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Here’s the best toddler feeding schedule that you can use. I’ll show you how to customize it, how to enforce it, and why it’s so important for your child long term. Plus, you’ll get a simple toddler meal plan that’s nutrient dense and easy to make.
Me: “I don’t want to always be feeding my toddler!”
My toddler: “I want to eat now…and now….and now…and now.”
Me: “I want my toddler to eat a variety of foods.”
My toddler: “I want goldfish! Now!!! And now…..and now….and NOW!”
Me: “I need a toddler feeding schedule.”
My toddler: “Nooooooo!”
Is there anything cuter than that learning-to-walk-and-talk little buddy? Toddlers are the best. They also have zero idea what they are doing with food. Someone take away those car keys from them. They aren’t ready to drive the car.
If you take nothing else from this article, just remember, toddlers shouldn’t have the keys to the food car!
And yes, I made up the term “food car”…it’s actually not a thing.
You get my point though. Toddlers shouldn’t be in charge of when they eat, that’s your job! And I’m going to give you every single little tool you need to put together a feeding schedule and meal plan for your little toddler buddy.
How to create the best toddler feeding schedule
Here’s what you need to know to create the best toddler feeding schedule, especially if your toddler’s not eating. Toddlers should eat:
- 2-3 hours apart
- no more than 6 times a day, tops
- on a routine
- nothing but water in between meals and snacks
Here’s what one possible toddler feeding schedule looks like in real life:
Morning snack: 10:00
Afternoon snack: 3:00
Why did I put the sleeping times in? Because those will be your anchor for setting up your meal routine! I like to feed my child after they wake up in the morning and after naps. This is a great routine and takes a lot of the guesswork out of creating a meal routine or feeding schedule.
Note: Your child may not need 2 snacks a day or may not nap twice a day either. They may also need a bed time snack. This is just an example and you can use the four rules listed above to create the routine that best fits your family’s needs.
Why is a toddler feeding schedule so important?
Toddlers would eat whenever and whatever they want if left to their own devices. That causes a whole host of problems, but a few big ones are:
- Losing their sense of hunger and fullness
- Becoming more selective at mealtimes, because they are not hungry for meals
- Eating too much for their body or too little for their body
- A stressed parent who is always dealing with food and snacks
Toddlers cannot be driving that meal schedule car. You need to take back the keys for your eating schedule car!
There are some real benefits that come with feeding your toddler on a schedule or a routine:
- You get to spend less time thinking about food for your child
- Your toddler keeps their sense of hunger and fullness
- Your toddler is less likely to become a selective eater
- You can help manage picky toddlers with a meal schedule
- It helps your child feel more relaxed during meals, which promotes eating more foods
When should I start a feeding schedule with my toddler?
Yesterday! As in, as soon as babies start eating solids, those solids can be served on a schedule! Sometimes parents have a little hiccup right when a baby starts solids. Babies nurse or bottle feed on demand, generally. That’s great.
They eat solids on a schedule or feeding routine.
That means it’s never too early to switch to creating an eating routine or feeding schedule that works for your family’s schedule!
Do I have to follow the feeding schedule exactly for my toddler?
No! In fact, I like to refer to feeding kids as “feeding routines” or “meal routines” because kids and life are unpredictable. That said, there’s a fine line between having predictable structure and having no structure.
That’s why I like to use naps and the family’s planned activities to create the feeding schedule and eating schedule.
You can always choose to be flexible with meals and snacks as required by your day. If you’re too flexible though, it’s not a routine or a schedule.
How picky eating can result from not having a toddler feeding schedule
Remember when I talked about a toddler losing their sense of hunger and fullness from “grazing” or eating whenever they want? When toddlers lose their sense of hunger, food stops being as interesting and they start to become more selective. They only want to eat the things they really like.
Think about the last time you felt full. Did you want to eat more? If not, what would you have eaten? Would you have eaten more broccoli? Would you have eaten a bit of your favorite ice cream or potato chips?
Same with toddlers. When they aren’t hungry, they aren’t interested in broccoli either. They need to be able to get hungry between meals and snacks.
When toddlers do come to the table hungry, they are much more interested in foods that are not processed and are more nourishing.
What do I do when my toddler throws a tantrum because a snack is not on the feeding schedule?
Your toddler will definitely throw a tantrum. It may have to do with the feeding schedule, it may not. Rest assured, this is totally normal.
You don’t have to give them the keys to the food car, just because they are tantruming. In fact, they need you to stand firm so that they can learn to eat better and feel safer at mealtimes!
When your child protests because you will not give them goldfish, you can say, “Goldfish bye-bye. Snack after nap. Mama here.” Say something really really basic that tells them, snack is not available right now. Tell them when you will feed them next. They will figure it out really soon!
Then hang out with your child. Be there with them, even if they lose it. Whatever you do though, do not give in and go get them goldfish. That will mess up all the hard work you are putting in!
Meal plan to use with your toddler feeding schedule
So, now that you have a toddler feeding schedule, it’s time to figure out what to eat.
When feeding a toddler, keep a few things in mind:
- They have a small stomach and need nutrient dense foods
- It’s good for them to eat dark green and dark orange veggies
- They need to eat iron foods and vitamin c foods together
- They should not drink more than 16 oz a day of fluid cow’s milk
- They need lots of fat in their diet
- Meals and snacks can have the same foods
Here’s a meal plan that goes with the feeding schedule that we already discussed:
Breakfast: 7:00 – toast with spread of peanut butter, strawberries, and a cup of milk
Morning snack: 10:00 – cooked frozen peas with butter, sliced blueberries, more strawberries
Lunch: 12:00 – cooked quinoa salad (recipe from Real Easy Weekdays)
Afternoon snack: 3:00 – milk, grated apple, mixed with ground nuts
Dinner: 5:30 – chicken, quinoa, steamed carrots with butter
You may have a child that goes to school or day care and you have to work around their meal schedule and find a way to bridge it with your home routine.
Tip: Packing lunchboxes for school is one of my favorite places to put in a small food exposure! Just a tiny piece of a new food with a cute lunchbox utensil can be the difference in weather or not your child will try it.
How does this sound to you? Does it seem like something that would work for your toddler? I’d love to hear how it’s working for you in the comments.