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Feeding Babies and Young Children

A positive relationship with food starts early in life with healthy eating habits. How you approach feeding and mealtimes is just as important as what you offer. Read on for feeding tips that will support your child’s nutrition, feeding skill development and an overall healthy relationship with food.

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Feeding Tips

Feeding Your Baby (Birth to Six Months)

  • For the first six months, the only food or drink your baby needs is breastmilk. Breastfeeding is recommended for two years or beyond, or as long as you and baby wish to continue
  • If your baby is not breastfeeding or receiving expressed breastmilk,  offer infant formula. For instructions on safe preparation of infant formula, see our factsheet or watch our video
  • If bottles are used, bottle feed safely and hold your baby for every feed; do not prop the bottle
  • Always follow your babies signs of hunger and fullness to know when and how much to offer them
  • For more information on breastfeeding your newborn and growing child, visit the breastfeeding page

Vitamin D

  • Your baby needs vitamin D to develop strong bones
  • All babies need extra vitamin D starting at birth because they are not exposed to direct sunlight
  • Offer your breastfed baby 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D3
  • If you are offering a combination of breastmilk and commercial infant formula, offer your baby 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D3
  • If you are exclusively offering commercial infant formula, extra vitamin D is not needed because it is already added to the infant formula
  • Talk to your child’s health care provider if you have questions about vitamin D supplementation

Iron

  • Babies need iron  for growth and development
  • Healthy, full-term babies have enough iron stored in their bodies for approximately six months
  • Breastmilk contains adequate amounts of iron that is well absorbed. If you are not breastfeeding, infant formula has added iron
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Feeding Your Older Baby (Six to 12 Months)

When to introduce solid foods

  • Your baby does not need solid foods until about six months of age
  • Wait until you see the following signs of readiness before offering solid foods. Signs of readiness include:
    • Baby holds his or her head up
    • Baby can sit up and lean forward
    • Baby lets you know when he or she is full
    • Baby tries to pick food up and put it in his or her mouth

Before you get started

  • Wash your hands and clean food preparation surfaces before making food for your baby
  • Seat your baby in an upright position (not reclined) in a highchair or secured booster using a safety harness. If they cannot sit upright and they are less than six months old, they may not be ready for solid foods
  • Keep distractions like toys, TV or other screen devices away when feeding your baby

First foods

  • Healthy, full-term babies have enough iron stored in their bodies for about the first six months
  • The first foods you offer your baby need to be iron-rich foods, such as:
    • Beef
    • Chicken and dark meat turkey
    • Legumes (beans, lentils)
    • Lamb
    • Pork
    • Eggs
    • Iron-fortified tofu
    • Iron-fortified baby cereal (rice, barley, oat, wheat)

Other foods

  • After you have introduced iron-rich foods and are offering them twice a day, the order of introducing other foods does not matter
  • Offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, grain products, meat, meat alternatives (beans, lentils, chickpeas) and milk products (yogurt, cheese). Do not offer homogenized (3.25% M.F.) cow’s milk under nine months of age as their main milk
  • As long as the texture is safe, you can offer most of the food you eat (see texture below for more detail)
  • Serve vegetables and fruits at every meal so these foods become typical foods to eat. They also are a source of vitamin C, which helps your baby’s body absorb iron
  • You can offer new foods every day (see food allergies below for exceptions)
  • Avoid honey (even pasteurized or cooked) until 12 months of age to lower the risk of botulism
  • You can add herbs and spices but limit added sugar and salt
  • If your child is on a vegan or vegetarian diet, careful meal planning is advised

Food allergies

  • Once your baby is six months, you can introduce common food allergens including:
    • Eggs (both egg white and yolk)
    • Milk
    • Peanuts
    • Tree nuts
    • Fish (choose ones that are low mercury)
    • Shellfish
    • Sesame
    • Soy
    • Wheat
  • For these common food allergens, wait two days between offering another common food allergen since reactions most likely occur within the first 48 hours of eating a food
  • Once you have offered a common food allergen, continue to offer it on a regular basis to help maintain tolerance
  • If your baby has an allergic reaction to a food, stop offering that food immediately and make an appointment with your baby’s health care provider. If your baby has difficulty breathing or has another severe reaction such as swelling of the tongue or throat, call 9-1-1

Texture

  • Your baby can enjoy a variety of textures beginning right at six months. This includes soft, lumpy, tender-cooked mashed, ground, minced and diced pieces of food
    Cooked carrots prepared in a variety of textures
    Cooked carrots prepared in a variety of textures
  • Offer more than just purees. Learning to chew and self-feed are important developmental skills that take lots of practice
  • Allow your baby’s feeding skill level to guide you on what textures to offer
  • When possible, adjust the texture of what you are eating so you and your baby can enjoy eating the same foods together
  • Your baby may want to feed themselves with their fingers or hold a small spoon or round-pronged fork. It may be messy however the more they practice, the better they get
  • New textures may cause your baby to gag. This is a normal response and is your baby’s way to stop them from choking. However there are some foods that are choking hazards
  • Avoid foods that are choking hazards. This includes foods that are:
    • Hard, small and round such as whole grapes, raw carrots, apples, nuts, fruit with pits or hot dogs
    • Sticky foods from a spoon such as peanut butter
    • Some of these foods can be made safer by grating or cutting them
    • If you are concerned your baby is choking, call 9-1-1

