Eating habits and styles: Ages 3-5

Healthy eating habits can be instilled during early childhood development.

At three years of age your child should be a part of the family gathering during meals and their eating habits should be the same as ours. They should be eating the same foods at the same time and using child-size utensils. At this age it is very important to monitor your child eating and making sure they are avoiding choking hazard types of food, as this age has not mastered the art of chewing and swallowing yet.

It’s important to make sure children have small portion sizes when eating the following foods:

  • Hot dogs (slice in half and lengthwise)
  • Grapes (cut them in half)
  • Raw vegetables, such as carrots and celery
  • Peanut butter (avoid spoonful’s)
  • Avoid altogether foods such as hard candies and pitted cherries

When your child is around 4-years-old, they should be eating three meals a day plus two small snacks. Still give small portions of nutritious foods. This is a good time to explain to your child why eating healthy is important for your body. Talk about how eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains help your body stay healthy and lean. Have your child help plan, shop and cook healthy meals with you. Caregivers need to be good examples for healthy eating and children will follow.

At 5-years-old, children will be in school and may eat at least one meal a day outside the home. Prepare them by talking about making healthy choices. We can discuss healthy eating habits, and the importance of having a balanced diet eating from all the food groups.

Again, it is our job to provide a variety of nutritional foods and the child’s job to choose what they will eat. Always make this a positive experience and give positive praise as to what they do eat. Also, remember to be a positive role model and eat with your child at each meal. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to use this family eating time as a bonding opportunity, so make the most of this time.

For more information on your child’s development or any concerns about your child’s nutritional health, contact your local health department or their doctor.

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