Preschool Lunches- No Big Deal

Many parents tell me that their child doesn’t eat their packed lunch.  This doesn’t surprise me when I see the portions that are typically packed. When parents see what comes home from a packed lunch where the portions were too large, it looks as if the child ate very little, which is exactly how much they should be eating. 

Do you know what a serving of vegetables or pasta looks like for a toddler or preschooler?  You might be surprised.  I have been observing the lunches sent in by parents at a local preschool.  This preschool does a beautiful job at lunch, putting each child’s packed lunch on a plate and giving them a cup of water and utensils to eat with.  All of the children eat together at a table, assisted by the staff. 

However, the serving sizes of foods are usually way too big.  As just one part of a lunch consisting of 4 or more different foods, I have observed a 1 cup portion of fried rice, a 1 cup container of yogurt, a whole sandwich, ½ cup of crackers, a large apple (sliced) and ¾ cups of pasta salad.  Children ages 2-5 don’t eat or need that much at one meal and these serving sizes are sending the wrong message.  When adults constantly see over sized portions at restaurants, they start to believe that this serving is the appropriate amount that they should eat, but it’s not.   So sending a child too much food, even if it is nutritious food, sends the message “this is how much you should eat.”  No wonder so many of our children are overweight or obese.   

Young children have small stomachs so they need smaller meals and a few snacks throughout the day.  Lunch can consist of 4 choices, at the very most.  Children can become overwhelmed with too many choices.  Examples of serving sizes for preschoolers are:

1/2 -3/4 cups milk or 1 ounce of cheese (one slice) or 4 ounces of yogurt

½ -1 slice of bread or ¼ cup crackers

1 tablespoon of fruit or vegetable per year of age.  (A three year old would receive 3 tablespoons berries)

1 tablespoon of meat, or beans per year of age

1 egg

An exmple of an appropriate lunch for a 4 year old is:

½- 1/3 cup fried rice

4 tablespoons diced chicken

4 slices of apple

4 small carrot sticks

Milk can be served with lunch, but keep in mind that preschoolers only need 2 cups of milk a day, so serving water is fine.  Keep lunch child sized for your child.   You will be surprised how much they eat.

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