Nutrition for Young Children (Lesson 19)

Karen Overstreet, Roy, Heli J., Reames, Elizabeth S.


Does your preschool child eat only a few particular foods? Do food likes and dislikes change frequently and without warning? Are you worried that your child is not eating enough?

All of these are common concerns of parents of preschool children. During the preschool years, a child can be taught healthy eating habits to last throughout life. Children at this age should be exposed to many new foods. They will probably learn to accept and even like them if the foods are presented in a relaxed and loving atmosphere. It is also important for the parents of preschool children to practice healthy habits. The young child will watch family members eat and model eating behavior after theirs. Following a healthy diet will benefit both you and your child.

What You Will Learn

In this lesson, you will learn about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate, and how they apply to young children. You will learn what to expect during each stage of the preschool years and tips to make these stages easier on both you and your child. You will also learn about issues such as fast food, healthy weights for young children and exercise.

MyPlate Review

MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines are tools that guide us in selecting which foods to eat and how much to eat each day to be healthy. We need a variety of foods from each of the MyPlate food groups. We should also remember to eat in moderation by eating the recommended serving sizes. MyPlate is a practical guide to choosing healthful, low-fat foods each day.

The MyPlate for Young Children

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and Department of Health and Human Resources adapted MyPlate for young children two to six years of age. The healthy-eating messages have not changed; just the picture is new. Some of the adaptations include foods being drawn in a realistic style. Foods are in single-serving portions. Food group names are shorter. The number of servings is one number instead of a range. Two- to three-year-olds may need different numbers of servings than four- to six-year-olds based on physical activity level and size. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Children

A healthful diet is necessary for both physical and mental development. To guide you in making decisions about eating healthfully, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was developed. This provides the following recommendations for healthy Americans, ages two years and over.

1. Offer a variety of foods. Serving a variety of foods prepared in different ways makes meals and snacks more interesting for children and makes good nutrition sense. Everyone needs many different nutrients for good health. Nutrients are in food. The nutrients needed are vitamins, minerals, water, carbohydrates, amino acids from proteins and certain fatty acids from fat. Choosing foods from each of MyPlate's food groups will provide the variety of foods needed for good health. The food groups are as follows: Fruits, Vegetables, Protein foods, Grains and Dairy.

2. Serve meals that help maintain a healthy body weight. Children need food and the calories it contains for growth and normal development. Calorie needs of children differ because of body size, growth spurts and physical activity level. Serving a variety of foods can help children maintain a healthy body and weight. Serve plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products, less fat and fewer fatty foods, and serve sugars and sweets only in moderation. Regular physical activity is important to maintaining good health. It burns calories, helps with weight control, and is important in preventing some chronic diseases. Although there is not a specific amount of time recommended for physical activity for children, it is recommended that children play actively several times a day.  There are many types of physical activities that children enjoy at home, at school, in the community or at childcare centers. An active lifestyle will provide the following benefits:

  • Fun and relaxation
  • Strong bones and muscles
  • A healthy heart
  • A healthy weight
  • Positive attitude
  • Development of motor skills, balance and coordination
  • Increased energy
  • Improved self-esteem

3. Offer foods low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests a range of 30-40% of daily calories from fat with less than 10% from saturated fat for children. Fats in the diet come mostly from animal products such as meat, butter, milk and cheese. Foods that come from animals are higher in fat than foods that come from plants. However, products such as lean meat, nonfat or low-fat milk, and chicken without skin have less fat than other animal products. Higher levels of fat have been linked to obesity and certain types of cancer. Higher levels of saturated fat have been shown to increase the risk for heart disease. At about two years of age, children should be encouraged to choose diets that are lower in fat and saturated fat and that provide the calories and nutrients they need for normal growth. These goals for fats apply to the diet over several days, not to a single meal or food.

Lowering the fat content lowers the calories of the meal as well. Fat contains twice the calories of an equal amount of protein or carbohydrate. Grains, vegetables and fruits are the best choices for adding calories when lowering the fat intake in meals. To increase calories without adding fat, young children will probably have to eat smaller, more frequent meals than older children or adults.

Most fruits, vegetables and grain products are naturally low in fat. However, many popular items, such as french fried potatoes, croissants and sweet rolls, are prepared with fat. All fats contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats are found in the largest amounts in animal products and some vegetable fats such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

4. Serve plenty of vegetables, fruits and grain products. These are generally low in fat. They are important because they are also good sources of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and other substances in food linked to good health.

