I’m outlining my top five tips for implementing a meal plan for your baby or toddler to ensure they’re eating a nutritious, balanced diet – plus, I’m giving you an inside look at my toddler’s daily meal plan!
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how I make my little one balanced, nutritious meals on the regular – and, more importantly, how I make sure she eats them! Well, you’re in for a treat today, because I’m giving you a peek at my top tricks to implement a baby or toddler meal plan, along with suggestions, tips and tricks to get your little ones on the healthy meal train.
Tips for Feeding Babies and Toddlers
It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of baby-led weaning, and many of these tips I’m about to give you are thanks to this method of introducing solids to your littles. If you’re getting ready to introduce solids to your little one, be sure to check for all of these signs that you’re baby is ready first, then – if you feel baby-led weaning is the way you want to go – I encourage you to read the book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett [*affiliate link].
Tip #1: Limit snacking
I’ll admit it: In times of desperation, snacking is SUCH a savior (airplane rides and road trips – I’m looking at you!) But in general, I really try to limit snacking with my little. I find that by not offering Raia food at every moment of the day, she is more likely to eat a good meal when it’s time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Tip #2: Protein + veg + starch + dessert?
This is the basic format I use every time I make a meal for Raia. There’s always a protein and always a vegetable, usually a starch and sometimes fruit for dessert. There are occasions when I’ll add another vegetable or a legume instead of a starch, but this is the general template I use. We’re pretty liberal with giving Raia fruit for breakfast, and usually only give it to her for dessert at the other meals if she eats the majority of everything else.
When I’m thinking of how I’m going to compose a meal for my babe, I think of the colors of the rainbow and try to give her a good balance of each. This is also a great way to be sure you’re introducing your little to a wide variety of foods.
And YES, we do give Raia sweet treats every once in a while, but we tend to save them for special occasions. Although not always successful, we aim to give her sweets (if she’s having them) before 5pm or so, just so the sugar has some time to work through her system before bed.
Tip #2: Look at the week as a whole
As worried parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the fact that our babes are not eating very much of whatever they’ve been served. We spend all this time putting together a balanced meal, only to watch them pick at each thing or throw it all on the ground. This is where this tip comes in. Try to look at your little one’s diet as a whole throughout the course of a week, and judge their nutrient intake on that. A child is innately born with a survival instinct, and they will not go hungry!
For example, Raia is a GREAT breakfast eater, an average lunch eater and a not-so-great dinner eater. So, we focus on getting her as many nutrients as we can for breakfast – when she seems to be hungriest – and we don’t worry so much if she barely touches her dinner.
Tip #3: Don’t offer alternatives
This is a biggie. I see it alllll the time. Your little one refuses to eat the chicken, broccoli, etc. you put in front of them, and in an act of desperation you run to the kitchen and whip up a grilled cheese because, hey, at least they’ll eat it. Well, my friends, I’m sorry to say but you’re just setting your child up for failure. Hold your ground and, as I mentioned in Tip #2, when your child is REALLY hungry, they’ll eat!
If you really can’t bring yourself to watch your child refuse to eat anything you serve them, I offer this additional tip: Always include ONE “slam dunk” food on your child’s plate. This is something you know your child will eat and, when they eat it, you’re welcome to give them more. That way you know they’ll eat something, but you’re not demonstrating that they can just refuse what they’re served and you’ll make them something else.
Tip #4 Get your little involved in the cooking process
I’m telling you now, your little one will be soooo much more likely to eat something if he or she gets involved in making it! For babes and toddlers that are upright and have good balance, a learning tower [*affiliate link] is a great way to get them involved in the kitchen. For smaller babes, just showing them what you’re doing as you’re preparing their food makes them curious and excited to give these foods a try.
Okay, so those are my five big tips that I see as crucial in getting your little one(s) to eat balanced, nutritious meals, so now it’s time to share my incredibly easy to follow Baby or Toddler Meal Plan. I know that every family’s daily schedules look drastically different, and that’s okay! Simply use this as a rough guideline for planning out your baby or toddler’s daily meals.
Baby or Toddler Meal Plan
7:30am – 8am BREAKFAST
We tend to sit Raia down for breakfast with her morning milk fairly soon after she wakes. We found this was easier when transitioning her off breastfeeding/the bottle because it still gave her something to eat immediately upon waking. Typical breakfasts for her include:
- Egg cup + peanut butter toast + banana + milk
- Baked oatmeal + blueberries + milk
- Chia pudding with fruit + avocado toast + milk
NOTE: Since breakfast tends to be Raia’s biggest meal, we usually skip a morning snack. However, if your child doesn’t eat such a big breakfast, you may want to offer a small, organized snack around 10:30 (a healthy pumpkin muffin, string cheese, etc.)
Although we strive for a 12pm lunch, we’ll sometimes make it sooner if Raia seems like she’ll need an early nap (we’re currently on just one nap a day). Typical lunches for her include:
- Turkey and avocado sandwich on multigrain bread + string cheese
- Grilled chicken + butternut squash zig zags + brown rice
- Soup + broccoli + chicken sausage
This is just rough timing, but we usually give Raia her afternoon snack as soon as she wakes up from her nap. Snack usually consists of:
- A vegetable/oat/banana-based muffin (see my cookbook for recipes!)
- A toddler-friendly granola bar
- A fruit- and veggie-packed popsicle
Honestly, dinner usually looks a lot like lunch, I just try to mix and match the combos so she’s not always eating the same thing. We also give her her nighttime milk at this time. Here are some other balanced meal examples:
- Tri tip + zucchini + ravioli + milk
- Homemade rotisserie chicken + green beans + sweet potato + milk
- Black bean burger (recipe in my cookbook!) + avocado + sliced tomato + milk
See?? Soooo easy. And you can prep so much of this stuff ahead of time. I usually cook up two different veggies at once and store them in the fridge to mix and match with whatever protein we’ve cooked and eaten throughout the week. There’s really nothing to it, and once your kid gets used to delicious, balanced meals like this, they’re going to get more adventurous and curious about what you’re putting on their plate.
Question for you: Would you all have any interest in me offering more personal consultations when it comes to getting your baby or toddler to eat a balanced meal? What are some more pain points that I could help you solve? I want to help you, so please let me know! xoxo