During the pre-school years, kids begin to emerge as individuals. This is the vital stage when you need to provide them with a balanced diet to ensure they get the nutrients necessary for optimal growth and development, and the energy for the explorations they want to do. You'll have to help them maintain a healthy weight and stay energised as they get ready for the next big step in their young lives: kindergarten, the first rung on the education ladder.
Your role as a parent
Nurturing good eating habits in a kid is delicate work. Encourage your kid to make good choices without nagging. You want your pre-schooler to eat enough nutritious food so take charge if you don't want to get caught in a 'negotiation game' where every bite is rewarded with a promise of dessert. You don't want your kid to end up consuming more calories than nutrients!
At your suggestion, your pre-schooler may be willing to try new foods - especially if mom and dad are eating the same thing. Serve a variety of foods (including your kid's favourites sometimes) but don't cater to a kid's limited palate or you might end up fixing two meals – one for the family and one just for your kid!
There could be times when your kid refuses to eat. Don't be too alarmed. Skipping one meal will not harm a healthy kid. Let your kid know food will be available at the next regular meal or snack time. What's more, try to avoid arguing about it or criticising his decision. Staying neutral and calm will prevent the more vexing battle over food between parents and kids.
Take these additional steps to encourage a well-rounded diet:
• Continue offering a variety of foods, even types your kid has rejected in the past.
• Keep healthy foods in the house and limit the availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
• Involve kids in meal preparation - for example, let them wash the lettuce or arrange the leaves for a salad, ask them to set the table, etc.
• Create a structure for daily meals and snacks so kids will not have a tendency to snack throughout the day or as and when they feel like it.
• Have regular family meals and make them pleasant times where the whole family get together to share their news.
• Set a good example by eating a nutritious diet yourself.
Letting kids have some control
As a parent, you're always in charge. However, while you set the schedule for meals and snacks, you can let your kid have a choice of food options. You can also allow him to decide whether to eat or not, or when to eat.
Pre-schoolers are old enough to understand the concept of being full or satisfied. Kids who stop eating when they feel satisfied are less likely to become overweight. Most kids naturally know if they are hungry or full, and they can use these cues to control their food intake.