A 3-year-old pre-schooler eats and learns about nutrition

Your little pre-schoolers can now feed themselves without making too much of a mess, although they might still need some help with cutting up meats into smaller bite-sized pieces. They will also need help with hot foods, especially soups. 

Your child should be sitting with you at the dinner table and be eating the same healthy food you eat. Their food preferences and habits are beginning to form so it is very important to not just teach, but also practise healthy eating habits together with the rest of the family whenever you can.

Related: Healthy Eating for Life

What Do 3-Year-Olds Eat? Know Your Recommended Servings

Observe the recommended number of servings from each food group per day. Serve them a variety of food from different food groups at every meal for healthy growth and development.

Young children can be very unpredictable. Don't be surprised if they reject it one day, but then appear to love it the next—your little one is learning to assert his identity!

Don't give up, mum and dad! Keep trying to serve the food item in different forms, perhaps mashed or formed into a patty.

Recommended number of servings per day

Brown rice and wholemeal bread Fruit Vegetables
Meat and Others
Meat Dairy foods or calcium-rich foods
3-4
1111


Examples of 1 serving 

Brown Rice and Wholemeal Bread Vegetables
  • 2 slices wholemeal bread (60g) 
  • ½ bowl* brown rice (100g) 
  • 2 bowls* brown rice porridge (500g)
  • ½ bowl* whole-grain noodles, spaghetti or beehoon (100g) 
  • 4 plain wholemeal biscuits (40g) 
  • 1 thosai (60g) 
  • 2 wholemeal chapatis (60g) 

 

  • ¾ mug** cooked leafy vegetables (100g) 
  • ¾ mug cooked non-leafy vegetables (100g) 
  • 150g raw leafy vegetables 
  • 100g raw non-leafy vegetables 
  • ¼ round plate+ cooked vegetables

 

Fruit Meat and Others
  • 1 small apple, orange, pear or mango (130g) 
  • 1 wedge pineapple, papaya or watermelon (130g) 
  • 10 grapes or longans (50g) 
  • 1 medium banana 
  • ¼ cup*** dried fruit (40g) 

 

  • 1 palm-sized piece fish, lean meat or skinless poultry (90g) 
  • 2 small blocks soft bean curd (170g) 
  • ¾ cup cooked pulses (e.g. lentils, peas, beans) (120g) 
  • 5 medium prawns (90g)
  • 3 eggs (150g)
  • 2 glasses of milk (500ml)

 

 * rice bowl ** 250ml mug *** 250ml cup +10 inch plate

Related: Wondering if the nutritional requirements for 3-5 year-olds is the same? As your child grows, the recommended servings per day will change too. Check out Healthy Food for Kids and Teens for the details. 


My Healthy Plate


And remember your handy helper, My Healthy Plate, which shows you what a healthy, well-balanced meal for young children looks like. That's ½ plate of fruits and vegetables, ¼ plate of wholegrains, and ¼ plate of meat/others.


Use My Healthy Plate to meet the nutritional requirements for pre-schoolers.

Related: A Healthy Food Foundation—for Kids and Teens

Nutrition 101 for Your Pre-Schooler:

Serve from All the Major Food Groups

For meals and snacks, offer a variety of foods from each of the four food groups every day. It's important for your child to eat a variety of foods. 

As a rule of thumb, include all four food groups at each meal and at least two food groups during snack times. 

Here's a sample menu for the day—with a wide variety of food—to use as a reference:

Breakfast

Cheese sandwich: 

  • Slice of whole grain bread
  • Egg, sunny side up
  • Slice of low-fat cheese

Milk

Morning SnackBanana and berries
Plain low-fat yoghurt
Lunch

Corn, carrot and chicken soup
Brown rice
Water

Afternoon SnackApple slices thinly spread with peanut butter 
Water
Dinner

Wholegrain pasta
Tomato, onion and minced meat pasta sauce
Milk

Bedtime SnackCheese cubes
Rockmelon


Related: Is Your Child Eating Healthy Meals at Pre-school?

