Nutrition for preschoolers: recommendations and guidelines

Nutrition for preschoolers: recommendations and guidelines

Establishing good nutrition for preschoolers is vital for their growth and development. From picky eating to healthy eating strategies, here’s what you need to know about preschool nutrition. 

The ages of 3 - 5 years old is an exciting time for both parent and child. Children are eager to learn new things, they start to communicate more effectively, and are inquisitive about everything. However, it can also be a challenging time, as children can become picky eaters, lose interest in vegetables, and throw a fit if they don’t get their way. This can leave parents feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. 

As a dietitian, you can work with parents to establish healthy eating habits for their preschool-aged children. Not only will this benefit the health of both parent and child, but it will help lay the foundation for healthy eating patterns in the future. 

By using healthy eating principles and nutrition activities for preschoolers, you can help children overcome picky eating and start to love veggies. Here’s what you need to know about nutrition for preschool.   

Preschool nutrition: Why is healthy eating important?

A balanced, nutritious diet is important for preschoolers (children aged 3 - 5 years old) because it provides the nutrients needed to help them to grow and develop properly

Eating a healthy diet can also help to prevent chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, developing healthy dietary patterns at a young age can set the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Note: If you have a child that is overweight or obese, here are some ways you can nutritionally support them.

What is the parent’s role in nutrition for preschoolers?

Studies have shown that parents have a substantial influence on children’s diet and physical activity behaviors. Whether it’s food purchasing, meal choices, nutrition knowledge, or behaviors around food, physical activity, and health, the choices that the parents make directly affect their child

As a dietitian, you can work with the parents to help educate them on better food choices for their children, as well as the importance of physical activity, positive reinforcement, and body image. 

Nutrition for preschoolers

While nutrition needs for preschoolers vary depending on the child’s growth rate, age, sex, and physical activity level, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. 


Preschoolers need about 1,000-1,400 calories per day, depending on their age, activity level, and growth rate. 


It’s recommended that 10 - 30% of a preschooler’s calorie intake should come from protein. Some good sources of protein include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts.


It's recommended that children over the age of 1 consume 130 grams of total carbohydrates per day. Some good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. 

However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. For example, added sugars are considered to be a carb, but they can contribute to adverse health effects. As such, it’s recommended to limit consumption to no more than 10% of total calories per day for children over 2 years old.


Fiber is important for maintaining healthy digestion and regular bowel movements, which is why the dietary guidelines recommend preschoolers have 19-25 g of fiber per day. Some good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


While there is no specific amount for fat consumption, it’s recommended to keep total fat intake between 30 to 35% of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 - 35% of calories for children over 4 years old [8]. Furthermore, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 10% of total calories should come from saturated fat.

Some good sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, and olive oil.

Vitamins and minerals

Preschoolers need a variety of vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A,C, D, E, and K, the B vitamins, calcium, zinc, and iron, as they are essential for growth and development.

You can help preschoolers get enough vitamins and minerals by encouraging their parents to have their children eat a variety of foods throughout the day. If the child still struggles with getting enough of these nutrients, you can suggest targeted supplements. 

Healthy eating principles for preschoolers

There are several things to keep in mind when encouraging healthy eating principles in preschoolers. Here’s how you, as a dietitian, can help parents and the rest of the family develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.

  • Having scheduled meals and snacks throughout the day
  • Establishing meal times
  • Don't go more than 3.5 hours without eating
  • Chewing food well
  • Respecting each child's appetite by not forcing them to eat in large quantities
  • Food should not be used as a reward or punishment
  • Eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Starting main meals with a vegetable soup
  • Offering healthy options for lunch
  • Avoiding dairy desserts at the end of main meals
  • Offering water as a drink
  • Avoiding frequent serving of fried foods or fried or roasted foods with fat

Picky eating for preschoolers

Picky eating is one of the most common eating behaviors among preschoolers and can be a source of frustration for parents. Here are some reasons why children may be picky eaters. 

  • Developmental stage: Preschoolers are at a stage where they are becoming more independent and may want to assert control over what they eat.
  • Limited exposure to new foods: Children may be hesitant to try new foods if they have not had the opportunity to see or taste them before.
  • Strong likes and dislikes: Some children may have strong likes and dislikes for certain textures, flavors, or colors of food.
  • Sensory issues: Some children may have a heightened sense of taste or smell and may not like certain foods that other children enjoy.

To address picky eating, you can help the parents involve their child in meal planning and preparation, as well as offer a variety of healthy foods, create a positive mealtime environment, and be patient with the child's eating habits. 

Secrets to getting preschool kids to love veggies

There are several strategies to help preschoolers develop a love for vegetables. Here are some ways that you and the parents can help their preschool kids love veggies. 

Start early

Introduce a variety of vegetables to children from a young age, even if they don't seem interested at first.

Make it fun

Have parents cut vegetables into fun shapes or serve them with a dip that the child likes.

Lead by example

Children often mimic the eating habits of their parents, so encourage the parents to show enthusiasm and a positive attitude towards vegetables at home. This will help children to develop the same attitude.

Get them involved

Encourage parents to have their children help with meal preparation, such as washing or cutting vegetables. This can make them more interested in trying them.

Offer choices

Have the parents offer their children a choice of two or three different vegetables at each meal and let them pick which one they want to try. This gives the child control over what they want, while still providing healthy options.

Be patient

Children's taste buds change as they grow, so don't give up if they don't like a certain vegetable at first. Have the parent try offering it differently to see if their child will eventually develop a taste for it again.

Reward their efforts

Encourage the parents to reward the child when they try a new vegetable or eat more of them.

Nutrition activities for preschoolers

There are many fun and interactive nutrition activities that can be done with preschoolers to help get them excited about veggies. These activities can also help children learn about healthy eating and encourage them to make better food choices.

Here are some nutrition activities for preschoolers that you can have parents try at home.

  • Food group sorting: Give children a variety of pictures or actual food items and have them sort them into different food groups (such as fruits, vegetables, grains, or proteins).
  • MyPlate scavenger hunt: Print out a MyPlate diagram and have children search for pictures or actual examples of foods that belong in each food group.
  • Create art with fruits and vegetables: Have children make a rainbow by arranging different colored fruits and vegetables in the order of the colors of the rainbow. You can also have them make fun food faces with different produce items. 
  • Plant a garden: Plant a vegetable or herb garden with children and have them help care for and maintain the plants.
  • Food pyramid matching: Print out a food pyramid and have children match pictures of foods to the correct level of the pyramid.
  • Superhero foods: Create a superhero character for each food group and have children dress up and act out the role of the food group superhero.
  • Taste test: Have children taste different foods and have them rate which ones they like the best.

Need more ideas? Check out this blog post for some creative nutrition activities for preschoolers!


Having the right nutrition for preschoolers is vital for their growth and development. By using healthy eating principles and nutrition activities for preschoolers, you can work with parents to help their children overcome picky eating and start to love veggies.



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