Feeding Our Grandchildren

I love Canada’s new Food Guide; my grandson hates vegetables!

By Mary Jane Sterne and Peggy Edwards | July/August 2019

Some six years ago, we wrote a column about feeding our grandkids. It was a hot topic then and still is! We continue to hear grandparents’ concerns about food restrictions and how to handle “picky” eaters. One of the recommendations from the experts that I interviewed in 2011 was to get a copy of Canada’s Food Guide and become familiar with the nutritional needs of children and teens. The new Food Guide, published in late 2018 has been (quite radically) altered since then. What are the implications for feeding our grandchildren? And how do we handle “picky eaters” — kids and teens who refuse to try new foods, preschoolers who will eat only chicken nuggets and kids who would rather play than eat anything at all.

It’s a big topic to handle in one short column but I’ll do my best to hit the highlights. We suggest you follow up with your own research and, most importantly, talk to the parents of your grandchildren because the number one principle still applies: unless an approach is clearly harmful to a child, it is best to follow the parents’ wishes on when and what foods and drinks the children are offered. You have more control over how you eat together.

Canada’s new Food Guide

The new Food Guide has replaced the traditional food groups and serving counts we know with an overall banner of “Eat a variety of healthy foods each day” and a plate of delicious food that suggests: have plenty of fruits and vegetables (1/2 the plate), eat protein products (1/4 the plate) and choose whole grain foods (1/4 of the plate).

The Guide suggests avoiding beverages high in sugars, including fruit-flavoured drinks, 100 per cent fruit juice, energy drinks, sport drinks and chocolate milk. No more pop or chocolate milk in grandma’s fridge. “Make water your drink of choice” is a bid to reduce kids’ consumption of juices and pop, which contain too much sugar and sodium.

It is time to try more meatless meals. While meat, chicken and fish are still part of the Guide, there’s an undeniable emphasis on plant-based proteins like beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy products like tofu. Introducing these foods can help expand your grandchild’s palate and introduce to them to delicious dishes that are common in Asian, Indian, Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine. Hummus with veggies and whole-wheat pita anyone? My youngest grandchildren love this for snack or lunch.

Don’t like beans? Healthy, comfort foods that offer plenty of protein without the meat include omelets (or scrambled eggs), homemade macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetable soup and vegetable chili.

The section on whole grain foods encourages us to forgo white bread and pasta and use healthy alternatives such as quinoa, whole grain pasta and bread, whole oats or oatmeal, and whole grain brown or wild rice.

The new Guide also has some important recommendations about how we eat, which are sure to influence the environment and practices parents and grandparents create around mealtime. The Guide suggests we:

Practice “mindful eating,” an approach that involves paying attention to feelings of hunger and fullness, taking small portions, and eating slowly with enjoyment. No more eating on the run or standing at the island counter. And no more insistence on a “clean plate”. Kids (and adults) who learn to stop eating when they are full are far less likely to have weight concerns.

Sit down and enjoy your meals together. The new Guide promotes family meals and eating without distractions like TV or phones. Years of research have shown that kids who eat with their families have better grades, eat more nutritious food and get into less trouble. And families benefit from time and conversation together. Grandparents have known this all along. Now the scientific evidence supports us.

Enjoy home-cooked meals you prepare together. The Guide suggests limiting processed foods, cutting back on take-out and relying on whole, unprocessed food. This means helping your grandchildren learn how to shop for fresh whole foods and to cook from scratch. Asking them to help with the shopping, cooking and baking gives them an investment in the final product and greater curiosity to try it. And it is a fun time together.

Be wary of food marketing. The savvy new Guide discusses how food marketing (including targeted behavioural marketing on social media and celebrity endorsements) influences choices for kids, teens and adults. We can talk with our grandchildren about why they want a certain food or drink, what form of marketing they got these ideas from, and how their online browsing and “liking” history can be used to send you targeted ads.

“I hate tomatoes!” — handling picky eaters

It turns out that many of the messages in the new Food Guide are also helpful in encouraging picky eaters to eat a variety of healthy foods (e.g. enjoying home-cooked meals together, shopping and cooking together, no distractions when eating). Here are seven other key tips from the experts.

1. No short-order cooking. Plan meals to include at least one thing that everyone likes (even if it’s the baked beans for the vegetarian or a dessert of fruit and low-fat yogurt parfaits). Then serve one meal for everyone in the family; no exceptions. Preparing different foods for everyone is exhausting and it can take much longer for children to learn to like new foods.

2. It sometimes takes 10 tries for a child to decide they like a new food. So, keep serving broccoli — and allow a child to touch it or play with it to learn about how it might feel in their mouth. Ask only that they take one bite. Serve new foods along with your grandchild’s favorite foods. Keep serving healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.

3. Serve smart snacks. One of the best ways to get kids accustomed to eating fruits and veggies is to serve them when they are really hungry at snack time. Serving salty chips, cookies, sugary granola bars and artificially-flavoured gummy ‘fruit’ snacks can be a quick option, but not the healthiest solution. Serve snacks when kids are hungry, but not too close to mealtime.

4. Make it fun. Serve veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut fruits into various shapes with cookie cutters or stack pieces of fruit on kabob sticks. Serve a variety of brightly colored foods.

5. If your grandchild is not hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your grandchild to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This might only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. Encourage your grandchild to stay at the table for the designated mealtime and enjoy the conversation — even if he or she doesn’t eat. Don’t let them find their own food in the pantry or fridge immediately after mealtime. If they say they are hungry at snack time later, offer them healthy options including something you know they like as well as some of what was offered at mealtime.

6. Stick to routine. Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. Serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your grandchild and give him or her the opportunity to independently ask for more. Let older children decide on the size of the portion they want.

7. Set a good example. Don’t talk about dieting and food restrictions. If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your grandchild is more likely to follow suit.

Lastly, enjoy preparing and eating healthy foods with your grandchildren. Set a proper table (my grandchildren love to have candles at dinner). Engage them in funny and interesting conversations at the table. Take the pressure off eating per se; make it part of a happy time together.

Your grandchild’s eating habits won’t likely change overnight — but the small steps you take each time he or she is with you can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.

Read all about healthy eating with Canada’s Food Guide at

What is your experience with feeding grandchildren? What do you think of the new Food Guide? Write to us at We’d love to hear from you.

Peggy Edwards and Mary Jane Sterne are best friends and the authors of Intentional Grandparenting: A Boomer’s Guide, (McClelland and Stewart, 2005). Available from your favourite bookstore or online at or The authors live in Ottawa and have 23 grandchildren and five great grandchildren between them.