Encouraging your preschooler to eat
Like adults, your preschooler will have hungry days and other days when she’s not that interested in food. This usually depends on how active she is on a given day, if she’s tired or focussing on acquiring a new skill.
You may also find that your preschooler will only eat the same two or three foods for weeks at a time. This is quite normal at this age and won't last forever – after nine months of wanting to eat nothing but baked beans, bananas and peanut butter toast, she may wake up one morning and never want to see them again.
Offer a variety of healthy foods each day, but don’t be concerned if she doesn’t eat something from all the food groups every day. You can also follow these simple tips:
- Don’t forget that your preschooler has a small stomach - about the size of her fist – and she will know when she’s had enough to eat.
- Always offer a range of nutritious food.
- Limit unhealthy snack foods in the house – that way, you can offer them to your preschooler as a treat rather than an everyday food.
- Avoid cordials and too much fruit juice as these are high in sugar and take away the appetite for other foods.
- If your child says she’s thirsty just before she eats, offer her water only.
- Encourage your child to help prepare the meal. There is almost always a small task that can be managed by a child – setting the table, getting food from the fridge for you, adding ingredients to a bowl. Save peeling, grating and cutting until she knows how to handle kitchen implements properly.
- Don’t serve your child too much food – it’s better to have her ask for more if she’s still hungry than have her sit face-to-face with a mountain of uneaten food on her plate.
- Don’t use dessert as a bribe to eat the rest of the meal – it rarely works and can often lead to more resistance over dinner.
- Invite one of your child’s friends over for a meal. The feeling of festivity at the table often encourages a fussy eater to eat.
- If your preschooler rejects everything you put on her plate, try placing all the meal’s food on communal plates in the centre of the table and encourage her to serve herself.
- If your preschooler is too tired to eat at dinner time, try giving her most of her dinner for afternoon tea and then offer her a light supper when you eat later.
- ‘Picnic food’ is sometimes a nice substitute for a meal at the table. Try offering cold meats, bread, raw veggies (grated) and salad on a mixed plate – but don’t stress if it’s not all eaten.
- Don’t force your preschooler to eat. You could cause her to choke – it’s almost impossible to chew and swallow if you’re crying - and may make her tense about eating.
Your child is born instinctively knowing how much food she needs and she won’t usually overeat. However she can easily lose this skill. If she’s always pushed to eat more than she wants or is encouraged to finish everything on the plate, she may learn to ignore her body’s messages when she’s had enough to eat. This can lead to weight problems later.
Learning to use a knife and fork can be a slow process for your toddler. Let her have fun with her food because the more practice she gets doing it for herself, the quicker she’ll master the skills.
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