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How to Prevent Too Much Weight Gain in Preschoolers

preschooler weight gain

Would you believe it if I told you that preventing your 4 year-old preschooler from gaining too much weight is as easy as getting some basic household routines in place? It’s true!

According to a 2010 study in Pediatrics, families who ate a meal together routinely, assured their preschooler got to bed on time, and kept a cap on TV viewing had children who were 40% less likely to become overweight or obese than preschoolers who didn’t get exposed to any of these routines.

Strategies to Prevent Weight Gain in Preschoolers

1. Family Meals

Aim for 6-7 meals together each week. As I discussed here, family meals have a positive impact on food choice, self-regulation of eating and family bonding.

Remember to keep the meal environment positive and supportive, as negative interactions at the table may have an opposite effect.

The family meal is important for any child, and positive effects have been outlined for all ages (even teens!). Get this habit established early on– not only will your preschooler benefit, but with time, she/he will continue to reap the benefits.


Family meals can occur at any time–breakfast, lunch, dinner or even at snack time. Sit together, minimize distractions and focus on each other.

2. Adequate Sleep

Aim for at least 10.5 hours of sleep each night for your preschooler. Sleep is important for proper growth and development, and inadequate sleep has been correlated with higher weight status in children.


Get the bedtime routine started with bath time, book time, a TV show or evening snack. One approach: Target bedtime between 7-8 pm and expect to see your preschooler around 6-7 am. Of course, figure out what works best for your family!

3. Limit TV Time

Aim for less than 2 hours per day. Even if young children are watching educational programs, it’s good practice to limit this sedentary activity. Kids need to move their bodies. Remember, children who sit are not moving, and this can be a contributor to weight gain.


Schedule TV time in 30 minute increments and before nap or bedtime–it may help your child unwind and relax before sleeping. Make sure to have some alternative activities up your sleeve–arts and crafts, imaginary playtime, construction blocks/legos, reading time, music/dancing time, puzzle time and park visits–these are just some of the routine activities I used with my own children…and yes, I scheduled these as part of our day.

Why routines are so effective

Children are creatures of habit—they thrive on predictability. Having a routine taps into this, promoting security, knowing what to expect and perhaps a sense of calmness.

When children are young, it is far easier to establish routines. Crazy schedules, homework and other obligations associated with the older child haven’t taken over the day yet, leaving toddlers and preschoolers primed to ease into family routines.

Additionally, the routines of family meals, sleep and limited TV time, once established, are easy to carry into the older years.

Try to get all 3 routines on board

I would encourage you to shoot for three, of course! But if you can’t, target one routine and get that going, then work on the next routine. The fact is, all 3 of these routines will not only have a favorable impact on your preschooler’s weight, they will help you have a well rested (translated: calmer and pleasant) child, a nourished child (translated: happy and satisfied) and an active child (translated: not sitting in front of the TV).

Why I like this study

This study takes the focus off of food. While good nutrition is important, it is just one piece of the puzzle.

Who would have thought that a bedtime routine could be so powerful?

Just more proof that there is more to raising healthy children than food alone. And I think it’s important for you to know there is more you can do. That’s what we’ll be giving you in Fearless Feeding!

What routines work for you (or not) in your household?

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  1. Thanks for the post!
    How does nap time factor in to the number of hours a pre-schooler should sleep at night. Our three year old sleeps at 8:30-9 pm and wakes at 6:15 am…short of your recommended 10.5 hours. She naps for 2-3 hours every day…what do you think try to establish an earlier bed time? Part of the reason we’ve gotten to the little later bedtime is that it enables us to have family dinner around 7:30 pm with my hubby who has long workday.
    Thanks for your thoughts, Hana

    1. Hana,
      The authors of this study saw a benefit from 10-11 hours of sleep at night and determined that a stretch of at least 10.5 hours was associated with lower incidence of obesity (coupled with family meals and limited TV). The AAP advises preschoolers and young school-age children get 10-12 hours of sleep per day total–so looks like your daughter meets that recommendation. If she is prone to getting up early no matter what time she goes to bed, i would try to tweak her bedtime on the earlier side, if possible. Another idea is to keep her nap around 2 hours and maybe she’ll make up the difference while sleeping at night (ie, sleep longer then).