Youth Nutrition

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 adolescent to healthy eating, meal planning, healthy beverages, breakfast, snacks and school lunches and food safety.

For a list of youth nutrition resources, check the Child & Youth Nutrition Resources page.

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. 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.

During these years your child may start an adolescent growth spurt and, just as when they were babies, they will probably be hungrier during a growth spurt. For more information about adolescent growth, visit our Healthy Growth and Development for Youth page.

Note: The amount of food in a "Food Guide Serving" may be more than your child can eat at a meal or snack.

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

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

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

Based on Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding

Feeding your child during the preteen and teen years is the same as when your child was younger. It works best when adults and children trust each other to do their jobs.

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.

As your child gets older and becomes more independent, he or she will start to take more responsibility for his own food selection. You can start with snacks, making sure there are healthy foods from which to choose, and support your child as he starts to help with meal planning and preparation.

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


It is important that children get enough fluids during the day to stay hydrated and to keep their bodies working well. Water should be available for children to drink throughout the day.

Offer more water when your child has a fever or when it is very hot. Children also need more water when they are being physically active.

If your child plays a sport, make sure they have water available to drink.

Sports drinks are for times of intense physical activity that last longer than an hour.

Milk and alternatives

Canada's Food Guide recommends that children 10-14 years old should have three to four servings of milk and alternatives every day. At least two of these servings should be fluid milk. This is to help them get enough vitamin D, as it is difficult to get vitamin D from foods.

Children 10-14 should be given pasteurized lower-fat cow's milk (one per cent, two per cent or skim). If you choose to give your child a vegetarian beverage, make sure it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Look at the Nutrition Facts table on the package: the %DV for calcium and vitamin D should be greater than 25 per cent.


Your child does not need to drink juice.

To get more fibre, Canada's Food Guide suggests we choose vegetables and fruit more often than juice.

If you choose to serve juice to your child:

  • Choose 100-per-cent unsweetened fruit juice (this could include ready-made juice from concentrate as well as frozen juice concentrate you make yourself by adding water).
  • Limit juice to 125 ml or half a cup (four ounces) a day.

Sugar sweetened beverages

Avoid the following beverages, as they are high in sugar and low in nutrients:

  • Pop/Sodas
  • Drinks
  • Beverages
  • Punches
  • Cocktails
  • Drinks ending in "-ade" such as Lemonade

Suggestions for serving beverages

  • Serve milk at mealtimes.
  • Serve only 100-per-cent unsweetened fruit juice if serving juice.
  • Limit juice to 125 ml (four ounces) a day.
  • Offer water for thirst between meals and snacks and during physical activity.
  • Avoid pop and other sugar sweetened beverages.
  • Do not give tea, coffee, energy drinks or other caffeinated drinks to children.

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 519-624-5744.

Healthy school lunches

Today most children take lunch to school. Making a healthy lunch that your child will eat can be quite a challenge.

Lunch ideas for kids

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

Healthy Snacks

Snacks are part of healthy eating for children, helping them get all the nutrients and energy they need. Most children need to eat three meals and two to three snacks a day.

What parents can do

  • Plan snacks 2-3 times a day, at least two hours before or after meals.
  • Choose a variety of foods from the four food groups of Canada's Food Guide, trying to include at least two food groups each time.
  • Serve snacks that are safe for teeth (not sticky or sweet).
  • Limit snack portions to a reasonable size so they don't interfere with meals.
  • Include healthy snacks on your grocery list.
  • Prepare muffins, trail mixes etc. on the weekend when you may have more time.
  • Ask your child for snack ideas, but set limits on unhealthy snacks.
  • Watch out for high fat and low nutrient snacks. Unfortunately, most snacks marketed to children are unhealthy, high in fat and/or low in nutrients (such as potato chips, pop, chocolate bars, candy). They should be occasional treats, not everyday items.
  • Hard and crisp foods, such as apples, raw vegetables, cheese and sugarless gum, help to clean teeth after snacking by increasing saliva flow. Encourage children to rinse their mouth with water when possible.

Grab and go healthy snacks

  • Set out cut-up fruit and veggies, whole-grain low-fat crackers and cheese (slices, strings, or foil-wrapped cubes or wedges), mini muffins, trail mix, baked tortilla chips with salsa or bean dip.
  • Buy convenient, single-serve packages of yogurt cups, tubes or drinks, pudding, fruit snacks, cereal bars.
  • Stock up on fresh fruit or fruit canned in its own juices, whole-grain crackers, air-popped popcorn, pretzels, graham crackers, whole-grain cereal, bagel chips or mini pitas (children love anything "mini").

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 (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.

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: