Your Health

New guide offers healthy eating tips for toddlers

Photo of a toddler eating brocolli and carrots.
Photo of Diana Doyle-Zebrun. SUSAN WEHRLE
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, February 9, 2018

What you feed your child can have a dramatic impact on their health and well-being.

That’s true at any time, including when they are very young.

That’s because the first years of life are a time of rapid change in your child’s body. As they grow from infant to toddler, they require nutritious food to help fuel the development of strong bones and muscles – not to mention the brain.

But trying to figure out what and how much to feed your child is not easy. That’s why Healthy Child Manitoba has published a resource called Feeding Your Child from Age 1 to 5.

The guide – available in print and online – is the follow-up to an earlier guide, entitled Feeding Your Baby from Six Months to One Year. Both guides are designed to provide parents with the information they need to help ensure their child grows up healthy and strong. With that in mind, I’ve pulled together a few tips from the publication:

Three meals and up to three snacks: A toddler’s stomach is about the size of their fist, so it fills up quickly. This is why young children need three small meals and up to three good snacks every day. It is important that toddlers don’t fill up on calorie-dense beverages like juice or processed snack food, which would leave them less appetite for the nutritious foods needed for development.

The right fats are good for toddlers: Fat provides energy and essential fatty acids which are important for growth and brain development in children. “Low fat” and “light” products are not recommended. Regularly offer your child foods that naturally contain fat such as avocado, whole milk, cheese, eggs, nut butters, meat and fish. Use vegetable oils in cooking.

Stick with cow’s milk: Non-dairy beverages like almond, potato or rice beverages, and coconut milk are not included in the Milk and Alternatives group of Canada’s Food Guide because they contain very little protein. Children over the age of two years can be given non-dairy beverages that are fortified or enriched. Fortified non-dairy beverages can be a source of calcium and vitamin D.

No sippy cups: Drinking from a sippy cup or bottle after the age of 12 months can increase a child’s chance of getting tooth decay or having speech problems. Offer your child fluids in an open cup to help build muscles needed for talking and swallowing.

Dental health: Children need their baby teeth for speech, proper jaw development and to reserve space for their permanent teeth. Eating sticky, sweet foods and beverages, without proper teeth brushing can cause painful tooth decay.

Tuna awareness: Canned “light” tuna (Skipjack, Yellowfin, Tongol) is low in mercury and may be offered regularly. Canned “white” tuna (Albacore) contains larger amounts of mercury and needs to be limited to 75 g (one serving a week for children ages one to four years, and 150 g (two servings) a week for children ages five to 11. Fresh or frozen tuna should be eaten less often. Find out more at (search mercury in fish).

About iron: The iron from animal food sources is easily absorbed by the body while iron from plant-based sources is not. To increase the absorption of iron from plant-based foods, include a food rich in vitamin C such as broccoli, melon, pineapple, strawberries, oranges, peppers, or tomato with each meal or snack.

Picky eaters: Research shows “picky” eating behaviour will end on its own as long as there is no pressure, no bribes and not too many rules about eating. Remember, it is common for toddlers to object to eating new foods, or even foods they have eaten before and liked. It can take more than 12 exposures to food before they even try it.

Be safe: Young children are more likely to choke on small, round, hard foods with slippery surfaces. For children under the age of four, examples of foods to avoid are hard candies, marshmallows, nuts, popcorn, whole grapes, ice cubes and dime-sized crackers.

These are just a few of the helpful tips you will find in the guide. To download, visit You can also download a copy of Feeding Your Baby From Age Six Months to 1 Year at

And remember, if you have any questions, you can always call Dial-a-Dietitian at 204-788-8248 or toll-free at 1-877-830-2892.

Susan Wehrle is a home economist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, January 5, 2018.

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