Skip to main content


Guide for the Care of Children Online Manual

Skip section navigation


Your child needs to eat well-balanced meals and snacks every day to grow healthy and strong.

You can teach her to develop healthy eating habits by making good choices. Suggestions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) include:

  • Offer healthful snacks (such as vegetables and fruits). Make sure your child isn't snacking too close to mealtime.
  • Offer your child a variety of foods, including new ones. Introduce a new food in small portions (one to two tablespoons). You may need to offer a new food a few times. Don't get discouraged. Praise her for trying it and show her how much the rest of the family enjoys the food.
  • Let your child help choose fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. Be sure to buy healthful foods you want your child to eat.
  • Let your child help plan or prepare a meal.
  • Eat together at the table as often as possible. Make meal- times happy and pleasant. Relax and laugh. This is a great way to spend time together. Turn off the TV and don't answer the phone while you are eating.
  • Let your child have seconds at mealtime.
  • Your child's appetite may change from day to day. This depends on how active she is or if she is growing. Offer healthful foods. She will eat when she is hungry.
  • Limit the amount of sweets and fast foods your child eats.
  • Get physically active with your child.
  • Let your child create a new snack or sandwich using three or four healthful ingredients you choose. Ask her to give the creation a name or describe it to you.
  • Don't use food as a reward or punishment.

The USDA recommends the following number of servings children ages 2 to 5 need every day to stay healthy:


Two-to 6-year-old children need two servings from the milk group each day.

Two- to 3-year-old children need the same number of servings as 4- to 5-year-olds, but may need smaller portions.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Fats, oils and sweets: eat sparingly.
  • Milk, yogurt and cheese: two servings. Examples include low-fat milk (whole milk until age 2), low-fat yogurt, ice milk, custard, pudding, low-fat hard cheese or low-fat cottage cheese.
  • Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts: two servings. Examples include lean beef, veal, pork, ham, chicken, turkey, fish, cooked dried beans and peas, peanut butter, eggs and tofu.
  • Fruits: two servings. Examples include apples, applesauce, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, nectarine, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries and watermelon.
  • Vegetables: three servings. Examples include asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, corn, green and red peppers, green beans, kale, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, tomato, vegetable juices and zucchini.
  • Bread, cereal, rice and pasta: six servings. Examples include whole grain bread, crackers, cereal, pasta, rice, bagels, cornbread, English muffins and rice cakes.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5 Years Old, fifth edition

To avoid awkward sentences, instead of referring to your child as "he/she" or "him/her," this guide will alternate between "he" or she" and "him" or "her."

First published: 02/01/2010
Last updated: 01/01/2014

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including the Pediatric Department of Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic