Feeding your preschooler can be a challenge even at the best of times. Young children can sometimes be picky or go through phases where they eat tiny amounts. Sometimes they only want to eat cookies or macaroni and cheese.

The good news is that preschoolers are still setting their eating habits at this stage, and it’s possible to help get them off to a healthy start that will benefit them their whole lives. With a little patience and repetition, you can help pave the way for healthy eating.

Offer New Foods Frequently

If your child flat out rejects a food, don’t give up! A preschooler needs to be exposed to a food about 10 times before they accept the food and eat it. Keep offering the new food even if they have rejected it in the past. You can encourage them to try it more by offering new foods first when they are hungrier, and then familiar foods after the new ones.

Don’t Give Up

Nutrition is critical to your child’s development, especially at this age. 20% of a child’s caloric intake is going to brain development. Learning, memory, and focus are all dependent on your child’s nutrition to some degree.

Your child needs to eat a wide variety of foods to develop. This includes eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, etc.

Avoid Creating an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

The pressure to make your child eat all their vegetables is high, but it’s important not to force your child to eat any food. Forcing your child to eat food can cause them to develop a negative association with the food.

Instead, simply keep offering healthy foods at every meal.

Involve Your Kids in Cooking

Children are more likely to eat a meal if they had a hand in its preparation. Let your child help prepare food wherever it is safe to do so. You can also take this a step farther if you have the space by planting a garden and letting your child help take care of it. Children that grow vegetables are more likely to eat vegetables.

Offer Regular Meal Times and Sit Together

Serve foods at regular meal and snack times. Try to be careful to not offer foods between these eating times. Children who are eating or “grazing” throughout the day may not be hungry at mealtimes, when healthier foods tend to be available. When it is meal or snack time, turn off the TV, and eat together at the table. This helps create a calm environment for eating.

Check What Daycare is Feeding

Most children spend at least some time in a daycare or preschool. If this is the case, find out what their menu is and make sure there are healthy options on it. Your child is more likely to eat vegetables if they see their peers eating them.

A solid nutrition program at their daycare means you can trust your child is getting healthy foods for the snacks and meals they may eat there. If your child is there for breakfast, a snack, and lunch, they are getting a significant amount of nutrition for those meals.

Nutrition is often a big concern for parents, and rightfully so. Childhood is a time of rapid growth, and many nutrients are needed to help a child reach their full potential. These tips can help you keep your child on the right track, and help them eat healthier foods.

How Can We Encourage a Healthy Diet?

To help your child eat well:

  • Offer a variety of foods, even ones your child has rejected in the past.
  • Keep healthy foods in the house.
  • Limit high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
  • Let kids help make meals. Give them simple jobs, like tearing lettuce for a salad or helping set the table.
  • Set regular mealtimes and snack times so kids don’t graze all day long.
  • Have regular family meals and make them pleasant times for the whole family to get together.
  • Set a good example by eating healthy foods yourself.

Letting Kids Have Some Control

Parents may feel uneasy about giving preschoolers control over how much they eat. But it’s a limited kind of control. You still set the schedule for meals and snacks and decide what to serve. Young kids shouldn’t get their own meals or snacks, but can choose from the healthy foods you offer. If your child chooses not to eat at a scheduled meal or snack time, don’t argue about it or insist they eat.

Most kids naturally know when they’re hungry or full. They can use these feelings to decide how much to eat. Kids who stop eating when they feel satisfied are more likely to keep a healthy weight. Kids who are encouraged to ignore these feelings — for instance, when parents insist that kids eat when they’re not hungry or clean their plate — lose the ability to know when they are hungry or full.