Although your 3-year-old still has very definite ideas about what he wants to eat, he's more willing to try new foods than he was last year. He'll probably like certain foods because of their colors or shapes, and he may still insist on food being arranged "just so." Your child will also enjoy helping out in the kitchen, as long as you're patient with his limited assistant skills.
Three-year-olds learn so much about eating and socialization at the dinner table with their families. Studies show that children who eat at least one meal a day with their families have better vocabularies, as well as better diets. Now is the time to get your child in the habit of sitting at the table with you, not in front of the TV. Turn the tube off during mealtimes and talk instead. And have meals at regular times, at a regular place, such as the kitchen or dining room table.
Your 3-year-old is really ready to learn table manners. Teach her to say "please," "thank you," and "may I." She should only spill a little and not throw at all. She can and should help set the table. She's likely to enjoy the habits and rituals of family meals.
That is, she will if you can get her to the table at all. Preschoolers are often so busy playing that they can hardly be bothered to stop. Don't let your child get into the habit of eating on the go, however. Easy-to-eat, easy-to-carry foods are often high in salt, fat, and sugar. And don't ask your child to decide what's for dinner. It gives her too much power and sets you up to be a short-order cook. Your job is to decide what's for dinner; her job is to eat it. Don't set yourself up for long-term haggling with a 3-year-old.
Constipation can be a problem at this age. It's usually caused by eating too many dairy products and not enough fruits, vegetables, and water. If your preschooler is having painful, hard stools or doesn't have a BM for a day or two, change her diet right away. If the problem isn't corrected in a day or two, call your health care provider for advice. Your child may become reluctant to use the toilet if this goes on too long.
Make mini pizzas with your 3-year-old! You can pack a lot of nutritious vegetables and meats (even leftovers) under melted cheese. Use an English muffin or half a bagel, well-minced or pureed vegetables, chopped up chicken, or even a minced hard-boiled egg. A red sauce will make them stick, and the cheese will glue it all together. Your child will love this pizza even more if he gets to help make it.
Use cookie cutters to make shapely sandwiches. Great fillings include smooth peanut butter, cream cheese and jam, and finely minced tuna, meats, or eggs. Allowing your 3-year-old to cut out his own shape will make it more fun for him.