Preschool children, specifically the 2- to 5-year-old set, are notoriously picky eaters, and parents need to recognize that this is developmentally appropriate, although frustrating!
Preschool is an appropriate time to begin teaching children the importance of healthy eating habits to encourage a lifetime of good health and prevent obesity.
A good place to start searching for information is MyPyramid for Preschoolers, a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The site not only covers what your children should be eating, but is also full of good advice on dealing with picky eaters, how to monitor your child's growth, and ways to encourage physical activity.
The site encourages parents to lead by example: Let your children see you eating a wide array of foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day. There are ideas for healthy snacks that can be eaten on the run.
Don't let food choices become a battle or an issue. Don't make negative food comments around your children, and keep trying new things. It may take up to 20 attempts or more before your child will try something new, but if you don't keep trying you'll never know if they might actually like broccoli.
Also, adults and older children should skip the "yucky faces" while sitting at the table eating a meal. Such behavior only discourages toddlers from trying unfamiliar foods. Everyone should put on a happy face; even if cottage cheese isn't your favorite food, it might be your child's.
The most important message is to make mealtime and snack time pleasant and healthy. Even a toddler can help with planning and preparing a meal.
The website is quite good and interactive; you can enter your child's first name, age, gender and typical amount of activity and the site will generate a plan just for your child.
DR. SUE HUBBARD is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.