Taste the Rainbow

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of your child’s nutritional requirements.

Get inspired by the rainbow and entice your child's curiosity and appetite with a variety of colours from fruits and vegetables:

  • Red: apples, raspberries, watermelon; beets, bell peppers
  • Yellow/orange: mangoes, nectarines, papaya, tangerines; butternut squash, yellow bell peppers, corn
  • White: bananas, white peaches; mushrooms, potatoes
  • Green: green grapes, kiwi; asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, leafy greens, peas 
  • Blue/purple: blackberries, purple grapes, dried plums; brinjal, purple cabbage

Related: Smart Ways to Fill Up on Fruit and Vegetables

Go Low-Fat or No Fat

Your child will need some good fats as part of his diet, but you can introduce fat-free and low-fat versions of favourite foods like yogurt, cheese, and milk. Low-fat milk has the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as whole milk, but less solid fat and fewer calories.

Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat (e.g. butter and red meat) or trans fat (e.g. fried food and chips). Instead, offer your child a variety of foods with good fats: polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats.

Food that contain good fats include oils with the Healthier Choice Symbol (e.g. canola or olive oil), avocado, fatty fish like salmon, egg, and peanut butter. But remember to offer these in moderation! Too much fat—even the good kind—can cause your child to gain too much weight. 

Related: Canola Oil, Olive Oil, Soybean Oil, Is There A Difference?

Water Is Best

Water is the best for our bodies, and also your child's growing body. If your child finds that water is too plain, try adding a few lemon or cucumber slices to add flavour or variety. If you give your child juice, make sure it is 100% fruit juice without any added sugar, and limit it to 1 cup (125ml) a day. Juice is high in sugar, so go for fresh fruit if possible.

Related: Plainly Good: Ways to Make Water Tasty

Nurturing Healthy Food Habits

Young children pick up eating habits—both good and bad—from those closest to them, so let's remember to set a good example Mum and Dad!

1. Sit down at the dinner table

Do not feed him while he watches TV or plays with his toys. Mealtimes should be relaxing, pleasant, and fun—and free from distractions. Talk, listen and enjoy each other's company.

There is also no need to rush your child through a meal. Give him time to chew well and savour the flavour, but do not force him if he doesn't want to eat. After 30 minutes, it's ok to start clearing the table.

2. Serve small portions

Serve your child small portions of each food, or allow him to serve himself. If he's still hungry, allow him to have more of any food that is on the table but encourage him to go for vegetables first.

Do not get up to make him something else if he doesn't want to eat what you've made for the whole family. It will not help to encourage him to try a variety of food.

3. Engage your little helper

Mum teaching her 3-year-old about healthy eating and nutrition.

Cook and clean up together. At this age, your child can help with washing vegetables, measuring and adding ingredients. Cooking together—and cleaning up after a meal together—is an excellent way to foster positive feelings about food.

Download the HealthHub app on Google Play or Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.


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References

  1. Nutrition for Your Child: Ages 3, 4, & 5 Years. [PDF]. Retrieved November 2018 from http://www.lancastergeneralhealth.org/LGH/ECommerceSite/media/Lgh-Media-Library/Documents/Services/Service%20Lines/Healthy%20Weight%20Management/Fact%20Sheets/Nutrition-3-to-5-Years.pdf
  2. Nutrition Guidelines for Young Children (ages 2 to 4). Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.babycenter.com/0_nutrition-guidelines-for-young-children-ages-2-to-4_64359.bc
  3. Tips for Preschoolers: Healthy Snacks and Meals. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.babycenter.com/0_tips-for-preschoolers-healthy-snacks-and-meals_10387681.bc
  4. Nutrition for Children Below School Age. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.hel.fi/sote/perheentuki-en/1-6-year-olds/childs-health/nutrition/
  5. Development. (2018, October 10). Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.kkh.com.sg/HealthPedia/Pages/GrowingUpDevelopment.aspx