Eating, like a lot of other things in children’s lives, is a skill that is learned as kids grow. As a parent or caregiver, you play an important role in forming your children’s eating habits. Providing healthy food choices and getting children to eat them can be one of many parenting challenges. The dietitians at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit are here to help!
Feeding Your Baby
Health Canada’s Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to 6 Months recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and up to 2 years or longer with appropriate complementary feeding. If it is not possible to breastfeed, commercial infant formula is the only alternative to ensure a baby is getting the nutrients they need until the child is eating a variety of foods.
You can find more information about breastfeeding on our Breastfeeding page.
For a comprehensive guide to formula feeding, take a peek at Best Start’s booklet (PDF). Aussi disponible en français (PDF). For a briefer guide, check out our Tips for Making and Feeding Infant Formula (PDF) handout.
Look for these signs of readiness before introducing complementary food to your 6-month-old infant:
- Able to hold head up
- Sits up in a high chair and can lean forward
- Turns face away when they are full
- Closes lips over the spoon
- Can pick up food and try to put it in their mouth
Many parents worry about feeding their baby. Which foods should they introduce first? Is their child getting enough of the nutrients they need to grow? The following resource may help you feel more relaxed about feeding your baby, and answer some of your questions: Feeding Your Baby - From 6 months to 1 Year (PDF).
Toddlers and Food
You might be surprised to find that children may actually eat less once they go from babies to toddlers. This is because their growth slows down after the first year of life. It's also normal for your child to eat a lot one day and very little the next. It is recommended for toddlers to continue breastfeeding to two years of age and beyond, in addition to eating solid foods.
Other things will affect their eating habits, too. For example, toddlers or preschoolers may refuse to eat as a way to take control of their lives. Toddlers also may be happy to sit at the table for 15 to 20 minutes and no longer.
Remember that parents and children both have a responsibility in eating. Parents provide what to eat (foods from the four food groups), when (regularly scheduled meals and snacks) and where (keep kids safe e.g. in highchairs or booster seats). Then let your child decide which foods and how much they are ready to eat. As long as you have healthy meals planned and healthy snacks in between, they will get the food they need to grow and thrive. Learn more about the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
How to Encourage Children to Eat Better
As a parent, you decide what food is in the house and when to serve it. But it helps to give children some control, especially as they get older. You decide what food to serve, when it is served and where they will eat. Then let your children decide which of the healthy choices to eat, and how much – they can always come back for more if they're hungry.
Here are some other tips:
- Schedule meal and snack times so children know that when they are hungry, food will be available.
- Limit juice and milk between meals, and offer water instead (which won’t affect appetite).
- Keep portion sizes small. A good serving size for a child would be 1/2 a bagel, 1 oz (30 g) of meat, or 1/4 cup (50 ml) of fruit or vegetable pieces. Refill the plate if your child asks for more, but don't be alarmed if the plate isn’t clean.
- Make every bite count. Children have small stomachs that fill quickly, so aim to serve foods with lots of nutrients often. Some examples are peanut/nut butter, cheese, chicken, eggs, and yogurt.
- Avoid being a short-order cook! Serve one meal for everybody, with at least one food at each meal that your child enjoys. Aim to include foods from all food groups.
- Give your child a small amount of a new food on their plate to taste. They don't have to eat it but it allows them to try the new food. (Research shows that it takes many introductions of a new food for children to learn to like it. Encourage your child to try the new food but don’t push they will try when they are comfortable and if we don’t apply too much pressure)
- Make family mealtimes pleasant: turn off screens and take time to talk with each other instead of rushing through a meal.
- Have some quiet time before it's time to eat. Your child needs to be calm, well-rested and hungry to eat well.
Cooking with Kids
One great way to help kids eat healthy, balanced meals is to involve them in the cooking of those meals. Getting kids in the kitchen helps in many ways:
- Teaches them how to cook for themselves, which is a handy skill as they get older
- Cooking involves many different skills including fine motor skills and problem-solving
- Kids learn about each ingredient, how to prepare it, and why it’s good for you
- Encourages kids to try new recipes – and new foods
- Kids learn the connection between good food and good health
- Gives kids a sense of accomplishment
- Helps you bond with your child through a necessary activity with a clear goal (make a meal)
- It’s fun!
It takes patience on the part of the parent. It can get messy. But the sense of pride your child will have from helping you make a meal is all worth it.
The TBDHU has two cookbooks with kid-approved recipes and tips on cooking with your kids:
- Cooking Basics for Kids (PDF)
- Adventures in Cooking (Ages 8-12) - Leader's Manual (PDF)
- Adventures in Cooking Menu (Recipes)(PDF)
- Cooking with Kids of Different Ages (PDF)
Eat Like a Champion
Athletes need more energy to fuel their activity and perform their best. The Eat Like a Champion (PDF) resource touches on a variety of subjects related to nutrition for athletes. It was created prior to the revision of Canada's Food Guide but is still a great resource for athletes. It covers topics such as:
- What to eat before, during and after exercise
- Team snack ideas
- Fluids and hydration
- Travel and restaurant tips
- Sports nutrition myths and facts
Teens and Eating
Teens need more nutrients! The biggest growth spurt since babyhood occurs during your teenage years. That means teens require extra calories and more nutrients including protein, calcium and iron. As a parent, it’s particularly important to encourage healthy eating including serving foods from all four food groups for strong bones, bodies and minds.
- Welcome to Kindergarten "Packing Lunches - A Handy Guide for Grown-Ups" (PDF)
- Balanced School Day Lunches (PDF)
- Nurturing Healthy Eaters in the Classroom (PDF)
For more great resources visit our Resources page and filter by "Healthy Eating" and/or Audience "Parents":
For Further Information
Call the Nutrition Program: (807) 625-5900
or toll-free 1-888-294-6630