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Feeding > Feeding Your Pre-Schooler (3-5 Years)

Feeding Your Pre-Schooler (3-5 Years)

By three years of age, most children can feed themselves and use a spoon and fork well. They will still need to have their food cut up and to learn good eating behavior. Pre-schoolers need to eat often. They usually eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks a day.

All children should continue Vitamin D and iron supplementation.

Use these guidelines to make sure your child is getting enough food each day.

A pre-school child should eat:

  • 3 servings of low fat milk (3/4 cup each), cheese (1 oz each) or yogurt (1/2 cup each)
  • 6 servings of cereal, pasta or rice (1/3 - 1/2 cup each); or bread, rolls or muffins (3/4 – 1 slice each)
  • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (1/4 - 1/2 cup each), 1 small fruit or 1/2 cup juice
  • 2 servings of fish, chicken, beef, pork or turkey (l oz each); eggs (1) or peanut butter (2 Tbs. each)
  • Fats and sweets should be added to the diet in small amounts.
Skim milk (all "husky" preschoolers and children over 4 years) and 2% milk (children 2-4 years) may be used instead of whole milk at this age. Offer your child a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Snacks may be a big part of a pre-schooler’s diet. Healthy snacks that are made from fruits, vegetables and grains are good choices.

Healthy snack ideas

Foods marked with an asterisk (*)  may cause choking. Watch young pre-schoolers carefully.
 
  • Raw vegetables* served with dips, peanut butter or string cheese.
  • Fresh fruit*, dried fruit or fruit mixed with yogurt.
  • Bread or bagels topped with low fat cream cheese and raisins* or apple slices*.
  • Muffins made with carrots*, zucchini, pumpkin, bananas, dates or raisins*.
  • Popcorn*, pretzels, nuts* or graham crackers.
  • Whole grain cereals.
  • English muffins or pita bread with pizza sauce, cheese and/or vegetables.
  • Flour tortillas with refried beans, chili or cheese rolled inside.

Feeding Tips

  • As pre-schoolers grow, they may become more active and begin to eat more.
  • It’s important for the active pre-schooler to drink enough fluid (at least five to six cups a day), especially in hot weather. Encourage unlimited water and up to 24 ounces of low fat milk.
  • To encourage good eating behavior, have set times for meals and snacks, and have your pre- schooler eat at the table. Turn off the television and make meal times a family time.
  • Pre-schoolers are old enough to help prepare simple dishes and help set the table. Children are more willing to try new foods if they help make them.
  • Parents should decide what kids eat. Kids decide how much they eat. If you only offer healthy choices, kids will eat when hungry.
  • If kids don't eat a particular food at this meal, make another from that food group they might like for the next meal.
  • It is okay to hide nutritious foods in casseroles, sauces, smoothies, and more.
  • Encourage kids to taste a bite without a fight. This means they can't decide if they like it or not until they've tried a bite big enough to chew. If they say they don't like it, don't make them eat more. Simply knowing that they really have a choice often helps empower them to like it!
  • Juice is not a food. It is mostly sugar. Do not let kids fill up on it.
  • Dr. Stuppy often writes about picky eaters and tips to help them eat. Take a look:
This page is adapted from the Children's Mercy Care Cards.

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