It's not unusual for a 3-year-old to skip meals or avoid certain foods. The key to helping a finicky child get the protein and calories she needs is to give her healthy choices at mealtime.

By the editors of Child magazine
June 11, 2015


Fortunately, studies show that in spite of binges, meal strikes, food obsessions, and other strange kinds of behavior, most preschoolers consume more than enough calories and protein to meet their needs. If they take in too few calories at one meal, they will very likely make up for it at another, even when left entirely to their own devices. If your child seems to be growing and thriving despite an apparent decline in appetite, there is usually little reason for you to be worried.

Of course, you can't leave eating entirely up to your child. In a 1990s study, a group of children ages 4 to 7 were asked to choose what they would like to eat from a range of foods. The not-so-surprising conclusion: Fifty percent of these kids opted for junk food. Since most children will choose cookies over carrots if given the choice, let your preschooler pick between carrots and cauliflower instead.

Nutrition Guidelines

If you provide your 3-year-old with a selection of healthful foods and leave the choosing up to her, you both win. Even if she eats only a little, you can sleep at night knowing that what she's eaten is good for her. In contrast, if you give in to her demands for cake instead of bread, or ice cream instead of fruit-just so your child will eat something-then you rob her of any motivation to sample more healthful foods.

  • four servings of bread, cereal, rice, or pasta;
  • two or more servings of fruit or pure fruit juices;
  • two or more servings of vegetables;
  • three servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese;
  • two servings of meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, or nuts;
  • fats, oils, and sweets used only sparingly.

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All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.