How to Implement a Baby or Toddler Meal Plan

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!

Title graphic for How to Implement a Meal Plan for Your Baby or Toddler, with a photo of a baby looking on to a picnic of food.

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.

A picnic basket overflowing with fresh produce. Implementing a meal plan for your baby or toddler isn't complete without all types of fresh produce!

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!

A happy toddler snacking on roasted sweet potato in the back of a car...Having a toddler or baby meal plan in place makes healthy eating on the go even easier!

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.

Toddler and mommy having fun together. When it comes to meal prepping for your little one, get him or her involved!

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.)

A toddler enjoying a breakfast of bananas and milk in her high chair. Breakfast is a very important part of implementing a baby or toddler meal plan!
#bedhead
12:00pm LUNCH

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
3:30pm SNACK

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

A happy toddler enjoying a lunch picnic on the grass. Picnics are a great thing to plan into your baby or toddler's meal plan!

6:00pm Dinner

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

A toddler enjoying raw veggies sticks for dinner. Toddler meal planning is possible even when eating out!

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

When Is My Baby Ready to Start Solids?

These are some of the primary signs to look for when determining if your baby is ready to start eating solid foods.

A cute baby eating some of her first solid foods (and getting them all over her face) in her highchair.

**As with all of my posts related to baby-led weaning, I kindly remind you that I am sharing my experiences as a mother who has recently gone through this process and found great success in getting my little one to enjoy a wide variety of foods. I am sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way in hopes that these posts will be another source of information you can gather from in the VAST array of research I’m sure you’re already doing to formulate whatever personal parenting style you choose to use with your children. I am not a doctor, registered dietitian or nutritionist and the information I provide should never take the place of or override that provided by these professionals. For more information on baby-led weaning, I urge you to read 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].

Okay, now that that’s all out of the way, I’m excited to share with you today three signs we looked for when deciding if our baby girl was ready to start on solid food.

Before I get to the list, though, I think it’s important that I give you a little background on our breastfeeding and formula journey (yes, we used both!)

A dad feeding his baby girl a bottle in a rocking chair.

OUR BREASTFEEDING (AND FORMULA) JOURNEY

I don’t think enough people get real about just how TOUGH breastfeeding is. Man, it is HARD WORK and something that requires intense concentration to get right, especially when you’ve suddenly had a tiny human thrust into your arms that you’re responsible for keeping alive. Lactation consultants are in high demand and it’s no wonder why. I am so grateful that my mom is a retired NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nurse and also happens to have a good friend who is a lactation consultant, otherwise I have no idea what I would have done!

My little one had a strong latch from the very first time we tried to breastfeed, and that was a primary reason for why the nurses encouraged me to use a nipple shield right away [*affiliate link]. They didn’t want her destroying me before I’d even had a chance to meet with a consultant!

I ended up continuing to use the shield for a couple of reasons as time went on (until about 4 months old) and, even though it was yet another thing to juggle when I was trying to stay somewhat decent breastfeeding in public, I got the hang of it and it turned into no big thanggggg.

Mama breastfeeding her baby in bed with a cup of coffee in hand.

Things were going well for a while, but around month 5 it seemed like baby girl just wasn’t satisfied after we’d finish a nursing session. And let me tell you, it wasn’t because I didn’t give her enough time…She was a suuuuper slow nurser and would always happily nurse for a solid 20 minutes each side.

I’m sure you can imagine if you’re a mom, but this was stressing me out, and I can bet that wasn’t helping with my supply. This was the time my mom recommended we start thinking about introducing some rice cereal, and after clearance from our doctor to do so, we tried it.

Now, my little one has always loved food, but even though she seemed INTERESTED in the small amounts of rice cereal I started feeding her, the majority of it was ending up everywhere EXCEPT her mouth, and it still seemed like she was hungry. This was when we made the decision to start introducing some formula, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I was finally able to convince myself of the fact that I shouldn’t let my pride about “exclusively breastfeeding” get in the way of my daughter’s happiness and wellbeing.
  2. I need to start thinking of MY wellbeing, too. Was forcing myself to exclusively breastfeed when it was becoming really stressful the best choice for me and my mental state? That was a big, fat NO.
  3. I would continue to breastfeed, but would give her formula to SUPPLEMENT. Then it was a win-win: she (and I) both continued to reap the benefits of breastfeeding, but I would be confident in the fact that she was getting the nutrients and calories she needed through formula.

