Pre-diabetes is now seen in children as early as preschool age.
Excess calorie intake and weight gain above recommended amounts can lead to pre-diabetes.
Excess food intake in preschool-age children
Preschool and school-age children can consume a significant portion of their daily calories in one meal. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ChooseMyPlate, a five-year-old involved in 30-60 minutes of activity each day needs about 1400 calories. If a five-year-old child ate a commercially prepared donut, that could add up to 900 calories just for breakfast. After this one donut, the girl now needs to eat only 500 more calories in two more meals and snacks to maintain her weight. If she eats more than this, she will likely gain weight.
Fast food and health risks
Serving fast food for lunch at some preschools is a disturbing trend that is contributing to both obesity and diabetes in children. Some preschool directors justify this practice by stating that children like this food and will eat it. Portion sizes of processed, convenience or restaurant foods are often not adjusted for toddlers and school-age children, encouraging overeating of these types of foods.
Dining out and portion sizes
When eating out, many children order from the adult menu and finish their meals. Kid’s meal toys and restaurant playgrounds make fast food even more appealing to children. Americans are now spending about 44% of their food dollars on foodservice away from home. Americans eat out approximately four times per week. Settings include restaurants, airports, shopping malls, supermarket cafes, institutions, and cars (dashboard eating).
Portion sizes in restaurants have significantly increased over the last 25 years providing us with more calories and little nutrients. Children are learning wrong portion sizes at an early age. Many restaurants entice families with a free or discounted kid’s menu. The kid’s menu often consists of fried foods and negligible vegetables. Also, a significant amount of soda is consumed by children when eating out.
Use These Simple Tips to Help Create a Healthier Preschool Meal and Snack Time
- Get involved in your preschool and daycare snack time. Meet with the director and express your concerns. Speak to other concerned parents and encourage them to get involved.
- When possible volunteer to be part of a healthy snack rotation.
- Find a local Registered Dietitian to do an interactive and fun nutrition lecture at your child’s school.
- Choose healthy meals for yourself and your child will follow in your good food habits. Parent modeling is how children learn about good eating habits.
- Order a healthy entree from the adult menu and split it with your child.
- Encourage them to have vegetables with a meal and fruit for dessert.