5. Offer and use sugars only in moderation. Sugars and many foods that contain them in large amounts supply calories but may be limited in vitamins and minerals. They should be used in moderation by most healthy people and sparingly by people with low calorie needs.

Frequent between-meal snacks of foods such as cakes, chips, crackers and pastries, candies and dried fruits may be more harmful to children's teeth than sugars eaten with regular meals.

6. Offer and use salt and sodium only in moderation. Most Americans eat more salt and sodium than they need. Some people may reduce their chances of getting high blood pressure by eating less salt. Since there is no way to predict who will develop high blood pressure, serving foods lower in sodium and reducing or omitting salt during food preparation may help some children avoid high blood pressure when they become adults.

7. Promote an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle. Children and teens should not drink alcoholic beverages. Use of alcoholic beverages involves risks to health and other serious problems.

Using MyPlate

Nutritious eating habits developed early in life provide health benefits for a lifetime. Everyone, including children, needs many different nutrients for good health. These nutrients are found in the food we eat. However, no one food supplies all the nutrients in the amounts the body requires.

MyPlate is a visual guide to the variety and servings of food children, as well as adults, should eat each day. Depending on age and size of the child, they need appropriate servings from the Fruit, Vegetable, Grain, Protein and Dairy groups. Children's serving sizes are smaller than adults'. You can follow the 1 tablespoon per year rule until about age 8 to 10 years of age.

Young children need the equivalent of 2-2 1/2 cups of milk each day. This amount should be divided into servings of 1/2 to 3/4 cup and offered several times a day to meet the recommended equivalent of 2-2 1/2 cups of milk. You can use these dairy foods in place of milk: 1 cup of yogurt, 2 cups of frozen yogurt 1 1/2-2 ounces of cheese.

Here are a few tips to make it easier for your young child to eat the same meals along with the family:

  • Keep portions small. Cut sandwiches and finger foods into small pieces.
  • Make the environment comfortable. Depending on the child's age and motor development, smaller utensils, cups and furniture or a booster seat may help make eating easier.
  • Avoid certain foods that could tend to choke small children: round cuts of hot dogs, grapes, carrot chunks or nuts.
  • Include at least one of your child's favorite foods at the meal, even if it's the same thing over again.
  • Offer a variety of textures and colors to help your child enjoy an expanded array of acceptable and nutritious foods.
  • Keep mealtime relatively quiet and calm. Ask children to talk softly and sit at the table. Keep the TV and radio turned off. Try to keep arguments from happening at mealtime.
  • Serve meals and snacks at consistent times. Schedule meals when your child is not likely to be overly tired or excited.
  • Involve your child in meal preparation. Taking part may help increase interest in eating, especially new or unfamiliar foods.

Go for the Grains!

Grains provide important nutrients for energy, growth and good health. These nutrients include carbohydrates to provide fuel for energy. At least half of the calories each day should come from carbohydrates. Eating 3-5 oz-equivalents allows protein to do its job of building body cells. Eating plenty of carbohydrate foods also helps to lower fat in the diet. Carbohydrate foods aren't fattening. It's the butter, margarine, gravy and mayonnaise we put on them that add extra calories. Remember, children's portions are smaller than adults'.

  • B vitamins to help the body use energy from food, keep skin healthy and help digestion and appetite.
  • Iron to build red blood cells.
  • Fiber to provide bulk and help prevent constipation.

Most grains are low in fat. Whole grain means that the bread, cereal, rice or pasta is made from the whole grain of wheat, rice and other grains. Whole-grain products include the bran, which gives fiber and B vitamins, and the germ, which provides vitamins, iron and protein. Look for whole grain as the first ingredient on the label. Examples of whole grains are whole wheat, cracked wheat, oatmeal and brown rice.

Enriched means the producer has put back the B vitamins and iron taken out during processing. Enriching food does not add fiber taken out. Look for the word enriched on the ingredient label, too.


Vegetables have been eaten in other countries for thousands of years. Some, like onions and celery, were even used as medicine in early times. Settlers who came to America brought vegetable seeds with them. For example, Italian families brought broccoli seeds. Cauliflower came from France and England. Okra came from Africa.

Children should eat from 1-2.5 cups of vegetables every day depending on age and size. Vegetables provide nutrients like beta carotene (the plant form of vitamin A), vitamin C, folic acid and fiber. Some provide iron and calcium. All of these help children build strong healthy bodies and stay well.

