Preschooler Nutrition
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Preschooler Nutrition

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. They will often imitate eating behaviors of adults. They need supervision at mealtime as they are still working on chewing and swallowing skills.

These are some helpful mealtime hints for preschool-age children:

  • Make meals, give regularly scheduled snacks, and limit unplanned eating.

  • Discourage poor behavior at mealtime. 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. Don't 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.  

Choose My Plate icon

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 help parents select 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. Aim for mostly whole-grains.

  • 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, or pureed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 ounces of juice per day for children 1 to 3 years of age, and 4 to 6 ounces per day for children 4 to 6 years of age.

  • 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, have essential nutrients and can be included in the diet. Animal fats, which are solid fats, should be avoided.

Encourage exercise and everyday physical activity 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. Include social interaction and demonstrate healthy eating behaviors.

  • Involve children in the choosing and preparing of foods. Teach them to make healthy choices by helping them to pick foods nutritious based.

  • Select foods with these nutrients when possible: calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. 

  • Most Americans need to cut 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 nutrients.

  • Parents are encouraged to provide recommended serving sizes for children.

  • Parents are encouraged to limit children’s screen time to less than 2 hours daily. Instead, encourage activities with that call for more movement.

  • Children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days for 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 healthcare provider regarding his or her healthy diet and exercise requirements.

Online Medical Reviewer: Adler, Liora, C., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, RD, CD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2017
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.