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Preschooler - Food and Feeding

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Information about the onset and patterns of risk behaviors associated with overweight and obesity du​​ring preschool years are showcased in the link below. Visit the section Desired Behaviors to learn about how to promote healthy active living during the preschool years.

​​View Preschooler ​Timeline​​​


Desired Behaviors

Based upon evidence, a number of desired behaviors were identified as critical to helping families foster healthy active living for their preschooler. For each desired behavior you can explore the evidence, learn what parents told us about these behaviors, identify opportunities to promote healthy beh​​aviors at the point of care, review how to start conversations and access messages and resources to support families. Also available to inform your counseling is the Onset and Patterns of Risk Behaviors for Preschoolers Timeline located above this section.

Healthy Bev​​​erages:

Choose milk or water for you child's beverage

    Evidence

    ​​Caregivers should provide their children with appropriate portions of healthy foods and maintain regular eating schedules while allowing the children to control the amount they eat.

    According to one comprehensive study, 86% of toddlers consume some type of sweetened beverage, dessert, sweet or salty snack in a day. Based upon the data, more children in this age range consumed sweetened beverages, desserts, and non-nutrient snack foods in a day than consumed distinct portions of fruits or vegetables (independently).

    Preschoolers need 1-2 healthy snacks to help meet nutritional needs.

    Parent Feedback

    ​​Parents desire for ideas for easy and healthy snacks.

    Some parents viewed snack time as treat time. They felt as though their child got all their nutrients at meal time and that snacks are just for fun.

    Parents gravitated towards pre-packaged snacks because they were quick, and easy.

    Opportunities for Care

    Help families understand that snacks are an opportunity to provide nutrients for their child, not treat time, and that toddlers actually need more nutrients than they can get at meal time.

    Preschoolers should be provided 2 healthy snacks per day. Snacks should be eaten at a planned time, while seated, and with adult supervision.

    Caution against all-day snacking/continuous snacking and snacking in front of the television.

    Remind parents that healthy snacks can be easy, safe, and portable with just a little bit of planning.

    Conversation Starters

    ​​Can you tell me about the snacks your child eats while at home and childcare and/or school?

    Can you tell me who decides what snacks your child eats?

    Can you tell me where your child usually has her snacks?

    Can you tell me what prompts you to give a snack or how you decide when to offer a snack?

    Can you tell me your child’s favorite snacks?

    Can you tell me about the types of snacks they have when they are over  at their friends?

    How do you react when your child says they are hungry between meals?

    Related Parent Resources

    HALF Message(s):

    Make snack time healthy to help your child get all the nutrients he needs. And you don’t have to be a great cook — there are plenty of healthy snacks that are fast and easy to make (and clean up!).
    HALF Resources:

    For realistic parent derived strategies for establishing healthy snack time, refer parents to the following sections on healthychildren.org/growinghealthy:

        Quick Tips: Keep Your Child Healthy widget. Simply select Snack Time to generate the results.
        Food and Feeding Toddlers

    Also take advantage of the HealthyGrowth app​​ to create personalized patient education for your patient.

​Healthy S​nacking:

Offer 2 healthy and nutritious snacks as part of your daily routine

    Evidence

    ​​Caregivers should provide their children with appropriate portions of healthy foods and maintain regular eating schedules while allowing the children to control the amount they eat.

    According to one comprehensive study, 86% of toddlers consume some type of sweetened beverage, dessert, sweet or salty snack in a day. Based upon the data, more children in this age range consumed sweetened beverages, desserts, and non-nutrient snack foods in a day than consumed distinct portions of fruits or vegetables (independently).

    Preschoolers need 1-2 healthy snacks to help meet nutritional needs.

    Parent Feedback

    ​​Parents desire for ideas for easy and healthy snacks.

    Some parents viewed snack time as treat time. They felt as though their child got all their nutrients at meal time and that snacks are just for fun.

    Parents gravitated towards pre-packaged snacks because they were quick, and easy.

    Opportunities for Care

    Help families understand that snacks are an opportunity to provide nutrients for their child, not treat time, and that toddlers actually need more nutrients than they can get at meal time.

    Preschoolers should be provided 2 healthy snacks per day. Snacks should be eaten at a planned time, while seated, and with adult supervision.

    Caution against all-day snacking/continuous snacking and snacking in front of the television.

    Remind parents that healthy snacks can be easy, safe, and portable with just a little bit of planning.

