Feeding Young Children

(Note: For a PDF version of this document, download Feeding Young Children (PDF))

Meal and Snack Routines are Important

  • Offer three meals and two to three snacks each day
  • Leave two and a half to three hours between meals and snacks
  • Offer only water between meals and snacks to help encourage a good appetite


Children Eat Best When... 

The parent or caregiver decides:

  • Where to eat – seated at the table for meals and snacks
  • When to eat – keep to the meal and snack routine. Avoid extra snacking
  • What to offer – be mindful of their likes but do not cater to them

The child decides:

  • Which foods to eat – from the foods you offer
  • How much to eat – trust their tummy. They will eat the right amount for their growth and activity needs


You are a Role Model and Have an Impact

  • Take the time to enjoy mealtimes together
  • Offer your child the same foods that you eat
  • Serve foods family-style so they can pick which foods and how much from what is on the table
  • Have pleasant conversation and avoid talking about how much or little they eat
  • Put away toys and electronics (cell phones, tablets, TV) so the focus is on eating
  • Your child may be messy when they eat. With time and practice, it will get better


Remember that your child will eat best if:

  • Mealtimes are relaxed
  • They do not feel pressured to eat
  • Foods are easy to eat without help 
  • They are allowed to stop eating or leave the table when they are full


Meal Plan Using Canada's Food Guide:

  • Use the Food Guide plate to plan meals and snacks
  • Include foods from all food groupings (vegetables and fruit, whole grains and protein foods)
  • Include a vegetable or fruit (or both) at meals and snacks and choose ones with different textures, colours and shapes
  • Flavour food with herbs and spices instead of salt or sugar
  • Offer small portions of easy to chew foods
  • If your child does not eat what you offered, do not go back to the kitchen to get other food


Iron is Important for Growth and Development

  • Offer iron-rich foods two to three times each day 
  • Iron-rich foods include:
    • Legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas)
    • Soy products (tofu, edamame)
    • Eggs
    • Beef, dark meat chicken, turkey, pork, fish
    • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Vitamin C (vegetables, fruit) helps absorb iron
  • More than three cups (24 ounces or 750 mL) of milk can cause iron levels to go down


Some Foods Are Choking Risks


  • Hard, small and round foods (whole grapes, raw carrots, apples, nuts, fruit with pits, hot dogs)
  • Smooth and sticky foods (nut butter by spoon)

Make these foods safer:

  • Cook and chop these foods
  • Thinly spread peanut and nut butters


Baby Teeth Are Important 

  • Help your child brush their teeth twice a day and floss once a day
  • Help your child rinse their teeth with water when it is not possible to brush
  • Take your child to their first dental visit by their first birthday. Routine check-ups are important


Drinks Matter


  • Continue to breastfeed/chestfeed for as long as you and your child want
  • If breastmilk/chestmilk is offered, give a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU daily until two years
  • If your child’s milk source is not breastmilk/chestmilk, offer 3.25% M.F. cow’s milk. At two years, switch to skim, 1% or 2% M.F.
  • Your child only needs two cups (16 ounces or 500 mL) of milk each day
  • Offer ½ cup (four ounces or 125 mL) servings

Water and other beverages

  • Offer water when your child is thirsty
  • It is best to avoid juice and other beverages
  • By 18 months, offer all beverages by open cup


For Further Information

  • For more information or additional nutrition resources and videos, visit unlockfood.ca
  • To speak to a registered dietitian at no cost, call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.
  • To find out if your child is a healthy eater, visit nutritionscreen.ca and complete Nutri-eSTEP for toddlers or preschoolers.
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