If you are familiar with baby-led weaning, then you know that your babe’s calories from solids are not intended to take the place of his or her calories from formula/breastmilk until they are around one year old. Rather, solids are meant to be a fun exploration for your little one. If they eat what you serve, great! But don’t worry about them NOT eating because their primary source of calories and nutrients is still formula.

I ended up continuing to breastfeed in some way or another until Raia was 10 ½ months (we would have gone longer but I had a trip to go on and was SO over bringing my pump with me), at which point we weaned to straight formula until 12 months, when we introduced dairy milk. Her milk intake had steadily dwindled the more she got into food, so it was an easy transition and, looking back, I have no regrets.

A cute baby stripped down in a highchair enjoying some of her first solid foods.

I promise I’m about to get into the “signs to start solids,” but before I do so I want to leave you with this little nugget:

It’s so easy to get caught up in society’s idea of the “perfect” way to raise your child, whether it be through exclusively breastfeeding until at least 12 months or putting your child in full-time childcare (and a million other examples). I want you to absorb the societal noise – don’t ignore it – but then take a step back and look at YOU and your family. What is best for YOUR overall wellbeing? We can’t forget ourselves. Screw society. We need to take care of US just as much as we need to take care of our littles.

That all being said, here are the three main signs we saw that told us Raia was ready for solids – and the signs you may want to look for in your little as well:

#1 Sitting Up Unassisted

You want to make sure your little has enough strength to hold him- or herself in a position that they can safely consume solid foods. This is crucial with baby-led weaning as you move straight to solid solids – not purées – and you don’t want them to choke! You can tell if your baby is at this point by placing them in their highchair and seeing if they support themselves or lean forwards or backwards (or sideways) to help prop themselves up.

A baby sitting up unassisted to show she is ready to start exploring solid foods.

#2 Genuine Interest in What You’re Eating

I mean, this video kind of says it all. Am I right?

Those mouth noises just crack me up! It was pretty obvious to us when Raia was starting to have an interest in solid foods. We’re talking, mouth open, ready for us to drop something in as soon as we took a bite. Another common sign of this might be them reaching towards food. Every baby is different.

#3 Adequate Motor Control

You don’t have to worry so much about their oral dexterity (they will learn this through the baby-led weaning process – it’s why gagging happens) but you want to make sure they have the manual dexterity to at least pick up properly prepared “sticks” or other larger pieces of food. You may have heard about the gagging that is often associated with baby-led weaning, but if you read the book I recommend [*affiliate link] you’ll see why gagging is a perfectly normal part of baby’s oral motor skill development. You can also watch YouTube videos on it to learn what to look for and the difference between “gagging” and “choking.”

And there you have it! Short and sweet, but you can see these are all pretty significant landmarks to look out for.

Mom letting baby nibble on a whole apple.

I hope this is helpful for you, and I also hope you’ll reach out with any additional questions.

If your little has reached all of these milestones and you’re ready to embark on your solid foods journey, check out this other related post on what I recommend for baby’s first foods!

Easy Breakfast Recipes that are Baby-Led Weaning Approved!

These easy breakfast recipes are all baby-led weaning approved, yet fitting for the whole family. Keep them on hand for delicious, nutritious meals to start your gang’s day off on the right foot.

Title graphic four Easy Breakfast Recipes That are Baby-Led Weaning Approved!

One of the best things about baby-led weaning is that you’re encouraged to feed your child whatever you’re eating, as long as you eat a balanced, healthy diet. This eliminates the need to always be making two (or more) dishes at every meal, thus saving you time and energy. Amen to that! That being said, there is definitely some transition time when your child is mastering the oral and manual skills needed to consume “normal” people food. This is when these family-friendly breakfast recipes come in!

These recipes are all baby-led weaning approved*, yet will satisfy your entire family, no matter what age. As an added bonus, many of them are make-ahead, which means you can whip them up when you have some extra time and freeze or refrigerate them until ready to use.

