The preschool years are a time of physical and mental development, and children are highly active. Although their physical growth isn't as rapid as it was during the first two years, preschool children require between 1,200 and 1,600 calories a day. The right balance of nutrients is essential at this stage of development, so it's important these calories come from a diet that includes such items as lean meat, whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables and low-fat milk.
Mornings can be the busiest time of day for many households, but it's crucial that preschool children eat a healthy, balanced breakfast that ideally mixes complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber while keeping fat and sugar to a minimum. On busy mornings, a bowl of cereal accompanied by yogurt and fruit can be an excellent choice. If time isn't a factor, encourage your preschooler to help prepare breakfast. For example, he can help you make whole-grain pancakes topped with chopped nuts and sliced fruit such as strawberries and bananas.
If your child is at daycare, it's important that you pack a lunch that is nutritious and tasty. Sandwiches containing such items as deli meat, tuna and peanut butter are obvious choices, but you can mix it up by serving these items in a whole-wheat wrap, adding cheese, leafy greens and fresh vegetables. Oatmeal-based cookies are a great addition, as oatmeal is a rich source of carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Fresh fruit such as an apple, orange or banana should also be included, and yogurt tubes are a fun, easy-to-eat dessert. You can keep yogurt tubes in the freezer before packing them; by lunch time, they should be thawed but still cold.
Preschoolers enjoy food that's fun to eat, and this is especially true at dinner, which should ideally combine combine protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Some fun ideas include a stir-fry combining meat and vegetables over a bed of rice, or chili made from lean ground beef, corn, carrots and fiber-rich beans. In the book "Healthy Meals for Healthy Kids," author Catherine Atkinson points out the importance of creativity when planning meals for preschoolers; by ensuring meals aren't boring, you encourage children to try new things and experiment with their food choices. Sugary, fatty and over-processed foods, she writes, should be avoided.
Preschoolers are always on the move, and will usually be hungry between meals. It's a good idea to have a variety of healthy snack choices available, as preschoolers can be picky about what they want to eat. Fresh and dried fruit, cut vegetables, and nuts are nutrient-rich snacks that should be encouraged. Serve snacks at the table, not while kids are watching TV, which can develop a pattern of unhealthy snacking later in life. Serve water or low-fat milk with snacks as opposed to sugary soda or juice.
- Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images