Good nutrition for preschoolers

What your child should and shouldn’t eat

Preschoolers need a range of foods from the following groups:

  • vegetables and legumes/beans
  • fruits
  • grains and cereals
  • meat, fish, chicken, eggs, legumes
  • milk, cheese and yoghurt or alternatives; mostly reduced fat.

Snacks are just as important as main meals. Some snack ideas to include in the lunchbox are fruits, cut up veggies, yoghurt, cheese and milk. Couple these snacks with a sandwich or a wrap and you should have one satisfied child.

Processed foods with high levels of fat, sugar or salt (like cakes, biscuits, chips and fried foods) are not recommended for children. Eating these foods is linked with obesity, tooth decay and poor eating habits in the future.

By this age, children can eat independently and enjoy the social aspects of eating. Having friends means eating out of home more. There may be an occasional meal at a fast food restaurant. They may go to a party with lots of sugary and fatty snacks. These things will do no harm as long as good nutrition is continued on most days. Food is an important part of special occasions for everyone and should be enjoyed. However, treats with lots of sugar, salt and fats are best kept for special occasions and are not recommended for lunch boxes.

Water should be the main drink for your child, and lots of it if they are running around! You don’t need to give them sweet drinks like juice, cordial and soft drink to get them energised. Nor should you give your child caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee. Reduced-fat milk is a good option. You can give them up to three small cups before they become too full to eat their snacks.

Children grow at a steady rate during the kindergarten and early school years. Strict or low-fat diets are not recommended because children’s energy and nutrient needs are high.

If you’re concerned about excessive weight gain, you can:

  • Consult with your family doctor.
  • Develop healthy eating habits for the whole family.
  • Encourage regular physical activities for everyone.
  • Limit the time spent watching TV.

Meals for kindergarten

Involve your child in making lunches if your childcare or kindergarten doesn’t provide them. Preparing meals together is a great opportunity to give children positive messages about nutrition, such as ‘milk makes your bones strong’ and ‘avocado gives you energy to run around all day!’.

Suggestions for lunches include:

  • a sandwich, fresh fruit and a tub of yogurt
  • lean meat and salad in pita bread, with dried fruit and a carton of plain milk
  • milk, yoghurt and water can be frozen in hot weather and taken to kindergarten.

Food safety tips

It’s important to keep in mind food safety and make sure the food you give your child is safe to eat. To prepare food:

  1. Wash your hands before preparing food.
  2. Ensure meat, chicken and fish is well cooked.
  3. Use separate chopping boards for uncooked meats.
  4. Wash all fruits and veggies before serving.
  5. Use clean crockery (plates, knives, spoons).
  6. Prepared foods should be stored in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.
  7. Ensure food is re-heated all the way through and cooled to eating temperature before serving.
  8. Never re-heat food more than once.
  9. Use products before their ‘best before’ date.
  10. Dairy products should be pasteurised.