When and how much to offer

  • Follow your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness to know when and how much to offer. Trust that your baby knows how much they need to eat and drink
  • Responding to your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness will help your baby have a healthy relationship with food
  • Your baby may be hungry if they:
    • Are excited when placed into their highchair
    • Smack their lips
    • Open their mouth or place their fist into their mouth
    • Lean forward or reach out for food
  • Your baby may be full if they:
    • Turn away from the food
    • Close their mouth at food
    • Cover their mouth with their hands
    • Spit food out
  • Work towards offering solid foods about three to four times per day. Once they are about nine months, offer solid foods about four to five times per day
  • Solid foods can be offered before, after or between milk feedings
  • There may be times that you baby is not interested in eating solid foods. That’s ok. Try again later
  • Try a sample meal plan

Beverages

  • For most of your baby’s first year, breastmilk will remain the main source of nutrition. Even after solid foods are introduced at six months, breastfeeding is recommended to continue for two years or beyond, or as long as you and baby wish to continue 
  • If your baby is not breastfeeding or receiving expressed breastmilk, offer infant formula and prepare it safely
  • If bottles are used, bottle feed safely and hold your baby for every feed; do not prop the bottle
  • 3.25% milk-fat (homogenized) cow’s milk can be their main milk source as early as nine months if your baby is eating a variety of foods, including iron-rich foods (beef, egg, beans, lentils, iron-fortified tofu) daily
  • Teach your baby how to drink from an open cup by offering water when your baby is eating or between feeds. Tap water is safe to drink
  • Avoid offering juice. There is no nutritional need for juice and it can increase the risk of dental decay
  • Avoid all other beverages

Making food for baby at home

  • Food prepared at home gives you more control over the ingredients and texture
  • You do not need special food or equipment to make food at home. Babies can eat the same food as the rest of the family. Watch our Making food for your baby video for more tips
  • If you purchase baby food from a store, avoid ones that have added salt and sugar
  • There is no need for special baby products like squeeze pouches, rice rusks or food puffs. These limit your baby’s exposure to textures and the important skill of learning to chew

Vitamin D

  • Your baby needs vitamin D to develop strong bones
  • All babies need extra vitamin D because they are not exposed to direct sunlight
  • Offer your breastfed baby 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D3
  • If you are offering a combination of breastmilk and commercial infant formula, offer your baby 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D3
  • If you exclusively offering commercial infant formula, extra vitamin D is not needed because it is already added to the infant formula
  • Talk to your child’s health care provider if you have questions about vitamin D supplementation

Other tips

  • Be a good role model. Your baby learns eating habits from parents and other family members
  • Rather than feeding your baby first, eat together and enjoy the same foods
  • It may take time for your baby to learn about new foods. Be patient and offer new foods with no pressure. Babies learn about food using all of their senses. Touching and smelling food is part of the learning process
  • When you begin solid foods, you will notice your baby’s bowel movements change texture, colour and odour. This is normal and not a sign of constipation
  • Take care of your baby’s gums and teeth by cleaning their gums, inside their cheeks and the roof of their mouth with a clean, soft damp cloth every day. Once teeth appear, brush them gently, at least twice a day, using a small, soft toothbrush and water
  • Bring your baby to the dentist by their first birthday
  • Talk to your baby’s health care provider if you have questions about their growth
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Feeding Your Toddler and Preschooler (One to Five Years)

Both you and your child each have a role in feeding. It is important to let your young child lead the way in feeding.

It is up to you to decide:

  • What foods to offer
  • When to feed your child
  • Where to feed your child

Trust your child to decide:

  • Which foods to eat (of the foods you offer)
  • How much to eat

By trusting your child, you will encourage them to be a healthy eater. Learn more about common feeding challenges and solutions that will help you and your children enjoy mealtime.

Foods and beverages to offer

Parents decide what food comes into the home and what is served to the family. Follow these tips when choosing your child’s food:

  • Wash your hands and clean any food preparation surfaces before making food for your child
  • Offer the same foods to all family members. You don’t need to make a separate meal for your child
  • You may need to cut, chop or grate some foods to make them safer make them safer for young children
  • Let your child feed themselves, and offer a variety of textures
  • Continue to offer iron-rich foods two to three times each day. Foods that are good sources of iron include beef, dark meat chicken, legumes, eggs, iron fortified tofu, lamb and pork 
  • Offer foods from three to four food groups for meals
  • Offer foods from at least two food groups for snacks
  • Offer fish that is lower in mercury
  • Breastmilk can continue to be an important source of nourishment into toddlerhood. Continuing to breastfeed or offer breastmilk for up to two years and beyond or for as long as mom and child would like
  • For breastfed children less than two years of age, a daily supplement of 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D3 is recommended
  • Children aged 12 months and up need 2 cups (500 mL) of milk each day if they are no longer breastfeeding
  • Offering beverages in an open cup helps with your child’s development and can prevent them from drinking too much milk and juice. Try offering an open cup at every meal or snack
  • If your child is on a vegan or vegetarian diet, careful meal planning is advised

For more information about a variety of healthy food to offer your child, read I am a healthy eater fact sheet. For information on how to keep your child safe at meal times check out the choking prevention fact sheet.

