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Tips for Basic Meal Planning and Nutrition for Toddlers

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Oct 29, 2015 10:00:00 AM

It's normal for toddlers to be picky eaters. Offering healthy and nutrition foods will help maximize nutrition and get the most out of meals and snacks. Take a look at the tips below to help you plan healthy nutritious options for your toddler (and get even more resources on meal planning for the entire family here).


Regular Schedule

Having a schedule helps everyone feel organized and function throughout the day. Your toddler is no different. A regular feeding schedule helps them expect that another option is coming soon. Because toddlers can be picky eaters, you an relax knowing that there are several opportunities throughout the day for your little guy to get nutritious foods. Aim for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a couple of healthy snacks each day. Click here to see some basic guidelines regarding how much of each food group your child should be eating each day.

  • Breakfast Start each day at the same time and place to create a healthy breakfast routine. This doesn't need to be the biggest meal of the day. Start with toddler sized portions and give more if they are still hungry. Aim for food options from three different food groups.

  • Midmorning Snack Offer a snack a couple hours after breakfast and before lunch. If a toddler eats too much snack, he might not want to eat at the next meal, but this is OK if the snack is full of healthy foods. Try to avoid processed and sugary snacks during the day. ?Aim for options from two different food groups

  • Lunch Aim for options from three different food groups at lunch. Try to take them from different food groups than you offered for breakfast.

  • Midafternoon Snack This snack should be a couple hours after lunch and a couple hours before dinner. Keeping a regular schedule helps your child understand snacks. Eat at the table at a certain time each day if you can. Don't let your child graze all day and play while they eat. Snacks have a purpose. Aim to include options from two different food groups.

  • Dinner A lot of toddlers don't eat a lot for dinner. They may be tired, not hungry, or their nutritional needs may already be met. Don't stress out about it. Children will eat when they need to eat, especially if there is a regular schedule in place. Aim to include options from three different food groups.

  • Evening Snack Depending on how much your child ate throughout the day, an evening snack may be needed. If there are less than two hours between dinner and bedtime, an evening snack may not be needed. Focus on foods that are easy to digest and foods that are light and low in sugar, such as all natural applesauce.

Try Using a Formula

We like using a formula to help plan meals, as you might remember from our healthy lunch post earlier. A basic formula to help you plan a great toddler menu is:

  • Snacks = food from two food groups
  • Meals = food from three food groups

Some examples of using this formula might be as follows

  • Snack = cheese stick (dairy) + crackers (grains)
  • Snack = fruit + yogurt (dairy)
  • Meal = meat + vegetable + dairy
  • Meal = dairy + fruit + vegetable

The number of combinations here are endless. Think about what your child likes and dislikes, and start there. Following these formulas allows you to plug in healthy options each time your child eats, and gives you plan to stick to to be sure nutritious choices are being offered more often than not. Click here for a more specific plan.


Drinking water keeps us hydrated, but also ensures that we don't fill up on juice or milk before meal time. Have your toddler drink only water in between meal times, that includes drinking water during snack time. At meal times, offer milk or juice but remember these guidelines.

  • Limit milk to 2 cups a day.
  • Limit juice to 4-6 oz of 100% juice a day.

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Topics: Nutrition, Moms