I’ve tried to cover a little bit of everything, so you’re sure to find something in this collection that your littles are totally in love with. And for more freezer-friendly baby breakfast recipes, be sure to check out my e-cookbook, 30 Freezer-Friendly Recipes for Babies and Toddlers.

Baby-Led Weaning Savoury Muffins
A plate of Savoury Breakfast Muffins adorned with cherry tomatoes.
My Gorgeous Recipes
Allergen-Friendly Sweet Potato Cookies
A tall stack of Allergen-Friendly Sweet Potato Cookies.
This Healthy Kitchen
Super Simple Pumpkin Carrot Muffins
A stack of pumpkin carrot muffins, plus one broken in half, in front of a small carafe of milk.
CaliGirl Cooking
Porridge Bites

by Mrs. Jones’s Kitchen

Strawberry Ricotta French Toast

by Mrs. Jones’s Kitchen

Potato Pancakes

 

A plate with three potato pancakes, topped with butter and served with a side of grapes.
Easy Baby Meals
Healthy Zucchini Muffins
Three Healthy Zucchini Muffins freshly pulled out of the pan.
Bowl of Delicious
Peanut Butter Banana Baked Oatmeal
A pan of fresh baked Peanut Butter Banana Baked Oatmeal with a piece cut out of it.
Haute and Healthy Living
Oat Milk Chia Pudding with Blueberry Orange Compote
Three jars of Oat Milk Chia Pudding topped with Blueberry Orange Compote on a wooden serving plank.
CaliGirl Cooking
Spinach Zucchini Frittata Fingers

 

A stack of Spinach Zucchini Frittata Fingers separated by parchment paper and a butler knife.
Haute and Healthy Living
Healthy Carrot Cake Pancakes
A stack of Healthy Carrot Cake Pancakes with a wooden zebra pull toy behind it.
CaliGirl Cooking
Strawberry Banana Chickpea Muffins
A freshly baked pan of Strawberry Banana Chickpea Muffins.
Bucket List Tummy

Do you have any baby-led weaning breakfast recipes that you turn to time and again?? I’d love for you to let me know in the comments below!

*This is a generalized statement. All babies develop certain skills at different ages, so use your best judgment or ask a doctor when deciding if your child is ready to consume any particular food. For more information on baby-led weaning, I recommend reading this book [*affiliate link] and visit my Baby-Led Weaning Resource Page [coming soon!]

Best First Foods for Baby-Led Weaning

These are some of the best first foods you can introduce to your baby if you are following the baby-led weaning method.

Title graphic showing four of the best first foods for baby-led weaning, including zucchini, squash, bananas and oatmeal.

So, your babe is consistently demonstrating signs that they are ready to start solid foods and your doctor has given you the go-ahead to start on the solid food journey with your babe. Now what? It can be a bit scary when you first introduce solids to your little one, but these five foods are all great ways to get started.

While none of the below foods are common allergens, I encourage you to read up on the baby-led weaning method of introducing new foods. BLW (baby-led weaning) advocates introducing your babe to common allergens early and often, but one at a time so you’re aware of any adverse reactions. We are lucky that our little one doesn’t seem to have any food allergies or sensitivities, but if your little one does, you may want to consult a medical professional.

Another quick note: Don’t worry if your child doesn’t yet have teeth! Raia didn’t get her first tooth until after she was a year old, and that didn’t seem to hold her back one bit when it came to eating. You’ll be amazed at what they can do with just their gums!

So, without further ado, here were some of our favorite first foods for baby:

#1 Roasted Zucchini Sticks

A dish of roasted dill zucchini sticks.

Quick Fix: Cut zucchini into 3-4 inch long sticks. Toss with olive oil and some sort of fresh or dried herb (oregano and dill are both favorites) Roast in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until soft enough for your little one to “gum”. If you want to be extra cautious, peel the skin off the zucchini before cutting it into sticks.

#2 Oven-Baked Butternut Squash Fries

A dish of roasted butternut squash zig zags,

Quick Fix: Prepare in the same way as the zucchini sticks, but try using curry powder or a mix of ground cinnamon and nutmeg.

