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Nutrition and food requirements for preschool children

In the years between 1 – 6, growth is slower than in the first year of life but continues gradually. Child activities also increase markedly during the second year of life and the child becomes increasingly mobile. Development of full dentition also increases the range of food that can be given to children. There is an increased need for all nutrients.  

A preschool child has the following energy requirements:




1 - 3

4 - 6

Weight (kg)



Energy (k cal)



Protein (g)



Fat (g)



Calcium (mg)



Iron (mg)



Vitamin A


Retinol (mcg)



Beta carotene (mcg)



Thiamine (mg)



Riboflavin (mg)



Nicotinic acid (mg)



Pyridoxine (mg)



Ascorbic acid (mg)



Folic acid (mcg)



Vitamin B12 (mcg)

0.2 to 1

0.2 to 1


Nutritional requirements


As the preschool child grows, he becomes increasingly mobile, the energy requirements also increases. So, if the child is given insufficient food, the child will not only be underweight but also have hindered growth. The rate of growth fluctuates from one age to another. Upto 10 years of age there is no difference where nutritive requirements are concerned. Insufficient calorie intake can lead to protein deficiency.


The increase in bone mass that must accompany bone growth requires positive nitrogen balance that is met by protein intakes of 1.5 to 2 g/kg body weight. The increase in total body size needs a larger vascular system to transport nutrients to the tissues and waste products away from the tissues. All these activities create a need for proteins.


Fat energy including invisible fat for children should be 25% of total energy and essential fatty acid energy is 5 – 6%.


Calcium requirements of children are calculated on the basis of the amount of calcium accretion in the body. This deposition is not uniform through out growing period, but would be relatively greater during early childhood and during adolescence than during the other periods of growth. Deficiency of calcium can affect the bones of growing children. Milk is the best source of calcium. Hence the diet of preschool child should include 1 – 2 glasses of milk per day.

The daily requirements of iron for growth will be 0.2 mg. To meet the increased demand for iron, iron rich foods like rice flakes, egg yolk and greens should be included in the diet. Dietary lack of iron accompanied by hookworm infection can lead to anemia.


The incidence of vitamin A deficiency is high among Indian children whose dietary intake is less than 100 mcg. According to the studies conducted by ICMR, children receiving food supplements, which provided a total of 300 mcg of vitamin A per day, for over a period of six months, had no signs of vitamin A deficiency. Deficiency of vitamin A in children can cause bitot’s spots, night blindness or in sever cases total blindness. Milk, eggs, carrots and green leafy vegetables contain vitamin A and should be included in diet.


Food requirements

Transition from infant diet to regular adult diet should be smooth and gradual. If solid foods have been gradually introduced before the age of one year, feeding the child would not be any problem in the subsequent years. But some preschool children are difficult eaters. So making them eat nutritive food can be a little difficult. Factors that need to be considered while planning a diet for a preschool child are:

  • The diet should include enough quantity and quality of different nutrients. In addition to milk, the child should also be given two small servings of a protein rich food. At the age of 18 months, the diet should also include finger foods such as carrots, etc.
  • Plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products are needed for proper elimination.
  • The food intake of children can improve if the food is interesting and attractive. For example if chapatis and sandwiches can be cut into interesting shapes to make eating fun for a child. Milk can be given with delicious flavors.
  • Foods should be seasoned so that they taste better and the child takes it well.
  • Child should never be forced to eat more than he can take.
  • Whosoever is feeding the child should not show dislike of that food in front of the child; this may lead to the rejection of the food by the child.
  • Regularity of meals is essential.
  • Food preferences of the child should be taken into consideration.
  • The child should never be hurried while taking food. The atmosphere should be peaceful, pleasant and lacking distraction.
  • Foods like tea and coffee should not be given as they over stimulate the system.
  • Fried foods and concentrated foods should not be given as they are difficult to digest.
  • Unripe bananas and apples should not be given as they are difficult to chew and may choke the child.


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