Packing your preschooler’s lunch can be time-consuming — and confusing. What should they be eating every day to make sure they are getting enough nutrients to help their growing body?
It’s important parents make the right decisions. The American Academy of Pediatrics says preschoolers should be eating the same foods as the rest of the family. And that all meals should have nutritional value.
“Children pick up habits from what they see and hear,” says Nicola Graimes, author of “Kids’ Fun and Healthy Cookbook.” “Eating together is a good way to encourage good eating habits – if they see you eating up your veggies then they are more likely to as well.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that parents should:
- Focus on whole fruits. Think of the colors of the rainbow when serving fruits to your preschooler.
- Vary veggies. Kids’ plates should feature red, orange and dark-green vegetables.
- Make at least half their grains whole grains. Options include cereal, bread and pasta.
- Vary protein routine. Seafood, beans, lean meats, poultry and eggs are good choices
- Move to low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt. They have less sugar, fewer calories and provide calcium.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this sample menu for a 4-year-old (weighing approximately 36 pounds):
- Breakfast: 1/2 cup nonfat or low-fat milk; 1/2 cup cereal; 4 to 6 ounces or 1/2 cup cantaloupe, strawberries or banana
- Snack: 1/2 cup nonfat milk or low-fat milk; 1/2 cup fruit such as melon, banana or berries; 1/2 cup yogurt
- Lunch: 1/2 cup nonfat or low-fat milk; one sandwich with two slices of whole wheat bread with 1 to 2 ounces of meat and cheese, vegetable and dressing (if needed) or peanut butter and jelly; 1/2 cup dark-yellow or dark-green vegetable
- Snack: 1 teaspoon peanut butter with one slice of whole wheat bread, five crackers, string cheese or cut-up fruit
- Dinner: 1/2 cup nonfat or low-fat milk; 2 ounces meat, fish or chicken; 1/2 cup pasta, rice or potato; 1/4 cup vegetable
Parents should follow the USDA MyPlate guidelines but remember not to take away the fun that can come with mealtime.
“Encouraging children to be involved in all aspects of mealtimes can help them be better eaters,” Graimes says. “Food shopping, whether it be in a supermarket, farmers market, or health food shop can be a voyage of discovery and add a fun element to eating. Often the connection between shopping and what is on the plate is enough to encourage a taste.”
Graimes also suggests to parents to get their kids involved in cooking, even if it’s only to weigh, stir, roll-out or mix. “Start simply with dishes such as healthy sandwich fillings, salads, tortilla rolls, simple sushi or veggie sticks and dips,” she says.
And with fruits and vegetables a big part of a healthy preschooler diet, Graimes adds that since there are so many different types to try — fresh, frozen, tinned or dried — “you can’t go wrong if they eat a combination of different-colored fruit and veggies.”
Here are two fun recipes, courtesy of of Nicola Graimes:
Melon Fruit Bowl
This colorful dessert is packed with the tasty goodness of fresh fruit. Best of all, you can eat the “bowl” afterwards!
1/2 large cantaloupe melon
1-1 1/2 cups of fruit, such as apricots, grapes (halved), plums, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, slices of nectarine, peach, orange, apple or kiwi
4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Melon baller or spoon
Large mixing bowl
- Scoop the seeds out of the center of the melon and throw them away. Slice a sliver off the base of the melon so it stands up and place it on a serving plate.
- Use a melon baller or spoon to scoop out most of the melon flesh. Leave an even 1/2-inch border in your hollowed-out bowl shape.
- Prepare the rest of the fruit by washing, peeling, slicing and de-seeding as appropriate. Mix with the orange juice and melon balls in a large bowl.
- Fill the melon bowl with the fruit salad and then pour over any juice. Serve immediately for the freshest taste and maximum amount of vitamins.
Food Facts: Melons, especially, those with orange flesh, contain plentiful amounts of beta-carotene. This is necessary for good vision, healthy skin, and growth. Vitamin C is also found in juicy melons.
Roasted Vegetable Pasta
Roasting vegetables is a great way to make them sweet and melt-in-your mouth tasty, without losing their nutrients.
1 large zucchini
1 large red onion
6 cloves garlic (whole)
1 large red pepper (de-seeded)
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 cherry tomatoes
3 cups dry pasta spirals or tubes*
4 tablespoons low-fat sour cream or creme fraiche
2/3 cup mature cheddar cheese (grated)
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper
Small sharp knife
Small mixing bowl
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the eggplant, zucchini and red pepper into bite-sized chunks. Cut the onion into 8 wedges.
- Put the eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic and red pepper in a roasting pan. Drizzle the oil over the vegetables and turn them so they are coated in oil.
- Roast for 15 minutes and then remove the pan from the oven. Add the tomatoes and coat them in the oil. Roast for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package or until it is tender but not too soft.
- Remove the garlic cloves from the roasting pan. Drain the pasta and add it to the vegetables in the pan. Now peel and finely chop the garlic.
- Mix the garlic with the sour cream and mustard. Add the sour cream mixture to the pasta and vegetables and sprinkle with the cheddar.
- Season and stir to mix it all together. Put the pan back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted and everything is warmed through.
*There are lots of different pasta shapes to choose from. Opt for one that can “hold” the sauce like penne, rigatoni or farfalle, rather than long pasta such as spaghetti or tagliatelle.
Food Facts: Red, green and yellow peppers are bursting with vitamin C and are great for healthy skin, teeth and bones. Red peppers have an extra benefit — they contain higher amounts of beta-carotene, which is good for fighting viruses.
Recipes are excerpted from Kids’ Fun and Healthy Cookbook reprinted by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2007 by Nicola Graimes. Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited
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