During the coming months, your child will continue to show wide variations in her desire for food. A ravenous appetite one day followed by picking and dawdling sessions the next won't be at all unusual. In the coming months, you will want to pay more attention to the patterns of your child's food intake than to the details of what she eats at any particular meal. Specifically, keep the following in mind:
Emphasize variety and freshness. The average North American supermarket contains a dazzling selection of vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats — available in any season. Children should be exposed to this rich diversity at an early age, whether or not they partake of it.
In general, fresh foods are more nutritionally intact than frozen items (though not by much), and both fresh and frozen foods are better nutritionally than canned foods. Dishes prepared using raw ingredients are more likely to be more wholesome and economical than prepackaged microwave concoctions — although time pressures for many families have made meals from scratch increasingly uncommon.
Resist the encroachment of sugary, salty, fatty, and otherwise low-quality enticements. Your child may be getting the good stuff at home, but advertising and slick packaging are working desperately to woo her taste buds in other directions. A few trips to the local Burger Ecstasy franchise or a bowl of Double-Cocoa Frosted Mega-Flakes at a friend's house may create a long-term enthusiastic customer.
At this point, you have control over what lands on her plate, a responsibility and opportunity that will not last long. Do what you can to mold her tastes, and don't let her manipulate you into buying products that are short on nutritional value.
Don't allow food to become an accompaniment to a whole gamut of other activities. Eating is a good thing to do when she's hungry or when the family sits down together for a meal. Period. It should not become a cure for boredom, a pacifier for a stubbed toe, or a bribe for doing something you want.
Don't turn meals into power struggles. If you provide a wholesome selection of foods at a meal and she isn't interested, don't fight over it, make it the main subject of conversation, or force her to sit for hours at the table until she eats it. Put her plate in the refrigerator, and take it out again when she's hungry.
Don't be badgered into preparing something specifically for her at every meal, and don't allow her to become stuck in a rut of three or four foods that are "the only things she ever eats." She won't starve if you hold your ground.
A preschooler is old enough to learn some basic table manners: keeping the volume of her voice reasonable, chewing with her mouth closed, saying please and thank you, using a napkin, and waiting until everyone is seated and a blessing is offered before beginning to eat. If she is done with her meal and conversation among the adults is extending beyond her interest and attention span, don't insist that she sit indefinitely.
But before she gets up, she should ask to be excused. After she departs, don't let her crawl around under the table with the family pets.