from The Early Childhood Years by Theresa and Frank Caplan

Copyright © 1983 by Theresa and Frank Caplan

Perigee Books, The Putnam Publishing Group, 200 Madison Avenue New York, New York, 10016 USA



The years between two and five are a prime period for establishing good eating habits and healthful standards of nutrition. Unfortunately, it appears to be the span of time when eating problems often begin. With body growth slowing down, appetites are reduced. Parents begin to worry when the see their child refusing or toying with food. Instead of being pleasant family affairs, mealtimes become disagreeable encounters during which the child practices his autonomy. The child becomes picky and choosy about what he will or will not eat. How parents handle this problem will affect the child's ego as well as his health.


Even though a child's eating capacity is reduced, her growth needs continue to be demanding. Therefore parents should waste no time in establishing high nutritional standards and sensible eating habits. A three-meals-a-day routine, with casual morning and afternoon snacks that contain a balance of carbohydrates and proteins, minerals and vitamins, and short on sugar and salt, should be followed. Junk foods and salt must be avoided; also foods prepared with preservatives, artificial flavors, and coloring. Young children can learn to enjoy raw vegetables and foods prepared with little or no salt and sugar content. Wholesome food can be attractive to look at and enjoyable to the palate.


Two, three, and four are the best years for developing food tastes and a zest for eating. Parents need to try not to overload the plates of their children. "The sight of too big a helping often seems to make children less eager to eat," writes Dr. Richard H. Granger in the 1974 edition of Your Child from One to Six (Washington, D.C.: H.E.W. Children's Bureau). "They do better if they are offered small portions and are allowed to ask for more if they want it. How much a child eats varies from day to day and week to week depending on a number of things like the child's health, activity, and even the weather."



Children are not addicted to sweets at birth. If started early enough, your child will like unsugared and unsalted foods, and prefer their natural goodness. Children develop a taste for sweets because adults teach them to do so. After all, most of the adults in their lives prefer their foods sweetened or salted. Sometimes parents use sweets as a bribe, which makes children regard sweets as something special. If course no food should ever be used as a reward or punishment.


Mealtime should be a time for bringing the family together for nourishment and providing children with opportunities for exploring new food tastes and textures, for socializing, for learning to use tableware, and practicing manners.