Feeding Your School Age Child

Children need to eat a variety of foods every day to get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Canada's Food Guide provides recommendations to help you meet your child's nutrient needs.

In this section you will find information about introducing your child to healthy eating, meal planning, healthy beverages, breakfast, snacks and school lunches, and food safety.

Do you have a 4 or 5 year old child?

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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 with Canada's Food Guide

Canada's Food Guide can be used to plan meals for children two years of age and older. It recommends the types and amount of food needed each day, according to age group and gender, to get all the nutrients required for good health.

Canada's Food Guide divides foods into four groups:

  • Vegetables and Fruit
  • Grain Products
  • Milk and Alternatives
  • Meat and Alternatives

By offering your child a variety of foods with the recommended number of servings from each food group, your child should get all the nutrients he or she needs.

Note: Child-sized servings are about half of a Food Guide serving size.

Don't worry if your child does not eat the total amount of food suggested. Every child is different and the amount of food they need changes depending on their age, size, growth and activity level.

Generally, younger children need smaller portion sizes than older children. It's better to offer smaller portions and provide more if your child is still hungry.

For more information about Canada's Food Guide, go to the Health Canada website.

Get the Guide: For a free copy of Canada's Food Guide, call the Public Health Resource Centre at 519-575-4400 ext. 2196, email phrc@regionofwaterloo.ca, or order online.

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

Based on Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding

Your child needs to learn to eat because he or she is hungry and to stop eating when feeling satisfied. This happens most easily when adults and children trust each other to do their respective jobs, according to Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding theory.

The parent/caregiver is responsible for:

  • What food is served
  • When food is served
  • Where food is served

The child is responsible for:

  • Whether or not to eat
  • How much to eat

The adult's job is also to:

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Not allow children to eat between meals and snacks
  • Offer water for thirst between meals
  • Sit and eat together as a family
  • Help children learn about food and acceptable mealtime behaviour

Note: Respect your child's appetite: never force a child to eat, or to "clean their plate".

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

Meal planning tips

  • Have regularly scheduled meals and snacks
  • For meals, include foods from all four food groups of Canada's Food Guide
  • For snacks, include foods from at least two different food groups of Canada's Food Guide
  • Include a vegetable or fruit at each meal and snack
  • When you introduce a new food, serve it with food your child already likes.
  • Let your child help plan, shop and prepare the food
  • Turn off the TV and avoid other distractions while eating
  • Eat meals together as a family when possible

Nurturing a Healthy Eater

As parents, our goal is to help our children grow up with positive eating attitudes and behaviours. This involves more than worrying about what kids eat on any particular day. It means looking at the big picture - if their attitudes and behaviours are healthy, they will eat well and get the nutrition they need now and in the future.

How do you know if your children are developing healthy eating attitudes and behaviours?

  • They feel good about food and eating. They are relaxed at meals and choose and eat a variety of food
  • They become more flexible and learn to like new foods over time. They can "get by" on a less favourite food if that's all there is available. They learn to refuse food politely
  • They know how much to eat because they trust their internal signals for hunger and satisfaction
  • They know how to behave around food. They gradually learn table manners
  • They gradually learn to take on more responsibility for food selection and preparation. By the time they are ready to leave home, they will have the skills to provide reasonably nutritious meals and snacks for themselves

It takes time and effort to raise a healthy eater, but the rewards are great. Our efforts in guiding our children lay the foundation for their future health.

Beverages for children

For tips on keeping your children well hydrated and serving suggestions, please check Healthy Beverages for Children tip sheet.

Breakfast is important

Breakfast is a very important meal for your child. It gives your child the energy and nutrients needed to start the day and to function well at school.

Children who don't eat breakfast are more tired and have more trouble concentrating and remembering things at school. They are also less likely to get all the nutrients they need during the day.

For more information, click read "What you can do to help your child have a healthy breakfast".

Nutrition for Learning is a local charitable organization that offers breakfast programs in some schools in Waterloo Region. For information about a program in your area, contact Nutrition for Learning at 519-579-6520.

Healthy school lunches

For practical tips on making healthy lunches that children will eat, please click on Healthy School Lunches.

For suggestion on satisfying snacks, please check Snacking the Healthy Way

Parents want lunches to be healthy, convenient, affordable and most of all eaten and enjoyed by their children. Kids want something that is fun, appealing, tastes good and is approved by their friends.

Check these resources for ideas:

School Lunch Your Kids Will Munch

Food safety

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

Note: Teach your children to wash their hands before eating or preparing food. It should become part of your child's routine.

Frequently asked questions

Does my child need a vitamin or mineral supplement?

Most children do not need a vitamin or mineral supplement.

  • If offered a wide variety of foods from the four food groups of Canada's Food Guide, most children will get all the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy
  • Do not give children a vitamin or mineral supplement unless directed by your doctor
  • If you have vitamin/mineral supplements in your home, keep them locked up and out of the reach of children

My child won't drink white milk. What should I do?

Find out why your child doesn't want to drink milk.

  • Some children don't like the taste of white milk, especially if it is warm. Try serving milk right from the fridge while it is really cold
  • Continue to offer white milk. In time your child may get used to it
  • Occasionally offer your child flavoured milk instead of white milk. It has the same nutrients

Tips for flavoured milk 

  • Add chocolate syrup or powder to the milk. This is preferred over serving store-bought chocolate milk which is higher in calories and sugar than white milk. This way you can control the amount of flavouring your child gets
  • Mix store-bought chocolate milk with white milk half and half, or mix more white milk than chocolate milk if you are concerned about the energy and sugar content of the chocolate milk

Note: Chocolate milk is just as nutritious as white milk and has the same amount of sugar as an equal amount of fruit juice.

Some children get a stomach ache when they drink milk. Stop feeding your child milk until you find out the cause of the pain. Check with your doctor: pain when drinking milk may be due to lactose intolerance or milk allergy.

Lactose intolerance (unable to digest the sugar in milk)

  • Usually includes other symptoms such as, diarrhea, gas and bloating
  • Your child may still be able to eat other products made with milk such as cheese and yogurt as they are low in lactose. Talk to your doctor: there is a test to check for this

Milk allergy (reaction to the protein in milk)

  • Usually also have other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, rash, hives, swelling of lips/mouth, coughing, runny nose, breathing problems
  • If your child is able to eat other products made from milk, it is probably not a milk allergy, but check with your doctor

For more information, check the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website.


For a number of good resources, check the Child and Youth Nutrition page.

EatRight Ontario

More information is available from EatRight Ontario.

EatRight Ontario provides information and advice on nutrition and healthy eating. 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 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday with evening hours Tuesday and Thursday to 9 pm.

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