Different types of vegetables provide different nutrients. For variety, eat dark-green leafy vegetables, starchy vegetables, legumes (red beans, white beans) and others like tomatoes and green beans.

The vegetables we eat come from different parts of the plant:

  • The root vegetables we eat include beets, potatoes, yams, carrots, radishes, onions and turnips.
  • The stem vegetables we eat include asparagus, mushrooms, celery and rhubarb.
  •  The leaves we eat include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, greens, lettuce, spinach and parsley.
  • The seeds we eat include corn, lima beans, green beans, red beans, peas and white beans.
  • The flowers we eat include artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower.
  • The vegetable fruits we eat include tomatoes, okra, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash and eggplant.


Fruits are grown and eaten in every country in the world. They grow on trees, bushes or vines that live for many years. Some, like bananas and pineapples, grow best in countries that stay warm all year long. Others, like apples and cherries, grow well where it gets very cold in the winter. All provide nutrients that children need to stay healthy.

Children should eat 1-1.5 cups of foods from the fruit group each day depending on age and size. Fruit provides nutrients such as vitamin C, beta carotene (this turns to vitamin A in our bodies), potassium and fiber. Vitamin C helps to heal cuts and bruises. Citrus fruit, melons and strawberries are high in vitamin C.

Beta carotene, vitamin C and fiber may even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. Apricots and cantaloupes are high in beta carotene. Apples, pears, plums and figs are high in fiber. Potassium is needed for fluid balance. Bananas and oranges are high in potassium.


The USDA MyPlate recommends that children eat 3-5 oz-equivalents from this group every day. The protein group of MyPlate provides protein for growth. Animal foods such as beef, chicken, pork, fish and eggs are complete proteins. Complete proteins are needed for normal growth rates.

Plant foods such as dry beans, nuts, nut butter, soy products and beans are incomplete proteins. To make incomplete proteins complete, drink milk or add cheese or small amounts of meat. A couple of examples of complete sources of protein are macaroni and cheese and beans and rice.

Meats are good sources of three nutrients that are low in diets of many preschool children:

1. Zinc aids in growth, appetite, taste and wound healing. It is found primarily in meat, liver, eggs and seafood (especially oysters).

2. Vitamin B6 helps the body break down and use food we eat, especially protein foods. It also helps the body build blood and is needed for a healthy nervous system. It is found in chicken, fish, liver, pork and eggs.

3. Iron helps build red blood cells and helps a person have a longer attention span. It also helps in the ability to learn. Meat, eggs, liver, poultry and fish are the best sources.

**Choking: More than two-thirds of all children's deaths from choking were from foods in the meat group. High-risk foods include:

  • Hot dogs and sausages (cut into small pieces, not round ones).
  • Peanuts and other nuts (especially in children aged two and younger).
  • Peanut butter can form a plug in the airway.
  • Bone fragments a chicken leg with bone; fish bones.

Food Safety

Some food products may contain bacteria that could cause illness if the product is mishandled or cooked improperly. For your protection, follow these safe handling instructions:

Keep meats refrigerated or frozen.

Thaw in the refrigerator (not on the counter).

Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods.

Wash working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils and hands after touching raw meat or poultry.

Cook thoroughly. Cook ground meat until pink disappears.

Keep hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Dairy Group

The dairy group's claim to fame is its nutritional value. It is one of the groups in MyPlate, and we should choose food from this group each day. Milk, yogurt, cheese, cream and butter are all foods found in the dairy group. Milk, specifically, contains almost every nutritional element needed in human diets. That's why it is often called the most nearly perfect food. In fact, it's the primary food of infants in their first year of life. The fact is you never outgrow your need for milk.

The dairy group supplies these important nutrients needed by the body:

  • Calcium for strong bones, teeth and muscle tissue.
  • Protein for growth and repair of body tissues.
  • Carbohydrate for energy.
  • Vitamin A for healthy skin and vision.
  • Phosphorus and vitamin D work together with calcium to build and maintain bones and teeth.
  • B vitamins help the body use energy from food.
  • Young children need the equivalent of 2-2 1/2 cups of milk each day. This amount should be divided into smaller servings of 1/2 or 3/4 cup and offered several times a day to meet the recommended equivalent of 2-2 1/2 cups per day.

