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Good Nutrition is essential for healthy living at all stages of life.
Infants (6-12 Months)
Parents and caregivers are instrumental in getting children off to a healthy start in life by providing a variety of nutritious foods and by role modeling health behaviours.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life will provide the only food your baby needs to grow and be healthy. At 6 months of age, your baby will be ready to start solid foods. Breastmilk will continue to be the most important food while baby learns to eat and can be continued until your child is two years and beyond. Start solid foods that are nutritious, especially foods that are high in iron.
What are the signs that my baby is ready to start solid foods?
Signs your baby is ready for solids:
- is 6 months old (give or take a few weeks)
- holds their head up
- sits up in a high chair
- opens their mouth wide when you offer food on a spoon
- turns their face away if they don't want food
- closes their lips over the spoon
- keeps food in their mouth and swallows it instead of pushing it out
- shows an interest in eating
What foods should I introduce first to my baby?
Extra iron is needed at 6 months so baby's first foods should be iron-rich such as well cooked meat or meat alternatives and iron-fortified infant cereals. Examples include:
- legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
- rice, oats, barley or wheat iron-fortified infant cereal
After introducing iron-rich foods, foods such as vegetables, fruits, grain products and milk products like yogurt and cheese can be introduced in any order. Homogenized cow's milk can be offered from 9-12 months. Offer a variety of foods, colours and textures to support healthy growth and development.
How should I introduce solid foods?
Starting solid foods is a learning experience for both you and your baby. Your baby will use all their senses by seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting the foods you prepare. Start slowly and gradually add more. Offer a variety of textures such as pureed, mashed, finely chopped and lumpy foods as well as finger foods like soft cooked fruits and vegetables. Offering different textures is important to help your baby learn to chew.
Here are some tips for feeding your baby:
- Seat baby upright and securely in a high chair.
- Start with small amounts (1 tsp/5 mL) on a small spoon and wait until baby opens their mouth before you put the spoon in.
- Allow baby to explore foods with their fingers and relax about the mess. Let baby try and feed themselves when they reach for the food.
- Avoid distractions like TV, toys and phone calls. This will help you and your baby focus on eating and help prevent choking.
- Include baby at family mealtimes which is a time to role model healthy eating behaviours. Mealtimes are more than just about eating. They are a time to get together with family, build strong relationships and create lifelong memories.
How much should my baby eat?
Baby’s job is to decide how much to eat and whether to eat. Your job is to decide what your baby is given to eat as well as when and where baby will be offered solid foods. This division of responsibility in feeding is essential for a positive and successful feeding experience for both you and your baby. Being responsive to baby’s hunger and fullness cues can help avoid over or under feeding.
Let baby decide how much they want to eat. Baby will open their mouth when they are hungry and will shut their mouth and turn their head away or push food away when they are full. Never force your baby to eat.
A good starting point is to offer iron-rich foods twice a day. Gradually increase the amount of food offered as well as the number of times a day that you offer solid food based on your baby’s hunger cues. Work towards providing a regular schedule of family meals and snacks based on Canada’s Food Guide.
If baby refuses to eat a certain food, try offering it again at another time. It may take 10-15 exposures to a new food before baby likes it.
As long as you offer food in a safe and responsive way by watching for your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness, your baby will be on their way to becoming a good eater. Trust that your baby knows how much they need to eat and drink and let your baby be your guide.
Always supervise your baby when they are eating. Babies can choke easily when they are learning to eat. Some foods can pose more of a choking hazard than others. This would include foods that are hard, small and round like nuts, popcorn, whole grapes, hard vegetables and wieners as well as sticky foods like peanut butter. Some foods can be made safer by preparing them in different ways such as cutting grapes lengthwise or spreading peanut butter thinly.
Honey is the only food that should not be offered to baby before 12 months of age. Honey may cause infant botulism.
Your baby does not need juice. Fruit is more nutritious. Baby will get enough fluid from breastmilk, whole cow’s milk (after 9-12 months of age) or water. If you decide to give your baby juice, do not give more than ½ cup (125 mL) of 100% pure, pasteurized fruit juice a day in an open cup.
You can offer new foods each day to your baby except for the commonly allergenic foods. When introducing these foods, offer only one at a time and wait two days before introducing another food. This will allow you to identify any potential allergic reactions which would likely occur within 48 hours. There is no need to delay the introduction of any foods to baby even if there is a family history of allergies, provided it is in an appropriate texture that baby can swallow.
