Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Feeding Our Preschoolers Well

Do you think you serve your preschooler appropriate amounts of foods?  With all the kids’ food products out there, and oversized kids’ portions at restaurants, it can be difficult to really know how much kids should eat.

Messages bombard us, telling us and our kids to eat lowfat and fat free products.  What about the children who are underweight or healthy weight?  Do they need to choose foods with no or minimal fat?  What about sugars?    How much is too much?

So, as a parent, what do you do?  The answer is to educate yourself on the nutritional needs of your child.  See a dietitian if you are concerned about your child’s nutritional health, and have the pediatrician monitor your child’s height and weight to ensure healthful growth patterns.

As for the nutrition basics, you can visit mypyramid.gov.  The new 2010 US Dietary Guidelines will be published soon and revisions will be made if appropriate to key messages.

However, these guidelines will endure:

  • 2-year-olds need about 1000 calories per day
  • 3-year-olds need about 1000-1400 calories per day, depending on gender and activity level
  • 4 & 5-year-olds need about 1200-1600 calories per day, depending on gender and activity level

Here is a chart indicating servings from the food groups appropriate in meeting your child’s nutrient needs:

  1000 calories 1200 calories 1400 calories 1600 calories
Grains 3 ounces 4 ounces 5 ounces 5 ounces
Milk 2 servings 2 servings 2 servings 3 servings
Proteins 2 ounces 3 ounces 4 ounces 5 ounces
Fruits 1 cup 1 cup 1.5 cups 1.5 cups
Vegetables 1 cup 1.5 cups 1.5 cups 2 cups
Fat grams ~30 grams ~40 grams ~47 grams ~50 grams
  • 1 ounce of grain equals ½ cup rice/pasta/potato/cooked cereal, a 1-ounce slice of bread, or about ¼ -1 cup of cold cereal, depending on the type
  • 1 serving of milk equals 1 cup of milk, 6 ounces of yogurt or ~1.5 ounces of cheese
  • 1 cup of fruit equals 2 small pieces of fruit
  • 1 ounce of protein equals 1 ounce of meat, 1 egg or ½ cup beans
  • Each of the following has about 5 grams of fat: 1 tsp of olive oil or butter, 1 tbsp of nuts, 2 tsp nut butter or 1 tbsp of cream cheese or dressing.  The grams of fat given in the chart assume 30% of a child’s calories from fat, as is appropriate for most 2-5 year olds.

Keep in mind that while your child may eat the appropriate amount of calories per day, he or she may or may not be achieving the most nutritional benefit from his or her foods.  For example, a 4-ounce sweetened yogurt may have 1-1.5 teaspoons of sugar added in.  A 12-ounce soda can have 9-10 teaspoons of sugar.  A fast food kid’s meal of 4 chicken nuggets, a small fries and lowfat milk has 25 grams of fat.

Use this information to educate yourself.  Avoid stressing over calories and fat – especially with kids, who are impressionable to food and body image messages.  Instead, encourage kids to eat healthfully by offering healthy foods in your house, packing healthy lunch boxes and talking to your children about how to order healthy foods in a cafeteria or restaurant.  Then, encourage your child to determine when he or she is hungry or satisfied as the key to how much to eat!

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