By now your child should be eating and enjoying healthy meals and meal times with the rest of the family. Children do not need special foods unless there is a medical reason. Offer the same meals as the rest of the family as much as possible.
If you need to, just modify the texture of the food you are eating (e.g. cut up meats and serve small pasta pieces that are easy for your child to pick up, making sure that they are low in sodium and sugar).
This is a critical stage for laying the foundations for healthy eating. Children begin to socialise with food. They begin to understand the broader role of food and begin to be influenced by marketing and foods used as bribes, rewards, treats, and the power of refusal. This is also the age at which children begin to eat outside the home, for example at childcare and kindergarten. So it is an important time for parents to encourage, support and model healthy eating.
Parents often become concerned that their child is not eating enough and frustrated that everything they prepare is refused. As a parent you are responsible for what your child is offered to eat, when the food is offered (a 3-5 year old may need 5-6 small meals a day) and making meal times pleasant. Your child is responsible for how much, or even whether, they eat.
How much food is eaten at this age varies from child to child and from day to day and is influenced by growth and activity levels. These serving sizes and amounts can be used as a guide to feeding your 3-5 year old each day. Some serving sizes are different to those commonly used for adults.
Breads, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles
3 to 7 servings daily
(one serving = 2 slices of bread, or 1 cup cereal, or 1 cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles).
This includes all kinds of wholemeal, wholegrain and white bread, cereal, rice, pasta, noodles, such as crackers, raisin bread, dry biscuits, and fruit buns.
Vegetables and legumes
2 servings daily
(one serving = 1/2 cup cooked, or 1 cup salad).
Encourage your child to taste and try a wide variety of both raw and cooked vegetables. This is important in helping your child develop healthy eating habits.
Fresh vegetables are best, but frozen and canned are good alternatives.
Your child may like the same vegetable in one form (for example, raw grated carrot) but not another (such as cooked diced carrot).
1 serving daily
(one serving = one medium piece e.g. an apple or banana, or two small pieces, e.g. apricots, kiwi fruit)
Fresh fruit is best but frozen, canned and dried are also good alternatives but fruit juice is not an alternative to fresh fruit.
Milk, yoghurt and cheese
2 servings daily
(one serving = two cups or 250ml of milk or 200g tub yoghurt or 40g cheese or cheese slice).
Children do not need special yoghurts.
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes
2 servings daily
(1/2 serving = 1/2 cup mince or 35-50g meat or 2 tablespoons kidney beans or other legume, or 40-60g fish, or 1 egg, or 1 tablespoon peanut paste).
Red meat is an excellent source of iron. Try to include it often.
Nuts are not recommended for young children as they could cause choking. Use only smooth nut pastes.
Food and nutrition
Some points to remember
Choose foods low in salt.
Make sure that your child eats only moderate amounts of sugar and foods containing added sugar such as sweets and drinks.
Make sure you prepare and store your child’s food correctly.
What to drink
Choose water or milk as a drink. Fruit juice, cordials and soft drinks are not necessary.
How to help your child eat a nutritious, healthy diet
- Plan regular meal and snack times – children need structure, routines and limits
- Make meals and snacks look appealing – use a range of colours, and shapes. Food should also be easy to chew and handle. Involve your child in choosing and preparing food.
- Encourage your child to eat with you and your family. Children learn by imitating the people around them.
- Do not force your child to eat. Respect that your child may have certain likes and dislikes and give them some choice in selecting food, e.g. let them choose between two types of fruit or sandwich fillings.
- Be consistent with how you handle food refusal.
- Avoid substituting uneaten meals for other foods. “Treating” children with unhealthy food because you are worried they are not eating only makes them less likely to eat healthier foods. Only buy and offer healthy foods.
- Do not use food as a bribe for good behaviour.
- Set aside 20-30 minutes for meal times and 10-12 minutes for snacks.
Your child’s healthy height and weight should be a guide to their diet. If you are concerned about your child’s diet, talk to your doctor or paediatrician.
Hopefully this article has given you some guidance and ideas on how to get your children to enjoy healthy yet tasty food but if you have any unanswered questions related to this topic then please consult your healthcare practitioner.
For their brochure “MAM Recipe Collection” please visit: http://bit.ly/MAMBrochures and for more details about their feeding products please visit the MAM Baby website at: http://bit.ly/MAMFeedingProducts. For any other queries please contact them on Facebook at: http://bit.ly/MAMCyprusFB