#3 Sliced Avocado

Quick Fix: Cut your avocado in half, then in quarters. Peel off the skin and slice in half again. Serve plain.

#4 Banana

A clear glass dish full of sliced banana.

Quick Fix: When baby is first starting out, I might recommend cutting the banana lengthwise in half or quarters. Once they have swallowing down pat, you can just hand them an unpeeled banana, or cut it up into discs.

#5 Oatmeal

A clear glass dish of oatmeal topped with berry compote.

Quick Fix: Make oatmeal however you usually make it, but be sure you are using PLAIN rolled or steel-cut oats and are not adding in additional sugars or salt. Some of my favorite early oatmeal additions are pureed pumpkin or a homemade (no sugar added) fruit conserve.

*Note: Unless your little one needs extra iron in his or her diet, it is not necessary to start them out with baby oatmeal or rice cereal. Instead, you can go straight to real oatmeal or rice cereal that you would make for yourself.

Finally, one of my very favorite things about baby-led weaning is the fact that it encourages you to introduce your little one to as many herbs and spices as possible as early as possible. One resource that I have found INCREDIBLY helpful when preparing food for my little one is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg [*affiliate link]. It lists out common foods and then gives recommendations of flavor pairings that complement each one. I highly recommend you invest in it!

I hope this post has given you the tools you need to feel confident in preparing your baby’s first foods. As your little one’s oral and manual dexterity progresses, you’ll find more and more foods that they are able to eat. For some easy baby-led weaning recipe ideas, be sure to check out my e-cookbook, 30 Freezer-Friendly Recipes for Babies and Toddlers, this post on Easy Breakfast Recipes That Are Baby-Led Weaning Friendly and this list of 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes.

Happy cooking!

10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes

These easy, healthy recipes are baby- and kid-friendly and perfect for baby-led weaning. They can also all be made ahead and stored in the freezer for meal-prep convenience. 

These easy, make-ahead baby-led weaning recipes are freezer-friendly and perfect for meal prep. Healthy meals for your babe in minutes!

No matter how much I want to flex my recipe creativity muscle and make cool, irresistible adult food, it’s been hard to ignore the fact that there’s a HUGE need out there for more baby-friendly and baby-led weaning recipes. There seem to be a lot of other mamas out there looking for healthy recipe inspiration for their little ones and I want to help!

I’ve got quite a few of my own baby-led weaning recipes I’ve been working on perfecting for all of you mamas out there – which you’ll be seeing soon – but, in the meantime, I reached out to some of my other mama blogger friends for their favorite baby-friendly and baby-led weaning recipes.

Disclosure: We chose to follow baby-led weaning when introducing our now 14-month-old to solids and couldn’t be happier with the results. If you’re unfamiliar with the method and want to learn more, I highly recommend reading Gill Rapley’s book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods — and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Healthy and Confident Eater

That being said, here are 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes!

1.Healthy Carrot Cake Pancakes
Healthy Carrot Cake Pancakes | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by CaliGirl Cooking
2. Sweet Potato Lentil Tater Tots
Sweet Potato Lentil Tater Tots | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by Haute and Healthy Living
3. Salmon and Veggie Balls
Salmon and Veggie Balls | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by Kidgredients
4. Chickpea PancaKES
Chickpea Pancakes | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by Healthy Little Foodies
5. bROCCOLI tOTS
Broccoli Tots | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by White Coat Pink Apron
6. oAT mILK cHIA pUDDING WITH bLUEBERRY oRANGE cOMPOTE
Oat Milk Chia Pudding with Blueberry Orange Compote | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by CaliGirl Cooking
7. sAVORY bEET zUCCHINI bREAD
Savory Beet Zucchini Bread | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by MJ and Hungry Man
8. sUPER sIMPLE pUMPKIN cARROT mUFFINS
Super Simple Pumpkin Carrot Muffins | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by CaliGirl Cooking
9. qUINOA bITES

by The Belly Rules the Mind

10. bABY’S fIRST pANCAKES
Baby's First Pancakes | 10 Easy Make-Ahead Baby-Led Weaning Recipes on CaliGirlCooking.com
by Eat Real Live Well