Mealtime tips, activities and recipe ideas for preschool-aged children – CHOC

By Holden Funk, clinical dietitian at CHOC

Preschool-age children (ages 4 to 5) are still developing their eating habits and need encouragement to eat healthy meals and snacks. They should eat a balanced diet of grains, protein, fruits and vegetables and diary.

However, kids at this age may often be picky eaters. But with some patience and support from their parents, they can start establishing lifelong healthy eating habits.

Visit choc.org for tips on how to create a balanced meal for your preschooler.

Mealtime tips for preschool-aged children

The following mealtime tips can be helpful for families with kids of all ages, but can be especially helpful when feeding your energetic, opinionated preschooler:

  • Try to prepare most meals at home. Provide regularly scheduled snacks and limit unplanned eating. Grazing can cause children to fill up on less nutritious foods between meals.
  • Limit distractions during mealtimes. Provide a quiet eating area with no TV or toys. It’s also helpful to plan a few minutes of quiet time before each meal so your child can be focused when it comes to mealtime.
  • Offer a variety of foods. Even if your child has previously refused a food item, continue to offer it to them. It may be helpful to mix the unfamiliar foods with more familiar ones, like adding a side of broccoli to their pasta. Have the attitude that, sooner or later, your child will learn to eat most foods.
  • Make mealtime as pleasant as possible. Don’t put pressure on your child to eat or force your child to “clean” their plate. This may lead to overeating and create negative associations with mealtime.

Fun physical activity ideas for preschoolers

In addition to balanced nutrition, physical activity can be beneficial for your preschooler’s growth and development. Since most 4- and 5-year-olds with have a natural tendency to be active, embrace that tendency by planning fun, physical activities to do with your family. And, learning new skills will help them build confidence!

Try the following activities from Playworld with your kids:

Duck, Duck, Goose

This indoor physical activity is perfect for preschoolers, particularly for those four years old and up. No equipment is necessary, and there really isn’t a limit on the number of players you need — though you’ll probably want at least four.

In Duck, Duck, Goose, children sit in a circle facing one another. One person is “it,” and they walk around the circle, tapping the heads of each player and calling each of them “duck” until they call one player “goose.” “Goose” will then stand from the circle and chase after “It” around the circle. “It” needs to reach the spot where “goose” had been sitting before “goose” catches them.

If “it” reaches the spot before getting tagged, “goose” becomes “it.” If “it” gets tagged before reaching the spot, they sit in the middle of the circle until a new “it” is tagged.

Duck, Duck, Goose is great for getting kids moving quickly!

Freeze Dance

Play a song for kids to dance to. Whenever the song is paused, they must freeze in place. Kids will have fun dancing, and they’ll also develop skills for self-regulation —similar to games like musical chairs.

Jump Over the River

If outdoors, you can use chalk to draw two parallel lines about a foot apart to create a river. Instruct children to jump over the river by bending at the knees, extending their arms behind their backs and swinging their arms forward when they take off and land on their feet on the other side. If indoors, use tape to create your river instead.

Recipes that your preschooler will love  

Anytime pizza

Ingredients

¼ Mini baguette or Italian bread (split lengthwise, or 2 split whole-grain English muffins)

½ cup pizza sauce

½ cup low-fat mozzarella or cheddar cheese (shredded)

¼ cup green and red bell pepper (chopped)

Vegetable toppings (other, as desired)

Italian Seasoning to taste (optional) 

Directions

1. Toast the bread or English muffin until slightly brown.
2. Top bread or muffin with pizza sauce, vegetables and low-fat cheese.
3. Sprinkle with Italian seasonings as desired.
4. Return bread to toaster oven (or regular oven preheated to 350 degrees).
5. Heat until cheese melts.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 1 slice

Calories: 180; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol 15mg; Sodium: 502mg; Total Carbohydrate: 18g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugars: 4g; Protein: 11g

Recipe from myplate.gov

Carrot fries

Ingredients

1 pound of carrots
Cooking spray
Salt and pepper to taste 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Peel the carrots and cut them into strips about ¼-inch thick and a few inches long.
  3. Coat a baking pan with cooking spray and spread the carrots onto it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake 15 minutes. Flip them over and coat them with a bit more cooking spray, salt and pepper; bake another 15 minutes until lightly browned.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 1/4 recipe
Serves 4

Calories: 45; Total Fat: 0g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium: 370mg; Total Carbohydrate: 11g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugars: 5g; Protein: 1g. 

Recipe from eatright.org

For more on CHOC’s clinical nutrition program