Rapid growth and development occurs during the preschool years, ages 2 through 5. A child grows about 2 to 3 inches and gains 4 to 5 pounds each year. Proper nutrition and opportunities to play and be physically active are critical to ensuring your child grows properly, learns to enjoy nutritious foods, and adopts healthy behaviors for maximum development and lifelong health.
The first step that parents/carers must take is to distribute responsibilities when it comes to food, timings, portion sizes and the type of diet they would like to implement for the child’s best health.
Let us begin with portion SiZeS –
In general, portions sizes of foods have increased over the past few decades. Larger portions may give children the impression that they should eat more than they really need. To help establish a healthy concept of portion size and to prevent overfeeding, serve a “kid-friendly” portion size of foods, snacks, and drinks. This is not the same size you would offer an adult. Usually, younger children need about half the portion of an adult. Use smaller plates, forks, spoons, and cups for children. Your children’s appetites will guide their need for more food, this will be more visible if you start with the above method early on, and they can ask for more to eat if they are still hungry. Don’t meddle in how much food is right by saying, “Clean your plate” while at the same time creating this statement as a great moral that they live by.
Now, if you want reward your child for eating well, reward your child with attention and kind words, not food. Rewarding a child with sweets lets the child think sweets are better than other foods.
Now that food responsibilities have been made clear and portion sizes have been dealt with, lets talk some food group specifics:
Getting in them veggies
The all elusive vegetables, we all know they are great for the kids, but we expect many of them to refuse them. Fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients that are critical to a 2-5 year old’s growth and development. A person’s eating habits are established as young as 2 to 3 years old, which means a child who eats a diet rich in vegetables at a young age is more likely to eat vegetables as an adult. The same is true for fast foods, sweets, sugary drinks, etc. Remember, some foods have to be offered many times to a child before the child will even try the food!
Begin with offering one new vegetable at a time and keep offering it. If you want a child to eat something he/she refuses, then try getting creative, look for alternatives that have similar benefits, for example getting iron from spinach, if not, then try offering kale, if not then olives or legumes or pine nuts…etc.
Healthy happy snacks
Lunch time can be daunting, because the child may be away from home, and you couldn’t always be sure what or how much they might be having. If you want some good suggestions, check out our top 10 lunch box ideas blog [COMING SOON] or refer to the health hub for more useful information.
Mealtime with Family
Family dinner is a time to regroup as a family, discuss the day, plan family outings, share stories, and connect. Family meals allow your preschooler to focus on the task of eating while giving parents or caretakers a chance to model good behaviors. It takes a little work to bring everyone together for meals, but it’s worth it and the whole family eats better. It may not be possible to eat together every day, but try to have family meals most days of the week. Meals should be provided at regular times when your preschooler is hungry but not starving.
Try these tips for making family meals enjoyable:
1- Focus on the meal and each other. Turn off the television. Take phone calls and texts later.
2- Talk about fun and happy things. Try to make meals a stress-free time.
3- Share the adventure. Be willing to try new foods together
4- Cook together. Encourage your child to help you prepare meals and snacks.
Other healthy behaviours
Vitamin and mineral supplements are not always needed for the very young, but with fussy eaters it might be required while other food behaviours are being developed. Sometimes a child may need a vitamin and mineral supplement for a short period of time. Talk to your pediatrician or a diet specialist if you think your 2-5 year old may need a supplement.
2-5 year olds need up to 10 hours of sleep each day, including naps and night-time sleep.
Physical activity helps expend extra energy, which may help your child pay better attention to learning activities and rest better at night. Limit screen time (TV, computer, video games, etc.). Additionally, it will help a child understand the need for food and energy, as well as an understanding of feeling full or hungry. Let the children enjoy the outdoors, so let children play outdoors when possible too.
This is just an overview of the various Nutritional needs for 2-5 year olds, if you have any specific questions and/or queries feel free to get in touch with us, and check out our other related blog posts that might answer some of your questions on the health hub!