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Helping Preschoolers Develop Healthy Eating Habits

Parents of preschoolers know what a struggle it can be to introduce new foods and to make sure that our kids are eating the balanced diet necessary to keep them healthy and growing.

My own kids no longer eat peanut butter or raisins, mostly I fear, because I overdosed them as toddlers, happy to have found foods that went down without a fuss.

While preschoolers' resistance to trying new foods is developmentally appropriate, parents need to recognize that these early years are an appropriate time to teach young kids about the importance of healthy eating habits, writes Dr. Sue Hubbard on the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel website.

Hubbard, a nationally known pediatrician, suggests checking out MyPyramid for Preschoolers, a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The website offers lots of common-sense tips for developing healthy eaters, many of which parents of picky eaters may already know. They include letting kids pick out fruit and produce in the grocery store and help prepare meals. "All of that mixing, mashing and measuring makes them want to taste what they are making," the website says.

There are educational lessons as well when kids help in the kitchen: they learn about math and science with all that measuring, cutting and mixing (my middle schooler still loves watching baking powder interact with wet ingredients when making pancakes).

Kids also learn new words, develop small muscle skills, gain confidence and learn about responsibility (through putting things away and cleaning up), according to the website.
While all kids develop differently, the website says that most should be able to handle the following tasks at these ages:

By age 3, add ingredients, squeeze citrus fruits, stir batter, knead and shape dough and help assemble a pizza.

By age 4, all that 3-year-olds can do, plus peel or crack eggs, peel some fruits, help measure dry ingredients, make a sandwich and set the table.

By age 5, all that 4-year-olds can do, plus measure liquids, use an egg beater and cut soft fruits with a dull knife.

When it comes time for meals, offer choices of foods, but make sure to offer the same foods for the whole family. Let kids serve themselves and avoid praising a clean plate. "Kids who 'listen' to their own fullness cues stop eating when they feel full and are less likely to become overweight," the website says.

And for those kids who refuse to eat anything on the table—even after helping choose the foods and prepare them? Don't worry.

"Your child will be okay even if they don't eat a meal now and then," the website says.

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