The common food allergens include:
- tree nuts
For more information:
Feeding Your Baby From Six Months to One Year - Best Start provides detailed information on what to feed your baby, sample menu plans, how to make your own baby food, food safety etc.
Toddler & Preschooler (1-5 Years)
Good nutrition is important for toddlers and preschoolers to grow and develop properly. Feeding your child can be both rewarding and challenging and it is important to remember that you are a powerful role model. Children learn many important things about nutrition and healthy eating during their early years of life. Recognize that parents and children have different roles in feeding can be very helpful and will help your child develop a healthy relationship with food.
Your Job and Your Child's Job in Feeding
The development of healthy eating habits in the responsibility of both you and your child. It's your job to offer a variety of nutritious foods at scheduled times. It is your child's job to decide how much they will eat and even whether or not they will eat any of the food choices you offer.
Your job is to decide:
- What food and drinks are offered
- When food is served
- Where food is served
Your child's job is to decide:
- Which foods they will eat, if at all
- How much they will eat
Healthy Eating for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Canada's Food Guide provides nutrition guidance for anyone over 2 years of age but also can be used as a reference for 1 year olds.
- Encourage a variety of healthy foods and offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks at regular times throughout the day. Toddlers and preschoolers have small stomachs so offer smaller portions and let your child ask for more if they are still hungry.
- Let your child decide if and how much to eat from the food you offer. Your child's appetite can vary depending on growth spurts, activity level, whether they are tired or sick and where they are eating such as at home or in childcare. Trust that your child knows when they are hungry and full. Relax if your child doesn't eat much at a meal and never pressure or bribe them to eat.
For smart snack ideas, meal planning and healthy eating tips for your toddler and preschooler go to UnlockFood website.
Tips for Happy, Healthy Mealtimes
- Eat together as a family as much as possible. This helps to teach your child healthy eating habits, table manners and how to use utensils. It also provides opportunity to role model healthy eating.
- Keep mealtimes pleasant and relaxed. Avoid distractions such as the phone, TV, computer and toys at the table. This helps you and your child to focus on eating.
- Don't make separate meals for your child. Offer foods that the rest of the family is eating to expose your child to a variety of foods. If your child refuses a food, don't assume they will never eat it. It can take many tastes before they may accept it. Always serve one food that you know your child will eat so they won't go hungry.
- Grow, pick, cook and shop for food together. Your child will be more open to trying new food.
- Don't let your child "graze" or eat throughout the day. Stick to regular meals and snacks and only offer water in between to avoid spoiling their appetite. Only offer milk or juice at meals or snacks. Toddlers and preschoolers need 2 cups (500 mL) of milk a day and should have no more than 3 cups (750 mL) in a day. If you give juice, limit the amount to 1/2 cup (125 mL) a day. Drinking too much milk or juice can affect their appetite for other foods.
Use NutriSTEP® to see how your child is doing with their eating
What is NutriSTEP®?
NutriSTEP® is a nutrition-risk screening tool for preschoolers (aged 3-5) and toddlers (aged 18-35 months). There are 17 questions for parents or caregivers to answer about their child's eating habits, growth, where they eat and physical activity level. After filling out the questionnaire, parents are provided with nutrition information, resources and referrals based on the needs to their children.
Why do the NutriSTEP® screening?
Good nutrition is very important for a child's growth, development and learning. Poor nutrition can lead to:
- Growth problems such as failure to thrive and obesity
- Anemia (low blood iron)
- Poor eating habits that become lifelong
- Lack of readiness for school and an inability to learn
The NutriSTEP® screening tool is one of the first steps to improve nutrition and can help parents identify potential problems so they can get help from their primary health care provider and a registered dietitian.
How can I access NutriSTEP®?
- Online questionnaire and resources Nutri-eSTEP®
- Visit Algoma Public Health Parent Child Information Centre. You can complete the questionnaire, receive the resources and speak with a public health nurse about the results.
- Call the Parent Child Information Line 705-541-7101 and ask for the questionnaire to be mailed to you.
The toddler and preschooler NutriSTEP® screening tools and education resources are available in a variety of languages.
