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Early Childhood

Children tend to be unpredictable, picky eaters during the early childhood phase of growth and development (one to four years of age). Parents should allow the child to explore new foods through touch, smell, and taste. It is normal to offer the child a new food five to ten times before he will try to eat it. A food that a child likes one day may not be one he likes the next day. Children may also eat a lot one day and very little the next. They usually eat just one or two foods per meal. This is normal behavior for a child and parents should not worry that the child is not eating enough. Children's growth rates and energy needs decrease during this period.

Parents should offer their children a variety of foods and act as role models by eating a variety of foods. Parents need to provide a structured, pleasant mealtime environment to help their child develop healthy eating behaviors. Parents are responsible for what, when, and where the child eats; children are responsible for whether they eat and how much they eat. Older preschool children may learn to like new foods more by participating in their preparation. Fat should not be restricted before age two; by age five, children should eat fewer high-fat foods and their total fat intake should not exceed 30 percent of total daily calories. Children under age two should be provided whole milk; after age two lower-fat milk options are appropriate. Parents should encourage the child to eat enough iron-rich foods, such as lean red meat or fortified cereals with juice that contains vitamin C, at the same meal. Daily regular activity is important to build a healthy habit and to balance a child's weight and food intake.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 6Nutrition - Infancy, Early Childhood, Middle Childhood, Adolescence, Government Nutrition Assistance Programs