Looking for meal and snack inspirations? Review the Sample Four-Week Menu for a preschool-aged child.

Set a meal and snack routine

Meal and snack routines are important for young children. Follow these tips when deciding when to feed your child:

  • Offer three meals and two to three snacks per day
  • Schedule meals and snacks two and a half to three hours apart. This will ensure your child is hungry but not starved when arriving at the table
  • Offer water if your child is thirsty between meals and snacks

Enjoy family meals

The best and safest place to feed your child is at the family table. Offer meals and snacks when your child is comfortably seated and supervised. Make eating a social and enjoyable time.

  • Children who eat meals with their family on a regular basis are more likely to eat more vegetables and fruits and have better nutrient intakes
  • Serve meals and snacks family style. This means food is offered in larger serving dishes at the table and passed around as everyone eats together
  • Family style meals and snacks allow everyone at the table to take as much or a little as they want. Little hands may need some help at first passing dishes
  • Family style meals help children use their motor skills and table manners
  • Consider, but don’t cater to your child. New food can be scary for young children. Serve new foods along with familiar foods
  • Children learn to like foods if they see their family eating and enjoying it
  • Keep mealtimes pleasant by not commenting on what or how much people at the table are eating. Try our 101 questions to ask your kids at mealtimes to keep the conversation positive at the table
  • Keep mealtimes free of toys, TV, tablets, phones or other electronics

NOTE: If dinner time doesn't work for your family, get together for breakfast or lunch instead.

For more information on cooking at home with fresh ingredients visit the Let’s Cook page.

Trust your child to decide which foods to eat

Trust your child to decide which foods to eat of the food you offer. Children will explore and learn to eat new foods. Letting your child take control of their eating will support their development of healthy self-esteem and mental health.

  • Once you get the meal or snack to the table, let your child choose what and how much to eat from what you have prepared
  • Be patient, you may need to offer the new food more than 10 times before your child will learn to like it
  • Allow your child to say “no thank you” or “more please”
  • Bring your child to the grocery store and shop together
  • Let your child help to prepare the food. Children who helped prepare a meal are more likely to eat it
  • Even two and three year olds can help with preparing simple recipes. Learn about kitchen skills for every age
  • Read storybooks about food to your child

Read the following brochures for more information about what to do when your child does not eat meat or does not eat vegetables and for tips on how to help your child become a good eater.

Trust your child to decide how much to eat

When children are hungry, they focus on eating. When children are full, their attention turns elsewhere. Let your child eat until they are full. Your child might eat a lot or a little. This is normal. Children are born with the ability to know how much food to eat for their own growth.

Don’t pressure or reward your child to eat more:

  • When parents push their child to eat certain foods, children will like those foods less
  • A child may develop negative feelings about food and eating when rewarded or pressured at the table
  • A child may lose touch with their own internal signals of hunger and fullness

Young children are unpredictable eaters. This is normal. Your child’s appetite can change depending on:

  • Their activity level
  • Whether they are excited or tired
  • If they not feeling well

Trust your child at the table:

  • Let your child decide whether they will eat or not and how much they will eat
  • Leave food in front of a child for a reasonable time (about 15 to 20 minutes with a maximum of 30 minutes) and then remove it without comment

Avoid:

  • Reminding to eat more
  • Offering rewards or bribes for eating
  • Making special foods to tempt children
  • Making children try “one bite” of a food
  • Allowing children to eat anything they want to make sure they eat something
  • Chasing after a child with a spoon to get them to eat
  • Criticizing or over-praising about how much or what types of foods are eaten

Watch this video to learn the signs of hunger and fullness of young children.

What about my child’s growth?

  • Children come in different shapes and sizes and grow at different rates
  • A child’s growth depends on genetics (how their parents grew)
  • Healthy eating habits help a child grow at a healthy rate
  • If you think your child is growing too fast or slow, talk to your child’s doctor. They can track your child’s growth on a chart
  • For more information about children’s growth, read A Parent's Guide to Children's Growth and Is my child growing well?

NutriSTEP® Screening for toddlers and preschoolers

  • The Nutri-eSTEP online questionnaire is a simple way to find out if your child aged 18 months to five years is a healthy eater
  • It takes less than 10 minutes to complete!
  • You will get feedback on what is going well for you and your child and tips on how to improve eating and activity habits
You can complete the questionnaire online:
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Related Resources

Talk to a Registered Dietitian

For free and confidential information on nutrition and feeding, call TeleHealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000

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