Feeding Your Young Child (1-5 Years Old)

As your child transitions from baby to toddler and then preschooler, you may notice changes with their eating. Where they once were excited about eating and eager to try new foods, they may suddenly become more cautious and pickier. This may cause you to worry, but keep in mind that this is a normal part of your child’s learning and development.

Young children will sometimes:

  • Eat a lot one day and only a little the next.
  • Refuse to eat new foods or change their minds about foods that they have always eaten before.
  • Eat only one or two foods from a meal.
  • Refuse to eat a meal or snack.
  • Want to eat the same foods over and over again for a few days or longer.
  • Not want to try new foods.

Check out the tips below for information to help your child eat well for life. There is also important information below that is specific to toddlers 12-24 months of age.

Schedule meals and snacks at regular and reliable times (click to expand) »

As your child transitions from baby to toddler and then preschooler, aim to offer them:

  • 3 meals per day
  • 2-3 snacks per day

Young children like a regular routine. Schedule meals and snacks at about the same times every day so your child comes to meals ready to eat.

Make family meals a priority (click to expand) »

You can help your child develop good eating routines by having family meals. A family meal is when you all sit together and share the same food. The meal doesn’t have to be at a table, and it doesn’t have to be fancy.

Families that eat together, eat better! Eating together as a family can help your child:

  • Explore new foods.
  • Learn to like a variety of foods.
  • Learn to enjoy your time together.

Tips for family-friendly meals:

  • Make mealtimes pleasant and relaxed.
  • Make time for meals.
  • Include your child at the family table where they can see you eating and learn about foods and how to feed themselves.
  • Offer familiar foods along with new foods and give your child time to explore foods without any pressure to eat.

For more tips, check out the Family Meals page.

Offer a variety of foods (click to expand) »

Offer your child the same foods you serve the rest of the family and eat with them. Children under four years of age are still learning to chew and swallow effectively so you may need to cut up or prepare some foods differently to reduce their risk of choking. Check out Healthy Eating for Your Toddler Age 12-24 Months to learn how to reduce choking risk.

Use Canada’s Food Guide to plan meals and snacks for your family. Offer foods with a variety of tastes, textures, and colours, including:

Include foods with healthy fats at meals and snacks. Healthy fats help your child meet their energy and nutrient needs and are important for your child’s development.

Allow your child to experience a food’s natural flavour by preparing foods with little or no added:

  • Sodium
  • Sugar
  • Saturated fat

Offer your child water for thirst. They do not need sugary drinks such as:

  • 100% fruit juice
  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit drinks and punches
  • Sweetened milks
  • Sports drinks
  • Sweetened waters

For more information, check out Canada’s Food Guide’s Healthy Eating for Parents and Children page.

Trust your child’s appetite (click to expand) »

Let your child’s appetite be your guide to how much food to offer. Young children often have small appetites, so start with a small amount and offer more if they want it. Serving too much food at once can make your child feel like not eating at all.

Check out the Raising Your Child to Eat Well page for more information.

Be patient (click to expand) »

Many parents worry that their toddler is a picky eater, but what parents sometimes see as challenges are usually normal child behaviours. Most toddlers are more or less picky about food because all foods are new, and they are just beginning to learn about food and eating.

Be patient and let your child explore new foods. They need time and experience!

For more information, check out Raising Your Child to Eat Well.

Be food safe (click to expand) »

Children aged 5 and under are at a higher risk for food poisoning and related health complications. Check out Safe Food Handling for Children Ages 5 and Under to learn how to reduce your child’s risk of food poisoning.

While fish is an important source of nutrients for young children, some can have high levels of mercury. Limit fish that are high in mercury, including:

  • Tuna
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Escolar

Check out Mercury in Fish – Questions and Answers to learn more.

Toddler-specific information (12-24 months)

Although the foods you offer your toddler can be many of the same foods enjoyed by your family, there are some things that are specific to consider for children 12-24 months.

Iron (click to expand) »

Iron is an important nutrient to help your toddler grow and develop. From 12 to 24 months of age, offer iron-rich foods at each meal. Iron-rich foods include:

  • Meats, poultry, fish, and wild game
  • Eggs
  • Legumes such as beans
  • Tofu
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Iron-fortified infant cereals
  • Iron-fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereals

Milk (click to expand) »

If you’re breastfeeding your toddler, your breastmilk meets all their milk needs. Continue to give them a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU (10 µg) until they are 24 months old, or they stop breastfeeding completely.

If your toddler is not receiving breastmilk, offer 500 mL (2 cups) of whole milk (3.25% M.F.) every day to help meet their nutrient needs. Offer whole milk until your toddler is two years old because fat helps meet their energy needs for their development. You can switch to lower-fat milks once your child is two years old.

If your toddler drinks too much milk, they won’t have enough room for the other foods they need. Limit the amount of milk to no more than 750 mL (3 cups) a day.

If your toddler can’t have cow milk for medical, cultural or religious reasons, contact the 811 Dial-a-Dietitian to discuss options. Soy, rice, and other plant-based beverages are not appropriate alternatives for whole milk because they don’t have the same amounts of nutrients as whole milk.

Check out the following resources for more information about how and what to feed your young child:

Services related to this information:

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Last updated: 2024-01-19