With school in full swing, I thought the perfect interview for our September Educational Expert Series would be with a nutrition therapist. I completely understand preschoolers are picky eaters, but, I also know they can easily be tricked into eating healthy foods.
(one year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, instead of having a classroom party with green cupcakes and cookies, I had the parents send in healthy green food with fun dips! We had celery with peanut butter, green apples with caramel dip, broccoli with ranch dressing, yummy green grapes etc… the kids LOVED it;))
When I was a teacher I was shocked by what was sent in with my kiddos for snack and lunch. Even when food wasn’t sent in, I was often shocked by what they were able to pick from the cafeteria line. FYI- when a 5-year-old is given permission to chose their own lunch in the cafeteria line, it often consists of chicken nuggets, pizza, french fries and chocolate milk!
So I thought I’d reach out to my soon to be AMAZING sister in law (my brother is getting married in May) for advice on this topic!
Your name: Alissa Hagan, Registered Dietitian
Your job title: Nutrition Therapist
How can parents plan a balanced lunch for their preschooler: Children's minds and bodies are continuously developing from the time they are born and even into late adolescence. Adequate nutrition is important and giving your child a variety of different foods to the best of your ability is the greatest way to meet all their nutritional needs. Providing small portions of a variety of different items (3-4) will keep your child interested and encourage them to try different foods while also getting in all their different needs. Try choosing foods of different colors, different shapes, and different food groups to get a variety of nutrients that are vital for proper development.
What are some food ideas for a preschooler’s lunch bag: Give a variety of different fruits or vegetables depending on your child's likes and dislikes. Ask your child to pick a color for the day and give them a variety of fruits and vegetables that match that color. Aim for dairy products as well to help with the development of strong bones and teeth (yogurts, cheese, milk). A source of protein (meats, nuts, cheese, beans) is important to help with muscle and brain growth. Fats have received a bad reputation but are extremely important for children as they help with the proper development of the brain so be sure not to completely limit your child's intake of fat. Remember though that school lunches may not be the best place to try a new food and ensuring they eat enough while they are at school is important for them to have the energy to pay attention in class.
Is it okay to give preschoolers juice or flavored milk: Juice and flavored milk are an OK option as long as it is given in moderation. A better idea to help your child meet both their energy and vitamin/mineral needs is to make a smoothie using milk or yogurt and mixing your child's favorite fruit into a blender.
Will foods with additives affect a preschooler's behavior… will sugar make them hyperactive or cause misbehavior: There is no scientific research to support a negative relationship between food additives and a certain amount of sugar with children's behaviors. It's also important to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to children's nutrition. Parents know best when it comes to feeding their child so follow your instincts around what and how much to give them of anything.
How important is eating breakfast for a preschooler: EVERY MEAL and SNACK is important for growing children. Try providing structured small meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure your child is getting adequate energy.
How can parents get their child to eat more at meal times: Involve your child in the grocery shopping and cooking process to get them excited about what they have to eat. A parent is the most influential person in a child's life so model good eating habits by trying new things together. Avoid any distractions that may interfere with the task of eating, try eating together at a dinner table and interact with your child while they eat. Give them a reward for taking a few more bites of what they were willing to eat like story time together.
What’s your number one tip for ensuring preschoolers have a healthy diet: Be patient with your child and remember that when it comes to nutrition, the parent knows best!
What book do you recommend parents read to their preschooler that promote good nutrition, healthy eating, and respect for one’s body: I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
And just for fun… what is one word you would use to describe yourself as a preschooler: Shy
Happy reading, Lisa
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