From the day a baby is born, parents are focussed on their nutrition and food intake, and it’s a concern that never really goes away. Are they eating enough? Are they getting enough vitamins, protein, iron, vegies?

While some toddlers eat like birds – little and often – other preschoolers can be hungry monsters, seemingly never satisfied and “Mummmmmm, I’m hungry,” can be heard numerous times a day.

How much should my preschooler be eating?

According to Australian government website Health Direct, preschoolers need the following per day:

Food group        Age 2 – 3 years                               Age 4+

Fruit                       1 serve                                                 1.5 serves

Vegetables            2.5 serves                                           4.5 serves

Grains                    4 serves                                              4 serves

Meat/poultry       1 serve                                                 1.5 serves

Dairy                      1.5 serves                                           1.5 serves

The above guidelines for the Age 4+ category apply up to the age of eight, and it might be surprising to think that a five-year-old and eight-year-old have the same nutritional requirements, and this will depend very much on the individual child and their needs.

As well as reviewing how many serves of each food group your preschool eats each day, the following checklist may shed light on why they might be asking for food between meal and snack times.

Is it hunger or boredom?

Consider if your child might be bored and need something to do (remember when you’d distract your baby to get create a few more minutes between feeds?). If you think they’ve had enough to eat, remind them when the next mealtime is, offer a piece of fruit and drink of water, and help them get engaged in a new activity.

Schedule mealtimes

Having regular meal and snack times helps children learn to understand patience and ‘waiting’ as they come to know when they’ll eat again. A lack of structure around this can lead a child to overeat

Is there too much food at meal times?

If your preschooler isn’t eating their meals because the flavours are too complex or the portions are too big, this could leave them hungry later. Consider if your meals might be too large or too complex for your child. Perhaps dial back flavours such as herbs and spices, and reduce portion sizes as well as the number of different foods on the plate. A salad of vegetables might be too overwhelming, where one or two vegies are devoured.

Snack time

Make sure that snack times are a healthy as they can be. One or two biscuits at morning tea can fill up little tummies fast, but they might not keep them sated for long. Fruit, vegies and dairy will fill them up for longer, so opt for them when you can.

Is it a growth spurt?

It’s possible that the energy being used to grow your little person isn’t being matched by the intake. Five-year-olds grow three inches in that year, on average, so it’s possible that’s what you are fuelling!

‘Nobody likes me…’

Kids get worms. It’s an unpleasant part of parenting. Other than hunger, another sign of worms is your child grinding their teeth when they’re sleeping. An itchy bottom that’s worse at night is another symptom. Some parents do a night-time peek at their child’s anus, using a torch. If you see worms, you can get an over-the-counter treatment from pharmacies, but it’s always wise to your GP.

8 ways to help kids become great eaters

There’s a reason mums say they hide ice-cream in a bag of peas! Modelling healthy eating is a great way to help your child to follow suit.

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast every day
  2. Make sure your fruit bowl is full and easy to access
  3. “Make a healthy choice” is a powerful phrase to use when your child asks for a snack
  4. Don’t force them to clean their plate
  5. Offer a light snack an hour or two before bedtime and then be firm: “The kitchen is closed.”
  6. Encourage your child to taste food that you are eating
  7. Make junk food/treats an out-of-home option
  8. Don’t provide alternatives/substitutes to the meal on offer

Keep a food diary

Concerns around food and nutrition can sometimes be allayed by keeping a food diary. Make a note of what your child eats every day for a week. You might see patterns in their behaviour, identify foods they favour, and you might also be reassured that while they’re didn’t eat their yoghurt yesterday, they made up for it today.

Note, a diary is to help establish a routine, if necessary, and to track what they’re eating and what they might not be getting enough of. It’s not a weight-loss tool and shouldn’t be used if disordered eating is a possibility. Always check with your GP for specific advice.