Your toddler may act like she can do everything without your help, but in reality, your little tyke still craves routine and structure. Developing a daily schedule for meals and snacks is a great way to help your toddler learn healthy eating habits, and having a mealtime schedule makes Mom and Dad’s life easier too!
One of the most important things you will do as a parent is provide healthy meals for your toddler. But food parenting doesn’t stop with knowing what to feed toddlers. Establishing a mealtime schedule is just as important in helping your toddler develop healthy eating habits, like knowing when her tummy is full and how to enjoy family meals. We know it can be hard, but it can pay off in helping avoid tantrums. Plus, scheduling meals and snacks gives her a sense of security because she knows she’ll have another chance to eat soon.
Your toddler’s eating schedule will depend on what time she usually wakes up in the morning, when she takes her nap and your family’s daily routine. The goal is to try to keep meals and snacks scheduled around the same time each day, but don’t stress if it’s not exact. For example, she might eat lunch at noon one day and 12:30 p.m. the next, and that’s OK. This helps your child listen to her body’s cues that her tummy is full, lets her know another snack or meal is coming and makes sure she’s hungry enough (but not too hungry) at the next mealtime. Most toddlers need three meals a day, with healthy snacks in between. Scheduling snacks so she eats every two to three hours is ideal.
Sample eating schedule:
Breakfast: 7 a.m.
Snack: around 9:30 a.m.
Snack: 3 p.m.
Dinner: 6 p.m.
If your toddler asks for food between meals and snacks, try these tips:
- Make sure you are offering four to five food groups at meals and two to three food groups for snacks. This healthy balance gives toddlers’ bodies the energy they need to last until the next meal or snack.
- Stick with water between meals and snacks. Sipping juice or milk will fill his tummy and lead to mealtime battles.
- Try distracting him with a fun activity—he might just be bored!
If you follow these tips and your toddler still asks for food between meals, it may be time to adjust his meal schedule.
Family mealtime is a perfect time to model great manners (and how much you enjoy eating your veggies!), so make time to sit together as a family for at least one meal a day. A few rules of thumb:
- Sit down to eat, preferably all together at a table. Remove distractions like televisions and cell phones so your family can focus on eating.
- Water between meals. Milk or water should be served at mealtime, and water is the best thirst quencher in between.
- Trust your child to eat what he needs. A growing toddler’s hunger can change from meal to meal, so it’s OK if he doesn’t eat much—he won’t starve if he misses one meal. Simply (and calmly) ask, “Did you get enough to eat? We won’t be eating again until lunch,” then follow his lead.