My two-year-old son has turned into a full-fledged picky eater. He doesn’t just eat anything I give him. In fact, on some days he doesn’t even bother to finish even three square meals. This prompted me to develop unique toddler meal plans for him.
This way I ensured that he receives all the necessary nutrients. And trust me, it was especially helpful on days when he refused to finish any of his meals.
Toddler meal plans: All you need to know
Over the course of one month I observed two things.
The good news about toddlers is that from the ages of 1 to 3, they will eat almost everything. From fruits to vegetables, to cereals and even lentils and breads, toddler meal plans can include a variety of food items.
The bad news is that most toddlers are picky eaters. Their appetite also changes with each passing day. So the best toddler meal plan idea is to aim for three meals per day with two additional snacks in between.
In addition, keep a few key practices in mind so that your toddler not only eats his meals but also develops healthy eating habits. Here’s what I learned while preparing my own son’s toddler meal plans.
What to keep in mind while preparing toddler meal plans?
#1 Meal and snack time
Offer your toddler his meals as well as snacks around the same time. So if he misses one, he can still munch on the other. This practice will also help you analyse his needs as well as the quantity of food he prefers.
#2 Home-cooked meals
It goes without saying that the best food for a growing child is the one made at home. Instead of giving your toddler ready-to-eat meals or introducing junk food at this age, try to prepare his food at home.
You can swap regular meals with items such as yogurt with berries, steamed vegetables, mashed fruits and even roti spreads.
#3 Track sweets and sugars
While you can offer a sweet treat or dessert to your toddler, try to avoid sugar-based food or drinks. Food that has too much sugar is usually low on nutrients and minerals.
Instead, offer him fruits like mangoes or kiwi.
#4 Offer water in between meals
Giving your child too many snacks and drinks can ruin his appetite. It can fill up his tummy with food that is not high on nutrients and essential minerals that are needed to grow.
It’s best to offer water in between meals instead. If you do give him juice, keep it 100 percent natural. A minimum of 125-175 mL (4-6 oz) each day should do great.
#5 Give him full fat milk
It is best to keep him on the breast for as long as two years. But if you have introduced cow’s milk already, serve it to him in an open cup. Offer only full fat milk (3.25 percent) till the age of two.
After two, you can give him skimmed milk with 1 to 2 percent fat. This ensures proper growth and nourishment of the body. Also make sure that he doesn’t consume more than 350 ml of milk. Because otherwise he will not be able to eat his meals.
#6 Let him decide
I did the mistake of force feeding my child, but I would highly advise you to not do the same. It is quite normal for toddlers to gauge how much they want to eat and when.
Sometimes they even refuse new food, or change their mind before they take their first bite.
Other times, they might want the same food again. So the best idea is to continue to experiment. Also, give him new items to try while keeping his regular favourite on stand-by.
#7 Stay away from ‘fortified foods’
Most baby food companies repackage their products with the word ‘fortified.’ For the uninitiated, fortified foods are ones in which extra nutrients are added.
But many of these fortified foods are actually unhealthy for toddlers. So stay away from fortified soy, rice, almond milk or beverages.
Never make them your child’s main meal items. Instead, opt for products made out of cow’s milk or your own breast milk.
#8 Supervise your toddler
While serving food, keep the pieces small. So if you give him a fruit, it should be cut in bite-size pieces. Also always supervise him when he eats, so there is no danger of choking. Mealtimes are a time to enjoy a nice bonding session together.
By practicing these points, your toddler meal plans will succeed and your child will not only develop healthy eating habits, he will also be able to set a feeding schedule.
How much should my toddler eat?
Now comes the other crucial part of this discussion: the amount of food your toddler should consume. Off the bat here, I’d like to say that a child’s appetite depends completely on him. Yes, you read that right. You can force the food onto him, but if he doesn’t want to eat, he won’t.
It’s best to let him decide how much he wants to consume. You can of course, work on the feeding schedule as a part of the toddler meal plans.
