Skip to main content

Eating & nutrition

Eating is a great way for toddlers to develop new skills and learn more about the world. They start to take a more active role in family meals. 

One of the most important things you can do is learn to trust your toddler to decide how much and whether or not to eat what you provide. When you do your job with feeding, they will do their job with eating. Let your children grow up to get the bodies that are right for them.

  • You decide what, where and when the food is served. Your child decides if they are going to eat and how much.

  • Continue to offer a variety of foods from the categories in Canada's Food Guide.

  • Create a meal time routine with three meals and two to three snacks each day.

  • Do not let your toddler have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.

  • Expect a mess! Toddlers are learning how to eat and explore the world with all of their senses.

  • Set limits. Your child may start to ask for unhealthy choices like pop or candy. It is your job to say "no".

  • When letting your toddler feed themselves, make sure it's safe for them. Your toddler is still learning how to eat.

Your toddler will start showing some eating behaviour that may be challenging. Keep in mind that it's normal. Your toddler may:

  • Eat a lot one day and not much the next.

  • Refuse to eat a food that they have always eaten before.

  • Want to eat the same food every day for a week.

  • Be easily distracted and taking a long time to finish eating.

  • Play with their food.

You can help make meal time successful.

  • Let your toddler feed themselves. Let them try using a fork or spoon.

  • Never let your toddler eat while running around. If they sit while they eat, it will help prevent choking.

  • Never force your child to eat.

  • Make meal times fun!

  • Be a good role model. Eating healthy foods yourself will make your toddler more likely to want to eat them too.

  • Have set meal and snack times; don't offer food on demand.

Learn more about feeding your toddler.

When making food for your child, practice safe food handling and keep in mind that your child is still learning how to eat. 

  • Cut up finger foods that could be a choking hazard 

  • Avoid big globs of gooey foods like peanut butter and melted cheese

For information on safe food handling to prevent food poisoning, visit the food safety at home webpage.

Use Canada's Food Guide to decide what food to prepare for meals and snacks.

  • It recommends including plenty of vegetables and fruit, eating good protein foods (including choosing plant-based proteins more often) and making water your drink of choice.

  • Each meal should include about:

    • Half of your plate filled with vegetables and fruits

    • ¼ of your plate with a healthy protein (such as legumes, lean meats)

    • ¼ of your plate with whole grain foods (such as whole grain pasta, quinoa, whole grain or brown rice)

  • Snacks can be a combination of at least two different food categories

  • Prepare foods using as little added salt and sugar as possible

Looking for ideas?

Introducing cups

As drinks other than breastmilk are introduced to your toddler, they can be offered in an open cup. At first, you might have to help them with learning how to use an open cup. Sippy cups are not recommended because your toddler needs to suck to drink and doesn’t learn the right drinking skills.

Milk

Breast milk and/or cow milk is an important part of your child’s diet. You can continue breastfeeding, you can switch to cow’s milk, or you can combine the two.

  • You can breastfeed your child until they are 2 years old, or older.

  • The kind of milk you give can be breast milk, whole milk (3.25% M.F.), or a mix of both.

  • If you are using evaporated or powered milk, choose a full fat type and that it is properly diluted or reconstituted.

  • If you’re using cow milk, offer 2 cups (500 mL) but not more than 3 cups (750ml) per day.

  • If your child is breastfed or not drinking 500 mL of milk give 400 IU Vitamin D each day.

  • If your family drinks lower fat milks (e.g., 2%, 1%, skim milk), you can switch to them after two years old.

  • Soy “milk” and other “milk” drinks do not have enough fat or protein to meet a toddler’s needs. These “milks” include rice, almond, coconut, and potato. A soy-based commercial infant formula is recommended for children who are no longer breast feeding or not being introduced to cow milk.

Juice

Your toddler doesn’t need juice to be healthy. Juice has a lot of sugar and you can avoid it entirely. Offer water between meals and snacks. If you do decide to give juice:

  • Give juice with no added sugar

  • Offer it in an open cup as part of a meal or snack

  • Limit it to no more than 125 ml (½ cup) per day

  • Use a small amount of juice and add a larger amount of water before handing it to your child

Benefits of drinking from a cup

By the time your baby is 18 months old, you should be getting rid of the baby bottle and only letting them drink from a cup. Sometimes that transition can be a struggle, but giving up the bottle means that your child:

  • Is at lower risk of tooth decay in their baby teeth and their adult teeth

  • Is more likely to be a healthy weight

  • Is more likely to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals

  • Is at lower risk of anemia or iron deficiency

Saying bye-bye baby bottle

Here are some tips to make the transition from bottle to cup easier:

  • Give your toddler a cup to drink from at every meal and snack.

  • Give your toddler enough to eat; don’t let them turn to the bottle because they’re hungry.

  • Let your toddler make decisions that involve using a cup. For example, do they want milk or water in the cup? Do they want to use the blue cup or red cup?

  • Set boundaries around using the bottle. Don’t let your child take it to bed, or use it while they play.

Some kids will eat all of the different kinds of foods that are placed in front of them. Others will only want certain things. A little bit of picky eating is a normal part of development and is a healthy way to for a child to practice being independent, but there are ways to encourage your child to eat a variety of healthy foods. Read Preventing picky eating in toddlers - Healthy Families BC. 

  • Give your child an opportunity to “play” with the food. Toddlers need to see, touch and smell food, not just taste it.

  • Let your child eat at his or her own pace. Don’t put pressure on them to eat things that they don’t want to eat.

  • Eat healthy food yourself. Never underestimate how powerful it is to be a good role model.

  • Offer new foods with your toddler’s favourite foods.

  • Let your child help prepare the food they eat.

  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes up to 30 times of seeing a new food placed in front of them before a child will eat it.

Don’t hide healthy food

You may be tempted to hide healthy food inside the food that your toddler likes. People may tell you to be sneaky and hide pureed vegetables inside muffins, for example. However, this can backfire and harm the trust you’ve built with your child. Instead, it’s better to openly add healthy ingredients in fun ways. Read Picky eating: A not-so sneaky tip that works - Healthy Families BC

Additional resources for feeding

If you are looking for additional support or information around feeding and/or nutrition information, you can:

Dietitian coverage may be available using your extended health care benefits. 

Commonly asked questions

Your toddler is showing you that she’s ready for different kinds of food. She wants to try a bigger variety of textures and flavours. Try using a fork to mush up some of the food on your plate and sharing it with her. You can also give her finger foods to try.

Don’t worry. Toddlers grow more slowly after the first year and that means sometimes they start eating less food. They may also have days where they don’t want to eat much, even though they usually eat well. This is normal. But if you think there’s a problem, some questions to ask yourself are:

  • What does your toddler get to drink and how much? If they fill up their stomach with milk and/or juice, that might not leave much room for food.

  • What’s been going on? Is your toddler sick, tired or excited?

If you feel like your child needs to eat more to be healthy, you can try these tips and/or call HealthLinkBC at 8-1-1 and ask to speak to a dietitian.



SOURCE: Eating & nutrition ( )
Page printed:

Copyright © Vancouver Coastal Health. All Rights Reserved.