Is My Preschooler Eating Enough?

by Casey Martin on May 15, 2017

Is My Preschooler Eating Enough.jpgI once had my child's doctor tell me, "I've never had a parent ask me if his child is eating too much, but almost every parent asks if his child is eating enough."

I had just asked him whether my child was eating enough. For whatever it's worth, his anecdotal comment encouraged me to breathe calmly and talk through what was best for my child. 

My doctor proceeded to give me some really helpful guidelines for my child. If you have specific questions about your child, consult with your child's healthcare professional.

When it comes to general advice, here are some basic principles to keep in mind.

1. Give Appropriate Serving Sizes

In a day when restaurants serve up an entire day's calorie helping in one meal, it can be hard to know how much food to give your preschooler.

Most recommend that toddlers receive a quarter to a third of a normal adult portion.1 Generally speaking, give your child a bit less than you think and then let him ask for more.

2. Provide a Balanced Meal

Remember, not every food provides the same nutritional value. Your child may not be eating much, but it's an entirely different situation if he's eating primarily healthy food verses eating primarily junk food.

Do your best to offer as many food groups as possible in each meal. Juice is one of the largest contributors to poor nutrition, so do your best to offer healthy alternatives. Consider drinking only water outside of meal times, for instance.

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3. Mark Liquid Intake

Many find that their children are not hungry because they are filling up on juice and other liquids. If you find your child is not eating well, mark his liquid intake.

As mentioned above, juice and other sugary drinks can negatively affect a child's health. As much as possible, make water the primary and regular source of liquid for your preschooler.

4. Track Your Child's Growth

If you're not sure about your child's food intake, plot his weight and height on a growth chart. The goal is not to have your child at 50% on the chart, but to track along with his growth curve.

One child nutrition article reminds parents that a child's growth may taper off for a variety of reasons, including added exercise and a child's body type.2

The normal body mass index charts consistently show a dip between ages 2 and 5. It's no wonder then that "between about ages 2 and 5, kids need less food. So they want to eat less food."3

If you need helping tracking your child's growth, ask a professional nutritionist or talk with your child's physician.

5. Learn to Separate Picky Eating from Eating Too Little

Toddlers are often picky eaters. That may be a problem, but it's not exactly the same problem as eating too little. Your preschooler may love eating a food every day for weeks and then suddenly hate it. That's surprisingly normal.

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Generally speaking, if you consistently introduce new foods with different flavor profiles, you will help your child grow through picky eating phases. Alternate between bitter, sweet, sour, crunchy, soft, mildly spicy, and every other sort of food variety.

In the end, though, let your child's stomach be a guide. If he isn't hungry, he isn't hungry. Teaching him to ignore his body's signals on a consistent basis generally isn't healthy.4

Final Tips

Here are a few final tips to keep in mind.

  • If your child is gaining weight naturally, he is eating enough.
  • Modeling good eating habits is a big help in raising healthy eaters.
  • Think about the long-term. A few days of unbalanced eating will not harm your child, but weeks or months without care for nutrition could cause health trouble for your preschooler.
  • Watch sodium and sugar intake.
  • If you have any medical questions about your child, consult a health professional.

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