Canada’s food guide

Healthy eating for parents and children

Learn why healthy eating is important for children.

Why healthy eating matters

Childhood and adolescence is a time of growth, development and learning. As a parent, you play an important role in:

  • developing your family’s food skills
  • creating a healthy food environment
  • supporting your child’s interest in healthy food
  • shaping your child’s eating habits and behaviours

How you choose and prepare your food will shape your family’s attitude, skills and eating behaviours.

As children grow, their peers may become more of an influence. Children, however, still look to their parents and other adults around them for guidance.

Healthy eating habits for your family

You can help your children develop healthy eating habits by using these ideas.

Eat together

Follow the healthy eating recommendation to help you eat together.

Try to have meals together as a family as often as possible.

Getting everyone together for mealtime can be a challenge. There are many reasons why everyone might not be able to come together at mealtimes. This could include conflicting work schedules or after school activities. Even if some family members are not available, there are still benefits to eating with those who are.

Make time for healthy eating so that you and your kids are not rushed.

Enjoy “family-style” meals. In family-style meals, food is put into larger bowls or serving dishes on the table. Family members then serve themselves based on their:

  • hunger cues
  • food preferences

This style of meal allows everyone:

  • to be involved
  • see everything that has been prepared
  • select what and how much they want; this may encourage kids to try new foods that they otherwise would have pushed aside

Make healthy foods the routine

Offer your kids healthy meals and snacks at regular times throughout the day. This is important to help them get enough nutrients and energy to help them grow and develop. Have a conversation about all of the components that go into a healthy meal.

Every day, offer a variety of:

  • vegetables and fruit, including:
    • dark green vegetables such as kale and bok choy each day
    • orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potato most days
  • whole grain foods, such as:
    • oats
    • wild rice
    • whole wheat pasta
  • protein foods such as:
    • eggs
    • nuts and seeds
    • fish and shellfish
    • beans, peas, and lentils
    • lean red meats, including wild game
    • lower fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt
    • fortified soy beverages, tofu, soybeans and other soy products

Offering a variety of healthy foods is the best way to help your children get the nutrients they need. Since vitamin D is found in very few foods, eat foods containing vitamin D or take a supplement with 400 IU (10 µg) of vitamin D every day.

Make healthy drink choices

Offer water.

Healthy drink options other than water can include:

  • white milk (unsweetened lower fat milk)
  • unsweetened fortified plant-based beverages

Make a healthy choice

Think about the kind of food you buy and have in your home. What you have in your home is what you and your kids will eat.

Limit the amount of highly processed foods you offer.

Prepare meals and snacks with little to no added:

  • sodium
  • sugars
  • saturated fat

Try these healthy swaps:

  • Offer water, unsweetened lower fat milk or unsweetened fortified plant-based beverages instead of juice
  • Serve unsweetened whole grain cereals instead of sugary breakfast cereals
    • Add fruit to whole grain cereals for additional flavour
  • Include healthy snacks, such as yogurt and fruit, or hummus and vegetable sticks instead of highly processed sweetened granola bars

Make mealtime the focus

Focus on spending time together.

Try not to focus on how much your kids are eating. Let your kids decide how much they eat.

Put away toys and screens during mealtime. Without these distractions, you and your family can enjoy eating and talking with each other. Ask each family member about their day.

You can also use food as a conversation starter. You can talk about:

  • how food is grown
  • how foods can impact your overall health
  • the role food plays in culture and food traditions

Lead by example

Prepare and eat healthy foods with your kids to set a good example.

Enjoy a variety of healthy foods. Kids are more likely to make healthy eating choices if you do.

Get them involved and share the tasks

Teach your kids about making healthy food choices.

Plan out your meals and snacks with your kids to have the healthy foods they like in the home.

Get your kids cooking. Support them, regardless of age, by helping them with simple food-related tasks.

Parents of young children

Young children can have small appetites, which can sometimes make mealtime a challenge. Try to:

  • encourage a variety of healthy foods
  • offer small meals and snacks at regular times throughout the day
    • include foods with healthy fats at most meals and snacks to help them get enough energy and fat
  • let your children decide how much food they want to eat; it’s normal for kids to eat more at some meals and less at others depending on things like:
    • activity level
    • growth spurts
    • emotions like excitement or sadness

Picky eating

Picky eating can be a challenge for parents in establishing healthy eating habits in young children. Some children hesitate to try new foods. Children are more likely to accept a new food the more often they are exposed to it. An unfamiliar food can be offered again later if it is rejected the first time.

You can help overcome picky eating by:

  • making routines
  • offering foods more than once
  • planning your meals and snacks
  • involving your kids in meal preparation