For more information for the whole family:
School-Aged Children & Youth
Life's busy schedule can sometimes take away from meals shared together as a family. There are significant nutritional and non-nutritional benefits for children and youth who eat together with their families.
- Improved, nutrient intake; better food.
- Decreased risk for overweight and obesity.
- Protection against eating disorders in youth.
- Improved vocabulary in preschool children.
- Increased motivation and participation in school.
- Improved school performance.
- Decreased risk for substance abuse.
- Improved social adjustment (e.g., fewer fights, decreased early sexual activity).
- Improved support, boundaries and expectations within the family.
- Improved view of children's personal future.
"But I have no time to cook!"
- Make 'planned extras' (e.g., cook extra chicken at dinner to use the next night).
- Prepare food in big batches (e.g., chili or soup) and freeze in smaller portions.
- Use healthy convenience foods to your advantage (e.g., try a washed and ready-to-eat salad or slaw with a rotisserie chicken or whole wheat dinner rolls).
- Include all family members in meal preparation (e.g., chopping vegetables, mixing ingredients, setting the table, filling glasses, cleaning dishes, filling the dishwasher).
Children are born with a natural ability to eat as much as they need, grow in a way that is right for them and learn to eat what their parents eat. As they grow up, they build on their natural ability to become competent eaters. When parents follow Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility, they let children learn and grow with eating.
The parent is responsible for what children eat, when they eat and where they eat. The child is responsible for how much they eat and whether they eat.
Remember that picky eating is normal. It is your reaction to picky eating that is most important. Take the pressure off mealtimes and avoid rewards, tricks, praise and punishments. Children want to be independent and often don't eat well when they feel pressured. Children know when they are hungry and when they are full. Allow them to listen to their hunger cues and let them decide if and how much they will eat from the food offered. As a parent or caregiver, your roles is to offer healthy foods at regular meal and snack times.
Our Freggie™ mascot has come to Algoma to further promote healthy eating habits and generate excitement about vegetables and fruit. You will likely see Freggie™ throughout Algoma at various community events and schools.
Visit Freggie Tales™ foran interactive website for kids, as well as lots of great information for parents and teachers.
Algoma Public Health has also created a fun theme song for Freggie™:
Positive Role Modeling
Many of us are not happy with our bodies, and today's weight obsessed world can make it hard to have a positive body image. Poor body image among children and teens is a serious problem with potential life threatening consequences.
Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes. Many factors influence weight and shape including genetics and environmental factors. Focus less on weight and more on helping children and teens value healthy eating, enjoy being active and accept and feel good about themselves by promoting and role modeling these positive health messages yourself. You may notice some healthy changes in your own body image as well.
Cooking with Children and Teens
Learning to tie your shoes is an important life skill. We think cooking is too... don't you? Children and teens who are involved in food preparation are more likely to try new foods, eat better (including more of those important veggies and fruit) and are more confident in the kitchen, now and in the future.
A child spends most of their time at school, which is why it is important to fuel their days with healthy food choices. Studies show that well-nourished children are able to concentrate longer and perform better at school. The foods within Canada's Food Guide are packed with all of the nutrients children need to grow and learn. Sometimes creating nutritious, yet tasty snacks can be challenging. However, with a little bit of planning and a few new ideas, packing healthy lunches and snacks can be easy, and tasty.
Balanced School Day
Some elementary schools follow a Balanced Day schedule, which provides students with three 100-minute instructional blocks, separated by two 45 minute physical activity and nutrition breaks, This schedule allows students longer periods to eat and engage in physical activity, larger blocks of time for teaching and learning, and fewer interruptions. Children on the Balanced Day schedule need the same amount of food during the day as other children do. It is only the timing of when the food is eaten that is different.
Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program (NFVP)
The Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program provides all elementary students within the district of Algoma free servings of vegetables and fruit two times a week from January to June. The program aims to increase the amount of vegetables and fruit eaten by elementary school-aged children as well as promote Ontario-grown produce and provide education about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for overall health.
Leaving for university or college is an exciting time filled with new experiences and opportunities. Living away from home can be an exciting change for students, but it also means they are not in charge of making their own food choices. Whether preparing meals for themselves or dining in the cafeteria, eating well while away at school will help students improve concentration, manage stress better, stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.
For more nutrition information for the whole family:
Date of Creation: June 1, 2015
Last Modified: June 12, 2019