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Communicating Healthy Eating Messages to Preschool


Preschool children are just developing their skills, especially nutrition and physical activity habits, and at this age they are particularly moldable. Here at PCCP we encourage children to try new foods and to make healthy choices.

We focus on benefits of eating healthfully. 

Because preschool children are beginning to build their knowledge and skills, positive or gain-framed messages may be more appropriate. These messages focus on the benefits of a healthful eating. For example, “Proper nutrition helps you grow big and strong!” We encourage “No thankyou” bites

Preschoolers need healthful eating messages reinforced in multiple ways. Hands-on  opportunities to gain and apply knowledge and skills are key.

Family-style meals are a way to reinforce, build skills, and role model. Utilizing a family style meal in preschool settings allows for practice discussing and decision making each time a meal is shared. These same concepts can be reinforced in our Pre-K garden where we grow strawberries and when we pick blueberries from the field behind the center. When the children are involved with the foods they grow and help prepare too, they tend to be much more likely to try a new food.

In the classroom: 

  • We discuss the benefits of healthy eating during nutrition lessons.
  • We talk about the healthy properties of fresh fruits and vegetables during school garden activities.
  • We offer examples of healthy snacks during snack time and classroom celebrations.

During meals and snacks: 

We add positive health messages to menus, such as why adding more vegetables and fruits to one’s diet each day can be a benefit. Emphasizing what can be gained by eating healthy.

What are the benefits of Family Style Dining for children?

All meals are served Family Style, where food is placed in serving bowls on the table and children are encouraged to serve themselves or serve themselves with help from an adult.

  • Our teachers sit at the table with the children. Children and child care givers practice good manners in a pleasant mealtime setting.
  • Children learn and practice many social skills, such as taking turns, passing food to others, saying please and thank you, and helping to set the table. 
  • Children serve themselves with carefully chosen serving dishes.
  • Children often want to try new foods when they see the other children and adults eating them.
  • Children enjoy eating with adults and practicing good table manners.
  • Children are more likely to try new foods if there friends and teachers are enjoying them.
  • We expect spills. Children are learning, and accidents will happen. All spills are wiped without a fuss.
  • We use phrases that help and not hinder when a child isn’t eating. For example, instead of saying, “You have to eat everything before you get down from the table” we say, “Is your tummy full or is it still hungry?” encouraging them to listen to their body.

Encouraging Healthy Eating at Home: 

  • Review the lunch menu weekly with your child and talk to them about the foods on the menu. Our menu can be found on the HiMama website or through the HiMama app.
  • Talk to your child about healthy foods, and set simple goals, and make a chart for him/her to check off each time a goal is met.
  • Encourage children to ask for vegetables and fruits for that they have tried and like at school.

Liz Smith, OSU Extension, SNAP-Ed Regional Program Specialist
Fitzgibbon, M.L. Stolley, M.R. Schiffer, L. Van Horn, L. KaufferChristoffel, K. & Dyer, A. (2005). Two-year follow-up results for Hip-Hop to Health Jr.: A randomized controlled trial for overweight prevention in preschool minority children, Journal of Pediatrics, 146,6 18-625.
M.L. Fitzgibbon, M.R. Stolley, A.R. Dyer, L. Van Horn, K. KauferChristoffel. A community-based obesity prevention program for minority children: rationale and study design for Hip-Hop to Health Jr.   Prev Med, 34 (2002), pp. 289–297
Wansink, Brian and Lizzy Pope (2014). When Do Gain-Framed Health Messages Work Better Than Fear Appeals? Nutrition Reviews, 73(1), 4–11.
United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. (2013) EatPlayGrow™, Creative Activities for a Healthy Start. Retrieved from www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/tools-resources/eatplaygrow.htm   
Ways to Encourage Self-Help Skills in Children – eXtension