Your child needs to eat well-balanced meals and snacks every day to grow healthy and strong. You can teach your child to develop good eating habits by making good choices.

A great resource for you and your family is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Topics include:

  • healthy eating
  • picky eating
  • serving safe food
  • other resources.

Your child will need food from each food group for a well-rounded food plan.

Never leave a young child alone while eating. A child younger than 4 years old is at risk of choking. Foods that may cause choking include: hot dogs (cut lengthwise into thin strips), meat chunks, chips, raw celery, nuts and seeds, raisins, whole grapes and cherries (cut into small pieces), popcorn, marshmallows, pretzels, large pieces of fruit, raw carrots, peanut butter (spread it thin) and round or hard candy.

Your child's likes and dislikes will change, it seems, every day. They may like chicken one day, but not the next time. Or, it may seem they only likes peanut butter sandwiches and milk. Keep offering new foods and choices.

A farmers market is a great place to find affordable fruits and vegetables.

Only give your child pasteurized milk. If your child can't tolerate milk, talk with your health care providers.

Always watch a young child while they eat. Insist that your child sit upright while eating and drinking.

Vegetable Group

Preschoolers often don't like or refuse to eat vegetables. Let your child try lots of different vegetables. If you choose canned vegetables, be sure to choose sodium-free or reduced sodium brands. Examples include:

  • dark green vegetables:
    • broccoli
    • collard greens
    • romaine lettuce
    • spinach
  • starchy vegetables:
    • corn
    • potatoes
    • green peas
    • green bananas and plantains
  • red and orange vegetables:
    • acorn and butternut squash
    • carrots
    • pumpkin
    • red peppers
    • tomatoes
  • beans and peas
    • black, garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto, white beans
    • lentils
    • split peas
  • other vegetables:
    • artichokes
    • avocado
    • beets
    • Brussels sprouts
    • cauliflower
    • celery
    • okra
    • turnips
    • zucchini

Grain group

Make half of your family's grains whole grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel and are high in fiber. Add whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta weekly. Examples include:

  • 100 percent whole wheat bread, bagels, english muffins and whole wheat crackers
  • oatmeal
  • brown rice
  • whole grain corn or wheat tortillas
  • whole grain pasta
  • shredded wheat or toasted oat cereal

Fruit group

Include fruits in meals and snacks every day. If you choose canned fruits, be sure to choose fruits packed in water or 100 percent fruit juice. Give your child no than 4 to 6 ounces of juice a day. Examples include:

  • apples
  • bananas
  • cherries
  • grapes
  • lemons and limes
  • nectarines and oranges
  • peaches
  • pears
  • pineapple
  • raisins
  • strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
  • cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon
  • 100 percent fruit juice

Dairy Group

Your child needs dairy to build strong bones and teeth. It is important to create a habit of drinking milk every day. Children younger than 2 years old need whole milk. Children ages 2 years and older can drink skim or 1 percent milk. Examples include:

  • all milks (including chocolate or strawberry)
  • milk-based desserts (including pudding, frozen yogurt and ice cream)
  • soy milk (calcium-fortified)
  • cheese (including cheddar, Swiss, American, ricotta)
  • all yogurts

Protein Group

Choose proteins that are low in solid fats. These are mostly saturated fats. Include a variety of lean meat and poultry choices, seafood, beans and peas. Examples include:

  • lean cuts of meat (beef, ham, lamb, pork, veal and bison)
  • lean grounds meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • lean deli meats
  • lean cuts of poultry (including chicken, turkey and duck)
  • eggs
  • beans and peas
  • seafood (including cod, haddock, mackerel, salmon, sea bass, snapper, swordfish, trout and tuna)
  • shellfish (including crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops and shrimp)

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022