Children two years old and older can drink low-fat or skim milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two be given whole milk. They need the fat for normal growth and development during this period. Most young children like milk, but some give up drinking it once they are weaned. Because dairy products are so important in our diets, here are a few ideas for getting the milk your child needs into his diet if he won't drink milk:

  • Serve milk at the temperature your child likes.
  • Use other dairy foods high in calcium such as yogurt and cheese.
  • Add milk to foods your child does eat, such as casseroles, soups and puddings.
  • Cook cereals in milk.
  • Consider serving milk-based beverages such as milk shakes and hot cocoa made with low-fat milk.
  • Look for recipes that include dairy products.


It's OK for kids to snack and adults, too, at least sometimes  if the foods they eat help provide essential nutrients needed for a well-balanced diet.

Children sometimes have difficulty eating enough food at mealtime. Their stomachs are smaller, and their appetites are likely to change from day to day. Also, many families do not take time for three sit-down meals a day. Nutritious snacks can provide calories and other essential nutrients that may be missing in a child's diet. It is important, though, that snack foods fit into the guidelines for a healthy diet low in fat, sugar and sodium, and provide dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein.

Children sometimes eat too many snacks, especially foods high in sugar and fat. Then they don't want their meals with dairy, protein, fruits, vegetables and grains foods recommended each day in MyPlate.

Risk factors for heart disease often begin in childhood. Three major ones are related to food habits:

  • High levels of blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity

Lack of adequate exercise is another primary risk factor for heart disease and obesity. Children snack and watch TV too many hours each day instead of playing.

Eating and exercise habits are learned early in life and, once formed, are difficult to change. If children are given low-fat milk and other nutritious foods low in fat, they will learn to prefer such foods.

Physicians and scientists from 42 major U.S. health and professional organizations, including the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that all healthy children over the age of two eat a low-fat diet the same as their parents. It's important to know also that all health experts unanimously agree that children under two should not be fed a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet. Infants need the essential fatty acids in full-fat milk or formula for proper development of brain and body. After age two, low-fat or skim milk should gradually become part of a healthy, low-fat diet.

Fast Food

Fast foods are a major part of life in America.

Most people eat from 1-3 fast-food meals a week. More schools are serving fast-food meals to compete with our preference for fast foods. A steady diet of fast foods can be a problem for young children. First of all, they are usually very high in fat and sodium. And if children develop a taste preference for fast foods, it's often difficult to get them to eat a greater variety of healthier foods.

Most children like fast foods. Most restaurants promote special meal packages which contain enticing toys. Some even have playgrounds. So, what's a parent to do? It's all right for a child to eat a fast-food meal of this type once in a while. Remember that children want something even more if they've been told they can't have it! Also, there really are no good or bad foods. You just balance those high-fat and high-sodium foods with lower-fat and lower-sodium ones for the next day or two, and increase the food group choices often missing in a fast-food meal.

But, if you find you're stopping in for a quick meal with the family several times a week, or driving through to pick up something to take home, then you may find it's harder to do this balancing act. That's when it's a good idea to look for healthier choices.

Tips for making healthier choices:

1. Choose a restaurant that offers more than just fried foods.

2. Don't ask the kids what they want from the total menu. Give them a choice, but make it between two or three of the healthier items.

3. If the kids have to have the special meal package, ask for substitutions. Ask for juice instead of the cold drink and a small cup of frozen yogurt instead of the fries. Or just get them to put whatever you order in the special container and offer to pay a little extra for the toy if necessary.

4. Ask how many grams of fat certain items have. Some restaurants serve milk shakes that have only one or two grams of fat. Others serve shakes that have 12 grams or more. Children over the age of two should limit the number of grams of fat per day the same as adults. That means less than 30 percent of calories should come from fat, or less than 53 grams of fat a day for a child who takes in about 1,600 calories.

5. Order regular hamburgers. They have less than 15 grams of fat and about 250 calories, while double cheeseburgers can have more than 63 grams of fat and more than 1,000 calories! Fried fish or chicken sandwiches can range from 30 to 40 grams of fat.

6. A grilled chicken sandwich or salad is fine if you have them hold the mayonnaise dressing. One tablespoon of mayonnaise has 11 grams of fat. If you must go with the fried chicken dinner, then order the breast and remove the skin. Do without the coleslaw, onion rings or fries. Instead, order plain mashed potatoes and perhaps the corn, if it's not swimming in butter.

7. Chicken fajitas, burritos and soft-shell tacos are fairly good choices. A taco salad is OK if you don't eat the pastry shell. (With the shell, it adds up to 61 grams of fat and more than 900 calories!)

