Preschoolers are at an age when they start to show independence and have a reputation for being fussy eaters. Have no fear - good nutrition at this age is still achievable. All it takes is a little bit of food and nutrition knowledge and, of course, lots of patience!
The nutritional needs of preschoolers
Preschoolers have an established daily routine and need regular mealtimes to be part of this. Parents and preschools should provide suitable foods at mealtimes, including morning and afternoon tea. It is up to the child to eat from what is offered.
After a day at preschool and possibly attending activities in the afternoon, some children will not be hungry at dinner time. They may have eaten enough during the day at earlier meals. So make the mealtime a pleasant social time together. It is an opportunity for parents to show their children appropriate eating behaviours, including eating a variety of foods, tasting new foods, even if the preschooler is not actually eating.
The nutritional needs of preschoolers can be met by offering foods from all the food groups.
What are appropriate foods?
According to The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating preschoolers need:
- 3 to 6 serves of fruit and vegetables – no more than 200mL fruit juice.
- 4 to 8 slices of bread or equivalent serves (about a cup) of breakfast cereal, rice, pasta or noodles.
- The equivalent of 500mL to 600mL reduced fat milk, which can include yogurt, cheese, calcium fortified soy beverage.
- 1 small serve of meat, chicken, fish, egg or legumes such as baked beans, lentils, chickpeas.
The amount of food a preschooler chooses to eat will vary according to their size and activity levels.
What food to send to preschool
Choose foods from the core food groups.
- Breads or cereal based foods like sandwiches, pita bread with a filling rolled up, pasta or rice based salad, sushi rolls, crackers with a spread, pikelets or fruit-based muffins. Note - some of these foods require refrigeration.
- Include a dairy food for lunch or morning tea (e.g. a cheese sandwich, yogurt, custard, cold milk with MILO). Note - these items require refrigeration.
- Firm fresh fruits, as well as dried or canned fruits, are easy to send for morning tea or lunch.
- Choose easy-to-eat vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, celery, capsicum.
- Small cans of baked beans, spaghetti or corn niblets are easy to carry and easy to eat with a teaspoon.