Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating for Children 

As a parent, you may often wonder if your child is eating enough healthy food. It is your job to decide when, where and what to eat. Your child will decide how much to eat.

Follow Canada's Food Guide while preparing meals and snacks for your child. Consider posting it on the fridge at home. Teach your child about the 4 different food groups. At meal times, see if your child can name the food groups on their plate. Aim to have 3 to 4 food groups included in each meal.

Be a healthy role model. Children watch and learn. When children see adults eating well, enjoying physical activity, and feeling good about themselves, they learn from and copy these positive behaviours.

Try not to use food to reward, punish, or comfort your child. This teaches children that some foods are better than others. Children may associate foods negatively due to negative behaviour.

Hands-on cooking activities are a great way to improve mealtime practices and eating habit. Involve your child in meal preparation at any age; find more information in the Cooking 101 section. 

Healthy Lunches and snacks

Packing healthy and tasty lunches for your child to bring to school is an important task. A healthy lunch will give your child energy to play and learn. Follow Canada's Food Guide to make sure your child is eating a healthy meal at lunchtime. Try to include 3 to 4 food groups in your child's lunch bag.

Lunch Box tips:

  • Ask your child for their favourite lunch and snack ideas.
  • Try switching the bread in your child's lunch. Switch between whole grain pita wraps, tortillas and flatbread.
  • Aim to include 2 food groups in your child's snack. For example, cheese and whole grain crackers or yogurt and a small oatmeal muffin.
  • Include your child in lunch planning by bringing them with you to the grocery store, or having them help put foods into containers.
  • Lunch box food safety is important. Try to make the lunch the night before. Place all the food and beverage items in the fridge overnight. Place all items in an insulated lunch box just before heading out to school. Add a small ice pack, or a food or beverage item that was frozen overnight. These will thaw by lunchtime. If serving hot foods, warm up the thermos with boiling water for a few minutes. Reheat your food and add to your emptied thermos. This will help keep the food hot until lunch time.

For more information, visit Dietitians of Canada for Quick and Easy Lunch Ideas.

Peanut free lunches

  • Most schools in Ottawa require peanut free lunches. Check with your school to see if you should avoid packing peanut butter or foods containing peanuts in your child's lunch.
  • Even without peanuts, your child can get protein in their lunch.
  • Protein is primarily found in Meat and Alternatives and Milk and Alternatives food groups.
  • Smaller amounts are found in the Grain Products and Vegetables and Fruit food groups.

What you need to know about food labels

Food labels are important. If your child has a food allergy, be sure to read the labels on all pre-packaged food. The Ingredient List and the Nutrition Facts Table provide information about the food you are eating.

The Ingredient List and the Nutrition Facts Table will help you:

  • Choose healthy food more easily
  • Compare two products to make better food choices for you and your family
  • Learn about the nutrition information of the foods you eat
  • Better manage special diets
  • Increase or decrease your intake of a nutrient

For more information on Nutrition Facts Tables please visit Health Canada

Additional resources for parents 

I ♥ to Cook and Play 

I ♥ to Cook and Play is a resource for parents to teach children how to prepare simple, healthy, low-cost meals and snacks and to emphasize the importance of daily physical activity.

The I ♥ to Cook and Play Program Manual provides parents with:

  • Background information on healthy eating and physical activity
  • Learning topics related to healthy eating and cooking skills
  • Hands-on activities that highlight learning topics
  • Healthy recipes
  • Games using low-cost equipment that don't need a large amount of spaceParent handouts

I ♥ to Cook and Play is also a community-based program for children and youth aged six to twelve in some After School Programs that supports the implementation of Ottawa Public Health's HEAL Guidelines. 

*Updated version coming Fall 2019.

I ♥ to Garden 

 to Garden is a resource to help you to teach your children how plants grow, basic-gardening skills and how to prepare healthy seasonal meals and snacks using produce that can be grown in Ottawa. 

I ♥ to Garden program manual has activities and resources that can be used by teachers, after-school program staff, summer camp staff and by parents and guardians. 

The I ♥ to Garden Program Manual provides you with:

  • Background information on gardening with children
  • 10 hands-on gardening and healthy eating activities
  • 13 healthy recipes, featuring fresh produce that can be grown in Ottawa
  • A resource section full of additional information on gardening and healthy cooking with children and youth

The I ♥ to Garden program manual is complimentary to Ottawa Public Health’s I Love to Cook and Play program and is offered in some After School Programs. To learn the foundation of healthy cooking with children and for ideas of games, please refer to the I Love to Cook and Play program manual.

Be sure to check out our Healthy Snacks for Active Kids content: 

Want to speak with a Registered Dietitian? 

Call Health Connect Ontario and ask to speak with a Registered Dietitian. Available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm by calling 811 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007) or starting a chat  

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