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Food for fussy children

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Small children can be cute but they can also be opinionated and stubborn, especially when it comes to eating. If your three, four or five-year-old is turning into a fussy eater, take some tips from the experts and make mealtimes fun again.

What’s on the menu?

Young children should eat a healthy and varied diet to get all the nutrients they need for growth and development and to establish good eating habits for life.

Preschool children are growing fast and are usually very active, which means they have high energy and nutrient requirements in relation to their size. The British Nutrition Foundation says a good supply of protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and D is necessary during this time. Calcium is needed for healthy tooth development and, together with vitamin D, helps make bones stronger. Childhood is an important time for tooth and bone development.

Make time for meals

Regular family meals provide opportunities for good nutrition, and much more. Eating together encourages good table manners and fosters language development and conversational skills. When you minimise distractions by turning off the television and turning on the telephone answering machine, you show your child that mealtimes are for enjoying good food and nurturing meaningful relationships.

While the ritual of regular meals is comforting to children, eating with preschool children can be chaotic and messy. Expect spills and some sloppy eating as your youngsters learn to eat by themselves.

Lead by example

Do you want your child to accept baked potatoes instead of chips, and to prefer milk to sugary fizzy drinks? Then you must, too. The best way to prepare your child for a lifetime of healthy eating is to let them see you eating well, with a positive attitude to food.

Here are some suggested food substitutes, providing both variety and good nutrition:

  • Couscous instead of white rice.
  • Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
  • Ham instead of bacon.
  • Mashed potatoes made with skimmed milk instead of chips.
  • Yoghurt instead of ice cream.

Snacks fill the gap

Regular meals and snacks help ensure a healthy diet for preschool children, but they don’t always follow a rigid eating plan. Illnesses (including ear infections and colds), fatigue and growth spurts can temporarily upset the timetable and change the amount a young child consumes.

Healthy snacks between meals can help fill nutrient gaps in a little one’s diet. The best snacks are nutritious foods eaten in amounts that take the edge off hunger. Try these delicious snack options for your preschool child and you won’t need to worry if they’re not ravenous at their next meal:

  • Half a sandwich.
  • Well-cooked vegetables and low-fat dip.
  • Wholegrain biscuits and cheese.
  • Yoghurt.
  • Fruit smoothies.
  • Milk.
  • Chopped hard-boiled eggs or scrambled eggs.
  • Cereal, on its own or with milk.
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