By Raising Children Network
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If you eat healthy food and get plenty of exercise, your child will have a great role model for developing good health, physical skills and self-esteem.

Young boy eating watermelon
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What to expect

Fussy eating and erratic appetites (when your child is starving one day and not hungry the next) are common in preschoolers. Your child’s body goes through growth spurts, and it can tell how much food it needs each day. Forcing children to eat when they’re not hungry overrides this natural ability. This might lead to overeating in later life if children can’t tell how much food they actually need.

As long as you offer your child healthy food, let your child’s appetite be the guide. Most children get plenty to eat, even if it seems they’re barely eating at all.

It might also help to know that fussy eating isn’t always about food – it’s often about wanting to be independent.

Healthy breakfasts

A healthy breakfast wakes up your preschooler’s body by starting his metabolism. Breakfast provides the energy he needs for the day. Research has found that children who skip breakfast tend to weigh more. This might be because these hungry children eat more during the day.

Mornings can be a mad rush for many families. Luckily, breakfast can be quick and easy but still healthy – it can be as simple as yoghurt and fruit, cereal and milk, or toast.

Healthy eating tips

Here are some tips to help your child eat well every day.
  • Pack a goodness punch by including lots of your child’s nutritional needs in one dish. Try Everything fried rice, an omelette with the lot, shepherd’s pie, baked beans on wholegrain toast, or pasta bolognaise with a meat and vegie sauce.
  • Eating fresh foods is a better way of getting vitamins and minerals than taking supplements.
  • Avoid forcing your child to eat vegetables – or any other food, for that matter. Encourage children to try a spoonful, but don’t get upset if they refuse it.
  • Cooking with your child gives you the chance to introduce her to a range of fresh, healthy foods. 
  • Generally, food additives don’t cause any harmful effects. If your child is sensitive to one or more food additives, speak to your doctor. You can read more about food additives in our article on food labels and nutrition panels.
  • When your child starts at preschool, you might need to start packing a lunch box. Here are some healthy and tasty lunch box ideas to keep your child going through the day.

Healthy eating habits will help your child avoid falling into the trap of childhood obesity. Try to limit snacks such as salty chips, lollies and sweet biscuits, especially while your child is watching TV.

Our article on nutrition and fitness basics for preschoolers has guidelines and practical tools to help you make sure your child eats good food. For more information on feeding preschoolers a balanced diet, you can also check out our illustrated guide to food portions.

Water: the best drink

The following tips might get your preschooler drinking more water:

  • Offer water with all meals and snacks.
  • Keep chilled water in the fridge for hot days. Add slices of lemon or orange, or a sprig of mint, for interest.
  • In summer, freeze chopped fruit in ice blocks and pop into a cup of water.
  • Carry filled water bottles when you go out.

Fruit juice can give your child valuable nutrients, but it has lots of sugar. It’s better just to eat the fruit instead. If you want to give your child an occasional treat of fruit juice, mix it half-and-half with water.


Preschooler exercise

When you encourage your child to be physically active, you’re helping him establish a healthy lifelong habit.

Exercise gives preschoolers strong bones and muscles, healthy hearts, lungs and arteries, and improved coordination, balance, posture and flexibility. It helps ward off heart disease, cancer and diabetes later in life. It also reduces your child’s risk of becoming overweight. Being overweight is unhealthy and uncomfortable – and very unpleasant for a young child.

You can help your child stay safe and prevent injuries when she’s playing sport or doing any kind of physical activity. Make sure she has proper equipment, a safe environment and well-fitting, protective clothes.

TV is one of the biggest obstacles to physical activity. When children spend lots of time in front of the TV or computer, they miss out on the physical activity and play that keeps them healthy. Child development experts say preschoolers should spend no more than an hour in front of the TV or computer – also known as screen time – each day.

Preschoolers don’t need much encouragement to run around in the fresh air. If you play with your child, he’ll love it even more. Preschoolers (and you) will enjoy:

  • playing at the park
  • flying a kite
  • dancing
  • silly walks (pretend to walk like an elephant)
  • chasing bubbles
  • swimming
  • bushwalking.
It can be harder to think of fun, active things to do in cooler weather than in summer. Here are some ideas for winter activities.

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  • Newsletter snippet: Preschooler nutrition and fitness: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    Your child’s best role model for developing good health, physical skills and self-esteem is you. It’s important that you eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.

    Tips for health and fitness

    • A healthy breakfast provides the energy your preschooler needs for the day.
    • Serve meals that include all your child’s nutritional needs in one dish.
    • Offer water with all meals and snacks.
    • Your child will be hungrier when having a growth spurt so be guided by his appetite.
    • Physical exercise has many benefits: strong bones and muscles; healthy heart, lungs and arteries; improved coordination, balance and flexibility; reduced risk of becoming overweight; prevention of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in later life.
    • Encourage outdoor play by joining in the fun at the local park, beach or national park.
    • Limit screen time to no more than an hour a day.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website

  • Last Updated 14-12-2011
  • Last Reviewed 01-12-2011