A feeding schedule for your toddler is essential. If you’re struggling to figure out when and what to feed, this article will provide you with the basics of toddler nutrition and contains a sample toddler feeding schedule and meal plan.
A feeding schedule helps your toddler eat better. Children that graze throughout the day have a higher incidence of picky eating. Taking the time to develop a feeding plan for your toddler is an excellent decision.
How Many Meals a Day Should a Toddler Have?
Most toddlers eat 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day. It is important to remember that the incredible growth experienced in the first 2 years of life starts to slow down. You will likely notice that your toddler’s appetite may be variable and matched to this new pattern of growth.
Intake at meals will vary from day-to-day and you may find that your toddler is hungrier at a certain time of the day or associated with a growth spurt. Don’t pressure or encourage your toddler to eat. Your feeding schedule will provide plenty of opportunity for your toddler to meet his nutrition requirements. As a parent, it is your job to provide the food and your toddler will decide if he will eat.
Avoid the common mistake of offering your toddler an extra snack after a meal that you feel he didn’t eat well at. This approach can contribute to picky eating behaviors. It can also make it more difficult for your child to develop an ability to recognize and respond to hunger and satiety cues.
If your child has already settled into a frequent snacking or grazing routine, establishing a routine for meals and snacks is essential.
How Many Snacks Should a Toddler Have Per Day?
Most toddlers need 1-2 snacks per day. It is not uncommon for younger toddlers to eat 3 snacks per day. Additionally, if your child is currently a frequent grazer, you may need to offer 3 snacks per day during the transition to a more consistent snack routine.
Snacks serve to supplement meals, not to replace what wasn’t eaten at a meal. Your snack schedule should be consistent and provide enough of a gap before the next meal that your child will have a good appetite for the meal. A sample feeding schedule is provided in this article.
Portion Sizes for Toddlers
It is easy to serve more food than our toddler can eat. It can be very overwhelming for a toddler to have huge portions of food on his plate. A general rule of thumb is to serve 1 tablespoon per year of age (up to age 10).
While 2 tablespoons of a food may look like a very small portion to you, remember that your 2 year old has a much smaller stomach. If your toddler is still hungry after eating the initial portion, you can always offer more.
Letting Toddler Serve Own Food
It may seem like a disaster waiting to happen and a recipe for a messy meal, but allowing your toddler to serve his own food is a best practice. In addition to giving your child a chance to develop fine motor skills, it allows your child to be exposed to new foods.
Typically with family-style meals, each person takes a portion of each food offered. For your toddler, you will likely need to offer some assistance with the serving utensil, but allow your child the space to learn new skills.
It is likely that your toddler may not be excited about each of the food served at a meal. Stay calm and communicate that he doesn’t have to eat it. Remember that trying new foods takes many exposures. By interacting with the food from a visual and smell perspective is helping your child to develop the skills to try the food in the future.
Sample Toddler Feeding Schedule
A feeding schedule for a toddler will typically include 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. A bedtime snack is optional and may be necessary for some children.
The table below shows a sample feeding schedule for a toddler.
Sample Toddler Meal Plan
The foods your family eats will likely be different, but this sample, one-day menu shows food groups and serving sizes for your toddler. Below the sample menu, you will find a list of food groups and serving sizes.
Recommended Servings for Toddler Meals
Recommended servings are based on a 1,000- to 1,400-calorie food plan. A toddler's needs will vary depending on age and activity level. To create an individual plan for your toddler, log on to choosemyplate.gov, click on "Daily Food Plans," then choose the age of your toddler.
Dairy: 2 cups per day; be sure to choose lower fat selections.
Count as 1 cup:
1 cup (8 ounces) 1% or skim milk
1 cup low-fat yogurt
2 cups low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
1½ cups low-fat or fat-free ice cream
1½ ounces of low-fat hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, or Parmesan)
⅓ cup shredded cheese
1 cup pudding (made with milk)
1 cup of calcium-fortified soy milk
Protein Foods: 2- to 4-ounce equivalents (or the amount of a food that has a similar nutrition value as 4 ounces of meat).
Count as 1-ounce equivalent:
1 ounce lean meat, fish or poultry
1 slice lunch meat
1 tablespoon peanut butter
¼ cup cooked kidney, pinto or garbanzo beans
Fruits: 1–1.5 cups
Count as 1 cup:
1 medium banana or orange
1 small apple
1 cup canned fruit
½ cup dried fruit
Vegetables: 1–1.5 cups
Count as 1 cup:
1 cup raw vegetables
1 cup cooked vegetables
2 cups raw, leafy vegetables
Grains: 3- to 5-ounce equivalents (or the amount of a food that has a similar nutrition value as 3–5 ounces of a grain).
Count as 1-ounce equivalent:
1 slice bread
1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
½ cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta
1 "mini" bagel
1 small tortilla, 6 inches in diameter
1 pancake, 4½ inches in diameter
How Do You Feed a Picky Toddler?
If your toddler seems disinterested in eating the foods you’re serving, stay persistent. A toddler’s appetite is fickle and often will take 10 or more offering of a food before it will be accepted. Avoid pressuring your toddler to eat and utilize age-appropriate strategies to help your child.
Most importantly, remember that your responsibility is to offer foods and allow your child to choose which of the foods you’ve offered will be eaten (if any). Keep committed to your feeding schedule and resist the temptation to offer an extra snack or fall into a grazing pattern of eating.
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