    Conversation Starters

    ​​Can you tell me about the snacks your child eats while at home and childcare and/or school?

    Can you tell me who decides what snacks your child eats?

    Can you tell me where your child usually has her snacks?

    Can you tell me what prompts you to give a snack or how you decide when to offer a snack?

    Can you tell me your child’s favorite snacks?

    Can you tell me about the types of snacks they have when they are over  at their friends?

    How do you react when your child says they are hungry between meals?

    Related Parent Resources

    HALF Message(s):

    Make snack time healthy to help your child get all the nutrients he needs. And you don’t have to be a great cook — there are plenty of healthy snacks that are fast and easy to make (and clean up!).
    HALF Resources:

    For realistic parent derived strategies for establishing healthy snack time, refer parents to the following sections on healthychildren.org/growinghealthy:

        Quick Tips: Keep Your Child Healthy widget. Simply select Snack Time to generate the results.
        Food and Feeding Toddlers

    Also take advantage of the HealthyGrowth app​​ to create personalized patient education for your patient.

​Picky Eati​ng:

Eat a variety of healthy foods
Preschoolers should eat the same healthy meals as their family

    Evidence

    ​​Babies have an innate ability to self-regulate their food. 

    Responsive feeding helps foster self-regulation.

    Parent Feedback

    Parents identified time and cleanliness as the two big barriers to self-feeding.

    Wasting food is another concern.

    Opportunities for Care

    ​Discuss responsive feeding, hunger and satiety cues with parents. 

    Encourage parents to foster babies self-feeding by using fingers, spoons, and cups. Explain that using their hands and trying to use a spoon are important parts of how a baby learns to self-feed and regulate how much they eat. 

    ​Acknowledge that self-feeding can sometimes be messy and take a bit longer. Strategize with parents about setting certain meals and snacks aside for their child to hone these skills, and remind parents when they opt to feed their child to be aware of fullness cues.  

    Conversation Starters

    How is your baby doing with a spoon?

    Can you describe how you go about encouraging your baby to feed herself?

    What is it like at mealtimes when your baby feeds herself? How do you feel about it, and how does your baby feel about it?

    What would be helpful to you and your baby to encourage self feeding?

    Related Parent Resources

    HALF Message(s):
    Let your baby try​​ feeding herself as soon as she’s ready — usually around 8 or 9 months old.

    HALF Resources:
    For realistic parent derived strategies on self-feeding refer parents to the following sec​tions on healthychildren.org/growinghealthy

    Food and Feeding Infants​

​Parent Pr​​​ovides, Child Decides:

Offer healthy food in age-appropriate portions at meals and snacks
Let child decide what and how much to eat.

    Evidence

    Children have an innate ability to self-regulate their food intake.

    Three parenting practices have been shown to be associated with excess weight gain:

        feeding in response to emotional distress,
        using food as a reward, and
        excessive prompting or encouragement to eat.

    Parent Feedback

    Parents generally did not have a good sense of appropriate portion sizes.

    Opportunites for Care

    ​Assure parents that children will eat when they are hungry. If they eat less in one meal they will make it up later. By offering regular healthy meals you allow the child to self-regulate (Parent provides, child decides).
    Discuss the importance of

        regularly scheduled meals and snacks,
        taking time to pause while eating for conversation,
        model healthy eating, and
        show enjoyment of healthy food.

    Be patient with picky eaters and avoid dinner table negotiations and/or battles

    Conversation Starters

    ​​How do you decide what portion to serve your preschooler?

    How do you know when you child is full?  

    How do you feel when your child doesn’t eat all of his food?

    Can you tell me about what meal times are like for you and your child?

    How do you feel when your child doesn’t eat all of his food?

    Related Parent Resources

    HALF Message(s):

    Your child is learning what he likes and what he doesn’t — and his tastes can (and will!) change very quickly. Don’t remove foods that your child is refusing from his diet.  Keep offering these along with other healthy foods that he likes such as fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats, and whole grains.

    Let your child choose between two healthy options. He’s more likely to eat something if he chooses it himself.

    HALF Resources:
    To help parents with responsive feeding, refer them to the realistic parent derived strategies for picky eaters on the following sections on healthychildren.org/growinghealthy:

        Quick Tips: Keep Your Child Healthy widget. Simply select Picky Eaters to generate the results.

        Food and Feeding Preschoolers

    Also take advantage of the HealthyGrowth app to create personalized patient education for your patient.

​​