Here’s how you can do it based on your child’s age:
#1 From 0-1 years
During this stage, you will mostly feed your baby your own milk. Past six months, you will have to introduce solids as well. You will notice that your baby will be able to eat everything that you give him.
He will also like different tastes and textures because it will be his first time trying them. But as always keep it simple and avoid adding sugar and salt. Let him enjoy the natural taste of the food item.
Keep in mind that you will have to make the food consistency easy to eat (or slurp!) since your baby doesn’t have any teeth to chew with.
You may want to consider baby-led weaning as an alternative to traditional weaning methods.
#2 From 1-2 years
By this age, his meals will get slightly more complex. You should ideally add two components to your toddler’s meals by the age of two. So for instance, you can make chicken curry and roti or bread. Or you can go for traditional Singaporean toddler meals like Healthy mini chicken wanton (potstickers), Alphabet soto ayam (Chicken noodle soup) or Stir fried beef with green beans and broccoli.
Alternatively, you can give him a lentil and rice mixture with curd. At this age, your child will have a few teeth, so chewing won’t be an issue. He will still need smaller bites because his teeth are still coming in.
#3 From 2-3 years
By the time your baby touches the big three mark, you can get even more creative with his food. You can now add four components into his meals and make them similar to adult meals. But he still cannot have the same amount of salts and spices. So keep that on the down low.
You can prepare one curry, bread and curd for instance, for just a single meal. The consistency of food at this age will not have to be as soft as before.
Also, by the age your baby turns three, it will be a good idea to eat your meals along with him. That way, all of you can have a great family meal together.
So what should be the ideal meal for a toddler? Let’s take a look at the menus for each meal.
Toddler meal plans: The six-course feeds
You can divide your toddler meal plans into six courses and try to reach the goal of a minimum of three meals per day. If your kid likes to eat all the six times, the best thing is to allow him. Serve different tastes and textures to expand his taste buds.
Begin your toddler’s day with his breakfast, which like for most adults can be structured. Since toddlers do not eat on demand, setting a breakfast schedule is a good habit.
Breakfast doesn’t necessarily have to be a big meal, as is the case for us. Since toddlers have small tummies, they need small portions for all their meals with in-between snacks keeping them feeling full.
For breakfast you can try: scrambled eggs, oatmeals with milk, sliced fruits or a cup of milk.
#2 Mid morning snack
Two hours after breakfast, give your toddler a mid-morning snack. But make sure it is given an hour and a half before lunch so that he is not too full.
Since this meal is the equivalent of a nutritional supplement for your child, do not include processed foods. You can give him fruits with cheese, flavoured yogurt or a glass of water.
For lunch, try to be a bit more creative and not repeat the same meal as breakfast. For a western meal, you can give him baked beans, steamed green vegetables or whole-wheat bread with avocado.
And for an Indian-inspired meal, you can give him dal (cooked lentils) with roti/chapatti.
#4 Afternoon snack
An afternoon snack just three hours after his lunch will keep him active and take him through the day with ease. Remember that all your snacks should be nutritious and so processed foods are a strict no.
You can try giving pieces of a different fruit, hard-boiled eggs cut into small pieces, or some slices of cheese and water.
Most toddlers like to have a small meal during dinner time because they have had all the essential nutrients during the day and are quite full. But that doesn’t mean you should skip dinner.
A toddler who goes to sleep on an empty stomach can wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry and cranky.
So in the spirit of keeping it light, you can give him sweet potato wedges, baked salmon, whole wheat couscous, diced steamed broccoli, shredded baked chicken or tomato soup.
#6 Bedtime snack
Just before your toddler goes to sleep, you can slip him a small meal. Make sure that he is not overly full. In which case, you can just give him something as light as half a banana or a half cup of milk.
But if he feels slightly hungry, you can add a diced fruit or cheese.
Remember that these toddler meal plans work best if you are aware of your child’s nutritional needs. Make sure to check with your doctor about the possibility of lactose intolerance or any other allergies so those products can be eliminated from his meals.
Meal times can be a great bonding experience for you and your toddler, and in the process it can help you learn so much about your child’s personality. Take this as an opportunity to know your child better.