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Feeding and Nutrition: Your Three-Year-Old

As a preschooler, your child should have a healthy attitude toward eating. Ideally, by this age she no longer uses eating—or not eating—to demonstrate defiance, nor does she confuse food with love or affection. Generally (although almost certainly not always), she’ll now view eating as a natural response to hunger and meals as a pleasant social experience.

Despite your preschooler’s general enthusiasm for eating, she still may have very specific preferences in food, some of which may vary from day to day. Your child may gobble down a particular food one day, and then push away the plate with the same food the next day. She may ask for a certain food for several days in a row, and then insist that she doesn’t like it anymore. As irritating as it may be to have her turn up her nose at a dish she devoured the day before, it’s normal behavior for a preschooler, and best not to make an issue of it. Let her eat the other foods on her plate or select something else to eat. As long as she chooses foods that aren’t overly sugary, fatty, or salty, don’t object. However, encourage her to try new foods by offering her very small amounts to taste, not by insisting that she eat a full portion of an unfamiliar food.

As a parent, your job is to make sure that your preschooler has nutritious food choices at every meal. If she has healthy options on the dining room table, let her make the decision of what (and how much) to eat. If she’s a picky eater—resisting eating vegetables, for example—don’t get discouraged or frustrated. Keep giving them to her even if she repeatedly turns up her nose at the sight of them. Before long, she may change her mind, developing a taste for foods that she once ignored. This is the period of time that healthy snacking and healthy habits get reinforced and/or established.

Remember, meals don’t need to be elaborate to be nutritious. If you have only a few minutes to prepare a meal, try a turkey sandwich, a serving of green beans, an apple, and a glass of nonfat or low-fat milk. A simple lunch like this takes less time to prepare than driving through a fast-food restaurant, and it is much healthier.

Television advertising, incidentally, can be a serious obstacle to your preschooler’s good nutrition. Some studies show that children who watch over twenty-two hours of TV per week (over three hours of screen time a day) have a greater tendency to become obese. Children this age are extremely receptive to ads for candy and other sugary sweets, especially after they’ve visited other homes where these foods are served. Obesity is a growing problem among children in America. For this reason, you need to be aware of your youngster’s eating habits, at home and away, and monitor them to make sure she’s eating as healthy as possible.

Last Updated
Adapted from Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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