By now your child is eating many of the same foods as the rest of the family—and creating less of a mess. She's also continuing to develop her own food preferences. Here, experts offer guidance to help make sure she gets the nourishment she needs to fuel her growth and development.

Remember that these are prime habit-forming years.

The foods you offer and the structure you set up around meals today will impact your child's eating habits through her school years and beyond. So while it can sometimes be frustrating to introduce and stick to healthful habits, your effort is well worth it.

Variety is smart.

To keep meals interesting and ensure that your child is getting the full range of nutrients she needs, serve foods from each of the basic food groups every day and expose her to a wide range of flavors. Venture beyond the familiar—choosing new items at the market, preparing dishes in different ways, and trying a variety of seasonings.

“No, thank you” bites make sense.

Preschoolers of 37 months old and above can be picky and go on crying when they prefer only certain types or textures (or even colors!) of food and reject others. It's OK to indulge these preferences a bit. Don't force your child to down a whole portion of something she doesn't want, but do ask that she taste at least a little bit before rejecting it.

Foods don't fall into instant like and dislike categories.

She doesn't want broccoli? Rejects salmon? Keep trying! It can take a whopping eight to 12 exposures to a new food before a young child will try and accept it. So don't take no for a final answer. Without making a big deal about any given rejection, wait a week or so, then without comment, offer the food anew (while enjoying it yourself). Your patience and persistence can pay off!

You are a role model at the dinner table.

If your child sees you eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—and a variety of healthful foods in general—she'll be much more likely to eat that way, too.

Make desserts a treat, not an everyday indulgence.

Opt for low fat items (like frozen yogurt) or those made with whole grains (such as oatmeal cookies). And avoid excessively sweet, processed foods with refined sugar. If time permits, prepare your own desserts, so you can control what goes into them.

Listen to your child's doctor's advice about growth and weight.

Your 37-month-old will be monitored carefully at checkups. Don't write off warnings about excess weight as baby fat or something she'll grow out of. By making recommended adjustments to her diet now, you'll put her on a healthy path for life.

References:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (n.d.). Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5. 5th Ed.
  • Colorado State and National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2006). Food Friends. Beyond the Journal: Young Children on the Web. Retrieved from: http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/Food_Friends.pdf