay attention.

For more information:

USDA kids food pyramid, games, posters, activities, and more

You may also find these Tips for Parents helpful:

Tips for Parents: Nutrition and Learning

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