Helpful feeding information for your preschooler
Preschool-age children (ages 3 to 5) are still developing their eating
habits and need encouragement to eat healthy meals and snacks. These children
are eager to learn, especially from other people. They will often imitate
eating behaviors of adults. They need supervision at mealtime as they
are still working on chewing and swallowing skills.
The following are some helpful mealtime hints for preschool-age children:
- Prepare meals, provide regularly scheduled snacks, and limit unplanned eating.
- Poor behavior at mealtime should not be allowed. Focus on eating, not playing
with food, or playing at the dinner table.
- Running or playing while eating can cause a child to choke. Have your child
sit when eating.
- Keep offering a variety of foods. Have the attitude that, sooner or later,
your child will learn to eat almost all foods.
- Make mealtime as pleasant as possible. Do not put pressure on your child
to eat. Do not force your child to "clean" his or her plate.
This may lead to overeating, which can cause your child to gain too much
weight. Children will be hungry at mealtime if snacks have been limited
during the day.
- Provide examples of healthy eating habits. Preschoolers copy what they
see their parents doing. If you have unhealthy eating habits, your child
will not learn to eat healthy.
Healthy food choices
The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy
diet. MyPlate can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while
encouraging the right amount of calories and fat.
The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared
food plates to guide parents in selecting foods for children age 2 and older.
The MyPlate icon is divided into 5 food group categories, emphasizing the
nutritional intake of the following:
- Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or
another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole wheat,
brown rice, and oatmeal.
- Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of colorful vegetables.
These can include dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas
and beans), and starchy vegetables.
- Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group.
Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up,
- Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part
of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as
those that are high in calcium.
- Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry.
Vary your protein routine. Choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.
Oils are not a food group, yet some, like nut oils, contain essential nutrients
and can be included in the diet. Animal fats, which are solid fats, should
Exercise and everyday physical activity should also be included with a
healthy dietary plan.
Nutrition and activity tips
Here are some tips to follow:
- Try to control when and where food is eaten by your children by providing
regular daily meal times with social interaction and demonstration of
healthy eating behaviors.
- Involve children in the selection and preparation of foods. Teach them
to make healthy choices by helping them to select foods based on their
- For children in general, reported dietary intakes of the following are
low enough to be of concern by the USDA: calcium, magnesium, potassium,
and fiber. Select foods with these nutrients when possible.
- Most Americans need to reduce the number of calories they consume. When
it comes to weight control, calories do count. Controlling portion sizes
and eating nonprocessed foods helps limit calorie intake and increase
- Parents are encouraged to provide recommended serving sizes for children.
- Parents are encouraged to limit children’s video, television watching,
and computer use to less than 2 hours daily. Replace sitting activities
with activities that require more movement.
- Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous
physical activity on most days to have good health and fitness and for
healthy weight during growth.
- To prevent dehydration, encourage children to drink fluid regularly during
physical activity and drink several glasses of water or other fluid after
the physical activity is completed.
To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020
and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your child’s
age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page
for the links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov and 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines
sites. Please note that the MyPlate plan is designed for people older
than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.
Always talk with your child’s health care provider regarding his
or her healthy diet and exercise requirements.