Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating for Youth

As a parent, you may often wonder if your youth is eating enough healthy food. Follow Canada's Food Guide while preparing meals and snacks for your family. Aim to have 3 to 4 food groups included in each meal.

Be a role model. Encourage your youth to develop healthy eating habits by practising them yourself. In other words, when parents tend to eat healthier foods, it is likely their children will do the same. Regular family meals will also have a strong impact on the health and wellbeing of youth. Eating together allows parent(s) to model healthy eating behaviours which helps teach habits that last a lifetime.

Quick and Healthy meals and snacks

Energy Drinks and Caffeine

Food Skills

Additional Resources for Parents

Marketing of Food and Beverages

Quick and Healthy Meals and Snacks

Healthy Meals

Preparing healthy meals can be a challenge for families. After-school activities and homework often keep families busy in the evening. Luckily there are quick and healthy recipes that can help make meal planning easier.

Visit Foodland Ontario for healthy recipes made in 15 minutes.


Eating snacks is a great way to help you stay energized throughout the day. Snacks will help give your youth energy to learn and stay active. Eating a small snack between meals can help him/her feel satisfied until the next meal. Encourage your youth to plan healthy snacks to bring along to fill their hunger pang and avoid opting for the vending machine!

For more information, visit Dietitians of Canada's Quick and Easy Snack Ideas or check out their video.

Energy Drinks & Caffeinated Drinks

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are not beverages that your youth should reach for when feeling tired. Teach your youth about the risks ofdrinking energy drinks. Just because something is labelled as "natural" it does not make it healthy.

Warnings on the side of energy drinks often indicate that they are not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. Discuss with these warnings and explain how serious they are. Suggest better alternatives. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can also be very harmful. As a parent, you can be a role model by avoiding energy drinks and keeping them out of the home.

If your youth relies on energy drinks to keep him/her alert and awake, consider these healthy boosters instead:

  • Drink water: dehydration can make you feel sluggish. Drinking water is the best thrist quencher!
  • Get enough sleep: turn off all electronic devices in the room and get enough quality sleep hours.
  • Be Active: being active active will give you energy and make you feel great. Plus it will help with sleep! Eat balanced meals and snacks: eating wholesome foods will provide your body with energy to function all day long.

For more information, visit Dietitians of Canda's energy drinks and their risks.

Sugar-Sweetened Drinks

Regular pop and other sugar-sweetened beverages are high in sugar and lack nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or proteins. Drinking lots of them can lead to dental cavities and is associated with the risks of developing chronic diseases such obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. When youth drink sugar-sweetened beverages they displace or decrease their consumption of milk and water. Milk and water are the two most important drinks to help your youth with their growth and development.

What are some better choices for your youth?

  • Water. Water is great to quench your thirst. Water does not contain any sugar and it contributes to good health.
  • Milk. Milk contains essential nutrients including, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, protein and others. People should drink 500 mL (2 cups) of milk every day because it is the main food source of vitamin D.
  • 100% Fruit or Vegetable Juice. Choose 100% pure juice for added nutrition. Keep in mind that juice (even 100%) contains sugar and should be consumed in moderation. 125 mL (1/2 cup) is one serving according to Canada's Food Guide. A healthier option is to eat the whole fruit and drink water to hydrate!

Food Skills

Help your youth develop food skills:

  • Get the conversation going. Talking about food with your youth is a great way to encourage interest in cooking and healthy eating.

  • Develop a meal plan together. Get them involved in choosing the menu for lunch and dinner. Make a grocery list together and go grocery shopping, together.

  • Get them in the kitchen with you. They can be in charge of creating part of the meal.

  • Put your youth in charge by letting them decide the menu for dinner. Let them prepare and cook it themselves. And remember to keep it fun! Theme dinners, such as Mexican, Italian and Thai are always a hit!

For more information, visit Dietitians of Canada's Top 10 Easy Ways to Get Teens Cooking.

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 Telehealth Ontario and ask to speak with a Registered Dietitian. Available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm at 1-866-797-0000 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007)

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