8. Pizza can be a healthy choice, especially if you bypass the meat toppings, order with one-half the cheese and ask for extra vegetables.

9. Get your kids interested in the salad bar early. Make upside down salads. Pile the shredded carrots, green peppers, tomatoes and other veggies on first; add a little lettuce last. Use low-fat dressings. Stay away from mayonaise-based pasta salads or potato salads.

10. Part of a submarine sandwich is a great option, especially on whole-grain buns. Choose low-fat fillings like lean roast beef, turkey or chicken. Avoid cold cuts like bologna, pepperoni or salami and tuna or chicken salads. Ask for mustard, not mayonnaise.

11. Always insist that the hamburgers are cooked thoroughly with no pink showing. The center should be gray; the juices should run clear, and the texture should be firm, not mushy.

12. Make sure your children have plenty of fruits and vegetables at snack time and other meals if the fast-food meal lacks these items.

13. For breakfast, pancakes with syrup only, low-fat muffins, or English muffins are wholesome. Most of the breakfast sandwiches are very high in fat. A fast-food biscuit has 276 calories and 13 grams of fat compared with one you make at home from a mix. It has only 95 calories and three grams of fat.

14. Make sure the food you choose for yourself is healthy, too. Children learn best by example

Feeding Your Preschool Child with Love and Understanding

It may be a challenge to feed a toddler. To a toddler, manipulating you is a way to show newfound independence. You are responsible for what toddlers are given to eat and when and where they eat. The toddlers are responsible for how much, if anything, is eaten.

Another aspect of feeding toddlers that makes it a challenge is that they have erratic eating habits. They often have strange food preferences. Or, when you feel sure you know their favorite foods, they won't even touch what had been a favorite. Also, they usually eat only small amounts at a time, but they always seem to want snacks.

A child's growth rate is slower between one and five years of age than it was in the great growth spurt during infancy. Many parents become concerned that something is wrong with a child who doesn't eat as much as a toddler as she did as an infant. The decrease in appetite and less interest in food are caused by the normal, slower growth rate of a toddler. Between three and five years of age, a child probably will not gain more than four pounds a year. While growth is slowing, a child is shifting from large motor to fine motor activity. Many basic feeding skills can be mastered during this period.

One- to Two-Year-Olds

A child this age is a finicky eater and has food jags. A toddler holds food in the mouth without swallowing and also has an unpredictable appetite. He may eat every two to three hours. Two-year-olds can use big arm muscles to scrub, tear, break, snap and dip.

What you can do:

1. Encourage your child to feed itself. Plan for spills and accidents. By two, most children have learned to use a spoon and a cup to feed themselves.

2. Adapt a chair in a way that the child can reach the table. For example, use a foot rest!

3. Use unbreakable dishes and small utensils.

4. Serve foods at room temperature.

5. Serve foods that are easy to chew, have interesting shapes and have bright colors. Children like to pick up food with their own hands and chew on it.

6. Serve separate foods, not mixtures.

7. Use chopped, home-prepared foods for ease and to save money instead of buying junior baby foods.

8. Pour drinks into a cup that is wide at the bottom. Children have good control of a cup. They can lift, drink, set it down and hold with one hand.

9. Do not feed children under five years old round foods such as hot dogs, candy, nuts and grapes. One child under five chokes to death every five days. Young children can easily choke on these round foods.


As a child develops better hand and finger control, fewer spills and accidents will occur. Three-year-old children have better appetites than two-year-olds. However, they also have times when they are not hungry. They eat most foods except certain vegetables. They dawdle over food when not hungry, and they comment on how foods are served.

Three-year-olds can:

1. Use a spoon in semi-adult fashion; may spear with a fork.

2. Pour milk and juice and serve individual portions from a serving dish if given instruction.

3. Can wrap, mix, spread and shake because of the development of medium hand muscles.

4. Eat independently, especially if hungry.


Four- and five-year-old children like to help in the kitchen. Let them mix or stir ingredients, make sandwiches or clean fruits and vegetables. Children like to eat foods they have helped to prepare. With four-year-olds, eating and talking get in the way; they prefer to talk! They have strong likes and dislikes.

Four-year-olds can:

1. Use all eating utensils.

2. Help with meal preparation by wiping, washing, setting table and pouring measured ingredients.

3. Peel, spread, cut, roll and mash foods; crack eggs because of the development of small finger muscles.


Five-year-olds like familiar foods, and they prefer most vegetables raw. They notice food dislikes of family members and declare these as their own. It's important for family members and others to practice healthy eating habits.

