University of Illinois Extension

Food for Thought - University of Illinois Extension

Feeding Preschoolers

Preschool children need to eat the same variety of foods as older family members, but they probably need fewer calories. To get the variety of food to provide adequate nutrients they can eat smaller servings.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently released My Pyramid to help us choose what and how much to eat from different food groups to get the nutrients we need and not too much of the things we don’t need like fat and sugar.

My Pyramid divides food into five groups plus oils.

My Pyramid includes

  • Grain Group: Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pastas
  • Vegetable Group
  • Fruit Group
  • Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group
  • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group

For personalized nutrition information visit

My Pyramid is an outline of what to eat each day. It is not a prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that is right for you.

My Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients you need and at the same time the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. During the next few months, we will discuss what foods and how much you and your preschooler needs from each of the food groups. We will begin our discussion in the next newsletter with the Grain Group.

Find the Pyramid

Show your children a picture of the Food Guide Pyramid. Many food packages you have in the cupboard probably have a picture of the pyramid. Have the children look for the pyramid on the foods you have at home, on food packages when you go to the grocery store or in magazines.

When they find the Pyramid on a food package, talk about which group they think that food belongs in. When you get future newsletters you can check and see if you were correct.

Family Meals

A recent poll showed that nearly half of children ages 9 to 15 did not have daily meals with their families.  Studies have shown that children who eat away from the family table are less likely to eat nutritious meals and are more likely to do poorly in school.

Now, when your children are young, is a good time to make family meals together important and enjoyable.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

    • Keep mealtime positive
    • Reserve discipline for another time.
    • Focus on each other and not the food.  Allow children to eat until they are full without forcing “one more bite” or a clean plate.
    • Don’t forget to make mealtime fun, laugh together and share funny stories.


    Pyramid Tortilla

    This is a fun snack or lunch for kids to make. It has food from all of the food groups.

    For each tortilla you will need:

    1 8-inch tortilla
    1-2 ounces thin sliced turkey or ham
    2 Tablespoons shredded cheese
    ¼ cup shredded lettuce
    1 Tablespoon raisins
    Low fat mayonnaise, cream cheese or margarine

    Give each child a tortilla. Have them spread with mayonnaise, margarine or cream cheese. Then layer on the turkey or ham, cheese, lettuce and raisins. Roll up and enjoy.

    This sandwich could also be made using a slice of bread or an English muffin.