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Managing Meal Times

Feeding children can sometimes be a challenge. It’s normal for a child’s appetite to vary and their likes and dislikes to change regularly. A little creativity and lots of patience on your part can help your child develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.


Kids may not eat well for many reasons, including:1

  • they simply aren’t hungry
  • they don’t need to eat as much to help them grow that day
  • they would rather play or be active
  • they are trying to get your attention by not eating – it usually works
  • they don’t like the look, smell, texture or colour of the food being served

Parents and caregivers decide:1

What to eat

  • Prepare one meal for the entire family and try to include some healthy foods that your child enjoys. Use Canada’s Food Guide to help you plan meals and snacks.


When to eat

  • Serve meals and snacks at about the same time every day. Your child will learn to expect food at meal and snack times and will be more likely to be hungry. Offer only water between meals and snacks.

Where to eat

  • Encourage family meals. Eat together as a family more often, with the television and other screens off.

Children decide:1

Which foods to eat

  • Let your choose child choose which foods they want to eat from the meal/snack you prepared. Children will eat when they are hungry.

How much food to eat

  • Trust that your child is able to decide how much or how little food they need to eat.

Tips for Building Healthy Eaters

  1. Be a good role model. Children tend to eat what their parents eat, so be sure to role model healthy eating habits.
  2. Avoid distractions at meals and focus on eating. Turn off the TV and computers and put away all toys. Encourage family meals. Make mealtimes enjoyable and free of pressure.
  3. Involve your child. Let your child help with meal planning, grocery shopping and preparing food. Children will be more likely to try new foods that they have helped to make.
  4. Listen to your child. Respect your child’s ability to decide when they are hungry or full. Avoid pressuring, forcing or bribing your child to eat more food. This can create unhealthy eating habits.
  5. Keep trying! Continue to offer new foods to your child. It can take as many as 10-15 tries before a child will eat a new food.1 Try new foods in different recipes and at different meals. Don’t give up!
Remember, the most important thing a parent/caregiver can do is to trust their child and his/her tummy!
Date of creation: January 21, 2013
Last modified on: January 19, 2020


1Satter, E. (2018). Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Retrieved from