Five-year-olds can:

1. Make a simple breakfast and lunch.

2. Measure, cut, grind and grate because of fine coordination in fingers and hands.

3. Preschoolers' appetites and the amount of food they eat change from day to day. Forcing a child to eat will make mealtime an unhappy experience for everyone. Pleasant mealtimes have a positive effect on the eating habits of children.

Tips For Feeding Young Children

1. Schedule regular meals and snacks for toddlers because they require frequent feeding to ensure adequate intake of calories and nutrients.

2. Always try to offer at least one food the child likes.

3. Remain calm if the child leaves an entire meal untouched.

4. Do not be concerned about short food jags stretches of time when the child wants the same food over and over. If this behavior continues for a long period and eliminates entire food groups, consult your pediatrician.

5. Teach and reinforce good table manners.

6. Allow the child to eat slowly.

7. Offer healthy food in a relaxed manner and children will eat what they need.

Eating and Exercising for Good Health

Learning good eating and exercise habits as a child will lead to better health for a lifetime. Poor eating habits and lack of exercise may lead to excessive weight gain. Childhood obesity is a major public health problem in the United States. Obesity in children is linked with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels. Overweight children are also more likely to have respiratory and orthopedic problems. They also often suffer from poor self image.

Your child's health care provider can tell you if your child's weight is too high or too low. This person will use a growth chart with your child's weight and height to decide if your child's weight is a problem. Remember that children come in all shapes and sizes. What is healthy and normal for one child will not necessarily be the same for another.

Lack of activity seems to be the major reason many children are too heavy. Children spend an average of 24 hours a week watching television. This keeps them from being active. Children are also exposed to advertisements for high-calorie foods and may snack continually while watching TV.

To prevent your child from becoming overweight, serve nourishing meals and snacks, encourage active play daily and set a good example. Children should never be put on a strict weight-loss diet. Restricting calories and nutrients can alter your child's growth.

Plan meals and snacks using recommended servings from the USDA MyPlate. Choose nonfat or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, fish, chicken without skin, dry beans, whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Use low-fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling, boiling, roasting, grilling and steaming.

Children have a natural desire for sweet foods. Eating too many sweets will keep them from eating more nutritious foods. Offer healthy alternatives to high-fat, high-sugar snacks and desserts. These alternatives might be fruit, yogurt or pudding made with nonfat or low-fat milk.

Your child's appetite is the best guide to how many calories are needed to grow healthfully. Children don't normally overeat. If they do, there is a reason. It may be because meals and snacks are not on a regular schedule. Maybe someone is encouraging the child to overeat. A child may also overeat because of stress or depression. Get help from a health care provider if needed.

A higher activity level allows children to eat well without gaining weight and improves their health. Regular physical exercise offers many health benefits including:

  • Healthy heart, circulatory and respiratory systems.
  • Muscular strength, endurance and flexibility.
  • Helps control weight.
  • Helps prevent constipation.
  • Helps maintain healthy bones.
  • Improved sense of well-being.
  • Improves sleep.
  • Contributes to development of social skills.

Children need to run, jump, skip, hop and move around more. Try to think of ways to help your child want to be more active:

  • Movin' with the Music: Play peppy, fun music that children enjoy. Organize the children in a safe space free of obstacles. Start with some stretching activities. Then play follow the leader with different movement ideas such as skipping, bending, hopping, twisting, walking, turning or wiggling like a worm. Rest a few minutes after each song.
  • Check out local parks and recreation departments. Many offer classes in swimming, gymnastics and team sports.
  • Set up a badminton or volleyball net in your yard if you have room.
  • Teach children how to play hopscotch.
  • Make play or exercise space available in your house, such as a room with little or no furniture.
  • Play musical chairs inside when it's raining.
  • Take children to parks and school playgrounds that have swings or climbing equipment.
  • Become active with your child. Invite him to take a walk with you after dinner each day. Take a picnic lunch on a hike through the woods or fly kites together on weekends.


During the preschool years, a child can be taught healthy eating habits to last throughout life. Children at this age should be exposed to many new foods. They will probably learn to accept and even like them if the foods are presented in a relaxed and loving atmosphere. It is also important for the parents of preschool children to practice healthy habits. The young child will watch family members eat and model eating behavior after theirs. Following a healthy diet will benefit both you and your child.

2/5/2010 2:52:55 AM
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