Feeding Your Child (1-3 Years)

At 12 months of age, your child should be eating many of the same foods as the rest of the family, with some changes to make food safer to chew and swallow.

During the toddler and preschool years, offer your child a variety of foods from the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide prepared safely for your child to eat.

Here you will find information about introducing your young child to healthy eating, meal planning, choking prevention, allergy concerns, food safety and weaning your toddler.

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Go to Nutri-eSTEP Eating Habits Survey

For information about NutriSTEPĀ® and Nutri-eSTEP (nutrition questionnaires) for toddlers and preschoolers, click here.

*NutriSTEPĀ® name and logo are Registered trademarks of Sudbury & District Health Unit.

'Eating Well ... Together - Everyone Has A Job To Do'

Based on Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding

You will help your child learn to be a healthy eater if you do your job when it comes to feeding and allow your child to do their job when it comes to eating. 

Adults decide

  • When to offer meals and snacks which should be offered around the same time every day
  • Where your child will eat: at a table with an adult
  • What foods to offer - a variety of healthy food choices from Canada's Food Guide

Your child decides

  • Whether to eat (if hungry)
  • How much to eat 

Tips for parents

  • Continue to breastfeed until your child is two years old or more
  • Have regularly scheduled meal and snack times
  • Do not let your child eat between meal and snack times
  • Offer water for thirst between meals
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Never use food as a reward or a punishment
  • Never force your child to eat, or to 'clean their plate'
  • Show children how to behave at the table (good table manners)

For more information about this approach to healthy eating, visit Ellyn Satter's website.

Healthy eating for children (1-3 years)

Eating healthy is important to:

  • Provide nutrients and energy for children to grow and develop.
  • Help children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
  • Help children have lifelong healthy eating habits.
If your child is breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed your child as long as you like. You may also give breast milk or whole cow's milk to your child in a cup at mealtimes, so that they are used to drinking from a cup when you choose to stop breastfeeding.

While your child is breastfeeding or receiving breast milk and is less than two years of age, continue to give a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU.

If you are bottle feeding and haven't started to offer fluids in a cup, now is the time to start. At first, your child may not get much from the cup, but they will get better with practice.

For more information about weaning your toddler click here.

If your child's main milk source is not breast milk, offer pasteurized
homogenized (3.25% MF) cow's milk until your child is 24 months old. After their second birthday, you can switch to lower fat milk such as skim, 1% or 2% milk.

Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide

Canada's Food Guide can be used to plan meals for children.

  • Offer your child foods from each of the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide everyday
  • Serve small portions of food and offer more if your child is still hungry. See the chart of toddler-size servings for examples of portions for toddlers and preschoolers
  • Gradually introduce a variety of foods with different tastes, textures and colours
  • Offer at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day
  • Don't limit fat in your young child's diet - it provides energy and essential fatty acids needed for growth. After two years of age, you may switch to lower fat (skim, 1% or 2%) milk
  • Serve whole grain products to provide fibre and to start a lifelong habit
  • Offer meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often

For more information go to the Health Canada website.

Meal planning

Young children have small stomachs and need to eat often.

  • Plan for three meals and 2-3 snacks each day
  • Serve meals and snacks at regular times and places each day
  • For meals, include food from three or four different food groups
  • For snacks, include food from two different food groups
  • Try to include a vegetable or fruit at each meal and snack
  • When you introduce a new food, serve it with food your child already likes
  • You may need to offer a new food 15 or more times before your child will taste it

Examples of Toddler Sized Servings - A guide for toddlers and preschoolers

How to prevent choking

Always watch your child closely during meals and snacks and make sure there are no distractions.

  • Children should always eat sitting down
  • Ask your child not to talk with food in their mouth
  • Do not give your child round, hard or crunchy foods that may get caught in the throat
  • Always cut up food to a size that can be eaten safely (for example sausages and wieners, if served, should be cut lengthwise and then into bite size pieces  
  • Do not give hard raw vegetables, popcorn, nuts, chunky peanut butter, seeds, raisins, hard candies or chewing gum to children under four years of age
  • Hard vegetables and fruit should be cooked and cut into small pieces.
  • Peel fruit and remove pits and seeds
  • Grapes should be cut in half or quarters and seeds removed
  • Spread sticky foods thinly. Never serve peanut/nut butter or other sticky spreads from a spoon

For more information about choking prevention check: Healthy Choices: Choking Prevention Tips for Parents 

Food safety

Teach your child to wash their hands before eating or preparing food. It should become part of your child's routine. Young children learn by watching and by example.

  • Always wash your hands before handling food
  • Eat cooked foods right away, or cover and refrigerate immediately
  • Never leave food out at room temperature

Resources and links

Help Your Child Become a Healthy Eater - A resource with tips to make meal and snack times easier

Tips to Help Your Child Eat Vegetables - Learn how to get your child to eat vegetables

Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - A guide for planning healthy meals and snacks starting at two years

When Your Child Does Not Drink Milk - Tips for when a child does not drink milk

When Your Child Does Not Eat Meat - Suggestions for when a child does not eat meat

Choking Prevention Tips - Information to help reduce risk of choking in young children

The Truth About Fruit Juices and Drinks - Information about the difference between fruit juices and fruit drinks

Nutri-eSTEP questionnaire for toddlers and preschoolers - Find out if your child is a healthy eater

EatRight Ontario

More information is available from EatRight Ontario.

EatRight Ontario provides information and advice on nutrition, healthy eating, NutriSTEPĀ® and Nutri-eSTEP. It is a free service that allows you to ask nutrition questions and get answers by phone or e-mail from a Registered Dietitian. Nutrition tools and links to resources are also available to help you make healthy food choices.

Call EatRight Ontario, 1-877-510-5102, to talk to a Registered Dietitian 9 - 5 Monday to Friday, with evening hours to 9 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Go to the website to e-mail a question, or to find information and resources at: www.eatrightontario.ca