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Feeding Your Children (2-5 years old)
By choosing to complete this mail lesson, you have taken the first step in learning more about the importance of nutrition and its relationship to good health. Feeding young children can be tricky. There are no rules for getting your children to eat. Each child is different. Relax, set a good example, and follow this plan to keep your child on the road to healthy eating!
To complete this lesson:
- Carefully read this lesson. It should take about 15-20 minutes to complete.
- Answer the questions at the end of the lesson.
- When you are finished, place the questions in the prepaid envelope and place the envelope in the mail.
This mail lesson will discuss:
- Shaping your child’s eating habits
- Amount of food your child needs each day
- Tempting the picky eater
- Letting your child help in the kitchen
Shaping your child’s eating habits
You can help your child enjoy healthy foods and happy meal times at an early age by setting a good example. You are your child’s best teacher.
Parents are in charge of:
- Buying and making healthy food
- Setting regular meal and snack times
- Serving foods that are healthy and look good
- Setting a good example
Children are in charge of:
- Deciding if he/she will eat
- Deciding what and how much he/she will eat
- His/her table manners
Tips to keep in mind when feeding young children:
- Offer healthy food choices. Follow MyPyramid when picking food for your family.
- Offer a variety of foods. Buy and make foods that are different colors and textures. Children like colorful and fun shaped foods. Each week, offer many different types of food. This may make your child more willing to eat a variety of foods.
- Sometimes new foods take time. Kids don’t always take to new foods right away. Offer new fruits and veggies many times. Give them a taste at first and be patient with them.
- Teach them to take small amounts first. Tell them they can get more if they are still hungry.
- Patience works better than pressure. Offer your children new foods. Then, let them choose how much to eat. Kids are more likely to enjoy a food when eating it is their own choice. It also helps them learn to be independent.
- Schedule regular times for meals and snacks. Children need daily routines. If you schedule 3 meals and 3 snacks each day, your child will know when to expect food and is more likely to come to the table hungry.
- They learn from watching you. Sit down with your child to eat meals. Turn off the TV. Talk quietly keeping mealtime calm and relaxed. Involve the children in mealtime conversations.
- Cook together. Eat together. Talk together. Make mealtime a family time.
- Start your child’s day off right. Make sure your children start their day off with a healthy breakfast that includes foods from at least 3 of the 5 food groups.
- Be positive! When you are trying to serve your children new and different foods, being positive is important. Your children will watch you and see how you like the foods. If you eat vegetables and fruits as snacks and drink milk with your meals, it will be easier to get your children to do the same.
- Keep foods mild. Avoid hot spices and allow food to cool before serving.
- Avoid being a “short-order cook”. Do not make separate meals for a picky eater. Make one meal, but be sure it includes at least one food item you know your child will eat.
- Make food fun! Use a cookie cutter to cut foods into fun shapes, use a silly straw for milk, offer dipping sauces, and provide a variety of foods.
How much does your child need each day?
In the MyPyramid lesson, you learned about healthy eating using MyPyramid. Plan meals and snacks for your child using the five food groups in MyPyramid to ensure your child gets the nutrients he/she needs to grow and be healthy. Below is a guide you can use to determine how much your child needs from each food group each day. Remember, your child is the one who decides what and how much he/she will eat, so the exact amount your child will eat may be more or less depending upon the day.
|Age||2 years||3 years||4 years||5 years|
|Grain Group||3 ounces||3 ounces||4 ounces||4 ounces|
|Vegetable Group||1 cup||1 cup||1.5 cups||1.5 cups|
|Fruit Group||1 cup||1 cup||1 cup||1 cup|
|Milk Group||2 cups||2 cups||2 cups||2 cups|
|Meat and Beans Group||2 ounces||2 ounces||3 ounces||3 ounces|
The amounts shown above are how much your child should have throughout an entire day.
Grain Group: Make half of your grains whole. Choose whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and whole wheat crackers more often. Remember, 1 slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked cereal, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, 1 6-inch tortilla, or 3 cups of popcorn are equal to 1 ounce from the grain group.
Vegetable Group: Vary your veggies. Choose dark green and orange vegetables often. Try spinach, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Remember, ½ cup of any raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy greens or lettuce, ½ cup vegetable juice, 1 medium carrot (or 6 baby carrots), ½ cup cooked dry beans or peas, or ½ cup mashed potatoes are equal to ½ cup from the vegetable group.
Fruit Group: Focus on fruits. Eat them at meals and as snacks. Choose fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits. Limit fruit juice to ½ cup per day. Remember, ½ cup of any fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, ½ cup 100% fruit juice, or ¼ cup of dried fruit are all equal to ½ cup from the fruit group.
Milk Group: Get your calcium-rich foods. Serve low-fat and fat-free milk products several times a day. Remember, 1 cup of milk, ⅓ cup of shredded cheese, 1 cup yogurt, 2 cups cottage cheese, 1½ ounces hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan), 2 ounces of processed cheese (American), 1 cup of pudding made from milk, or 1 cup frozen yogurt are all equal to 1 cup from the milk group.
Meat and Beans Group: Go lean with protein. Eat lean or low-fat meat, chicken, turkey, and fish. Also, try more dry beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. Remember, 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or fish, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, ¼ cup of tofu, 1 egg, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, or ¼ cup of cooked dry beans, dry peas, or baked beans are all equal to 1 ounce from the meat & beans group.
Snacks need to be offered between meals because it is hard for young children to eat enough in three meals to provide the nutrients and calories they need. Use MyPyramid to plan snacks. Snacks should be easy for children to find. Try placing a “snack box” with a variety of ready to eat foods in the cupboard and one in the refrigerator. Set regular snack times and enjoy healthy snacks as a family.
Healthy snack ideas:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Cheese slices or cubes
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Crackers or pretzels
- Unsweetened cereal
- Raisins (4 years old or older)
Beware of choking hazards!
- Do not give young children hard, or difficult to chew foods such as raw carrots and other crunchy vegetables, hard candy, lollipops, peanuts, and popcorn.
- Modify the shape and texture of firm foods. Cut grapes into 4 pieces and hot dogs into fine sticks rather than round slices. Chop apples and firm fruits into very small pieces. Cook carrots and hard vegetables until soft, then cut into small pieces. Spread peanut butter very thin to avoid choking.
Tempting the picky eater
Most children are picky from time-to-time and might eat only a few foods. Picky food habits often last for a short time and will go away if you do not reward or bribe your child to eat. Food should not be used as a bribe or as punishment. If your child does not like or want a food, do not make it a big deal. Offer the food at another meal or as a snack.
Letting your child help in the kitchen
Children are more likely to eat foods they help prepare, so involve your children in meal and snack preparation. Before you prepare food, remember to wash hands with warm water and soap. When you start cooking with your child, you will need to be patient and give your child enough time to get involved.
Tips for cooking with your child:
- Match the task to what the child is able to do
- Show your child what to do by doing it yourself first
- Plan enough time for practice and expect things to get messy
- Let your child know they are doing a good job
- Include clean up as part of each task
Some things young children can help with in the kitchen:
- Washing fruits and vegetables
- Husking corn on the cob
- Mixing and stirring ingredients
- Adding ingredients while you mix them
- Setting the table
If you involve your children in meal preparation, you will create more interest in foods and your children will have fun learning to cook!
Remember, you are your child’s best teacher! By offering a variety of healthy foods, and setting a good example, your child will learn to enjoy healthy foods and happy mealtimes for a lifetime.