Three-year-olds are beginning to have definite ideas about what will and will not go into their mouths -- or onto the floor. They are beginning to show an independent streak and meal time should include foods a small child can pick up and eat without the assistance of an adult. Meals for three-year-olds should also take into account nutrition, providing food that is fun to eat but also healthy.
Breakfast for three-year-olds may include whole grain cereal with milk and whole grain breads. Oatmeal with fresh fruit makes a good hot breakfast. Pancakes made with whole grains can be topped not with syrup, but with a natural unsweetened apple sauce or yoghurt. Yoghurt is a healthy choice for three-year-olds that is easy to eat. Look for yoghurts low in sugar that meet National Yogurt Association criteria for live and active culture yoghurt. Three-year-olds sensitive to dairy can often drink soy milk and use soy products. Keep in mind that dexterity may not be well developed at this age. Cut all food served into portions the three-year-old can pick up easily and that will not cause choking.
Lunch for a three-year-old should include whole grains, natural fruits and vegetables and dairy. Remember that a small child has a small stomach and can only eat so much food at a time. If served sugar and processed foods, often a three-year-old will refuse to eat more nutritious selections. For a healthy lunch, serve whole grain crackers with cheese cut into three-year-old sized chunks. This provides protein, as do sandwiches, using whole grain bread, with chicken or tuna, cut into portions easily picked up by a three-year-old. Oranges can be pulled into wedges and served with whole grain muffins and cottage cheese.
Dinner for a three-year-old should consist of a meat, or a protein substitute if your family is vegetarian, a cooked vegetable or two such as carrots, peas or beans, potato or rice and fruit. Serve meat that is easily chewed and digested by the three-year-old stomach. Tough steak, even cut into small pieces, may cause choking. Hamburger is easier to digest. Chicken and poultry are also good meats. Remember to remove the skin. Meals should not be fried or overly processed. Hold the sauces.
Processed cheese, ice cream and sugar-laden juices are not a good substitute for healthy natural foods at snack time. Sugar laden and processed foods are not only unhealthy, they also harm the teeth. Be sure a three-year-old has plenty of water. Pop or soda and sugar-laden juices are not a good substitute for water and should not be offered on a daily basis or as a snack. For a sweet but healthy snack, blend milk and fresh fruit, or fruit frozen without sugar, with plain or natural yoghurt to make a milkshake. Choose your three-year-old's favourite fruit and serve with a straw. Apple or orange slices also make good snacks.
Always remove seeds before serving fruit. At this stage of the three-year-old's development, you might also want to remove the skin of the fruit before cutting it into toddler-sized portions. Cook vegetables---even carrots. Stay away from popcorn, marshmallows, gum and hard candy. A large portion of any food that is eaten at once can cause choking. Always keep an eye on any three-year-old with food.