Healthy eating habits in preschool children

Good preschool eating patterns are important because they influence both energy and nutrient intake, and dental health. An optimum eating pattern would be regular meals and nutritious, low fat, low sugar snacks. Young children have small appetites but large nutrient needs relative to their body size, therefore regular refueling is required. An eating pattern based on distinct meals is generally beneficial and also promotes dental health. Dental caries is prevalent in preschool children and it is directly related to the amount and frequency of consumption of non-milk extrinsic sugars in the diet (Holt, 1991). Family meal patterns are inevitably affected by family routines, parents working hours and the child's appetite at different times of day. Regular meals allow opportunities for socializing and for parents to set a good example with respect to food choices and eating behavior (Graham, 1972).

A suitable snack should provide nutrients other than calories and should be low in non-milk extrinsic sugar and not interfere with the child's appetite for meals (Sims & Morris, 1974). Snacks high in non-milk extrinsic sugars greatly increase the risk of dental caries and an excessive intake of high fat, high sugar snacks will lead to an energy intake in excess of need (Splett & Strory, 1991). Many snacks will reduce the appetite for meals, often to the detriment of total nutrient intake (Beaton & Chery, 1988). The best snacks are bread and cereals, or fruit and vegetables. They need to be readily available, affordable and appealing to a child (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Farming, (MAFF), 1997).

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