Having a structured daily meal and snack plan for toddlers takes the stress out of feeding.




Why do toddlers eat better at creche than at home?


I’ve lost count of how many parents say their child eats better at creche than at home. Does this sound familiar to you? Well, there are a few reasons why this happens. But one big reason is that creches have routine nailed!! They have to; of course, they can’t have children eating at random times of the day. So instead they offer lots of eating opportunities throughout the day at predictable times. And the kids understand from an early age that they don’t eat outside of those time, they do other things instead like circle time, outside time or play activities.


And it works!



Why do toddlers thrive on a routine for feeding and eating?


You need to be in charge of WHEN food is served.


Having a routine for meals and snacks keeps YOU in charge of ‘when meals are served’. This is your job, not your child’s. So rather than waiting for your child to tell you they’re hungry, it’s up to you to structure regular meals and snacks. And this needs to be predictable. You don’t need to be rigid about timing, but there needs to be a certain rhythm to your child’s day. And to yours!



READ MORE >>> The division of responsibility in feeding- the ONE feeding strategy you need. 



Children have small tummies.


They have small tummies, but they need more energy than us, adults, relative to their size. So while we might do fine on three meals a day, our children need to refuel much more often than this. When your baby was younger, they were topping their tummies up with milk between meals. After their first birthday, while they still need milk during the day, they need other foods.



Regular, predictable meals and snacks encourage exposure to new foods.


If you serve three meals a day with three foods at each meal, your child is exposed to 9 foods a day. If you serve five meals a day with three foods, your child is exposed to 15 foods a day. Some of these foods they’ll know and like, but you’ll also offer some that are new or that they’re learning to like. More meals offer more opportunities to try new things and become more familiar with foods in general.



To reduce pressure on anyone meal!


Suppose you’re relying on three meals a day that puts a lot of pressure on each of those three meals. Let’s say you serve only breakfast, lunch and dinner and your child refuses dinner. Chances are they won’t have had enough to eat or eaten enough variety over the day. On the other hand, if you serve five meals a day and your child refuses dinner, it’s not such a big deal. You can be reasonably confident that they’ve had enough chances to get the energy and nutrition they need. It helps them, but it also allows you to relax at mealtimes!



How many meals and snacks does my toddler need?


You need to offer your toddler about five chances to eat during the day. We’ll call these eating opportunities because that’s what they are. This means offering your child food every 2-3 hours.

Everyone has different names for their meals, and what you call them doesn’t matter. But let’s call them breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner.


LEARN MORE >>> Managing toddler snacks 



What about a bedtime snack?


Parents often ask me about bedtime snacks, but as a rule, I don’t advise a bedtime snack unless dinner is more than two hours from bedtime. And for most small children it isn’t! Although some children might still have a drink of milk before bed and that’s fine as long as it’s from a cup and not a bottle!



How do I structure meals when my child is in childcare all day?


If your child is in a creche, you might find that they eat even more meals than this as they might have five meals in the creche and then another dinner or snack when they get home. And that’s fine. Every family is different. What’s important is that you’re in charge of when food is served, and everyone in the family knows what the schedule is.



Does my breastfed toddler need to drink cows milk?


As long as you’re still breastfeeding every day, you don’t need to offer cows milk as a drink. Your breastmilk alongside foods rich in calcium (milk in cereal, cheese and yoghurt) is sufficient.


For example, An 18-month-old:


Drinking: 218mls breastmilk (77mg)


Eating: 200mls milk in porridge (260mg), a small amount (10g) of cheese (74mg) and two tablespoons of yoghurt (76mg) will exceed the 450mg calcium required. You’ll also need a reliable source of vitamin D for good bone health.


READ MORE >>> Switching from formula to cow’s milk 



Family meals vs feeding your toddler alone


Eating together and family meals are powerful feeding strategies. You’ll find some help here on meal planning and also serving meals ‘family style’.


What if my toddler doesn’t eat at one of these times? Do I offer a replacement meal or snack?


It’s your job to decide when, where and what foods are served at meal and snack times. Taking your child’s likes and dislikes into consideration but not 100% catering to them either. After that, it’s up to your child whether and how much to eat. This is called the Division of Responsibility in feeding.



Have a flexible schedule specific to your family


This sample plan is included in this blog is there to guide you. I’m not for a second suggesting that you need to follow my timings which are there for illustrative purposes only. Make it your own!





7 am



Wake up and have breakfast



Porridge or cereal with milk

Eggs or yoghurt

Fruit or veggie


10 am



Morning snack



Breastfed or 100ml milk in a cup

One or two other foods from snack guide


12.30 pm






3-4 foods including food high in iron, one high in energy and a fruit/veggie



1 pm




3 pm



Afternoon snack



Breastfed or 100ml milk in a cup

One or two other foods from snack guide


5.30 pm


Family Dinner


Your family dinner, including at least one food on the plate you know they like!


7 pm




Breastfeed or offer milk 200mls from a cup.




For more information on WHAT and HOW to Feed Your Toddler check out my online course. You’ll get on your way to successful and enjoyable mealtimes in 8 easy steps.


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