Toddlers are special. Especially when it comes to food. Some days they eat nothing, other days they eat more than you. They'll say no to something one minute and it'll be their favorite food the next.
So with no plan to follow, sometimes it can feel like a never-ending minefield.
And that's where meal planning can really take the stress away.
Why a Toddler Meal Plan?
Since toddlers flip back and forth between loving a certain food and refusing it entirely, meal plans can be tricky. On the one hand.
On the other hand, meal plans can be a great way to give toddlers a consistent feeding schedule where you can proactively mix familiar foods with new stuff. Stuff they love with stuff they don't. And give yourself a plan to follow to prevent you from scrambling to find something (anything!) that your child will eat.
A Note on Portions and Safety
How much food any toddler needs is influenced by a number of different factors, including gender, age, weight, height, and physical activity.
For our meal plans, we have divided toddlers between 1 and 2 years old into 4 age groups and then taken the average energy and nutrient requirements for each one (as recommended by the FAO/WHO).
Note: Recommendations are actually roughly the same for children between 1 and 3 years old. So the meal plans for this age are mostly interchangeable. That said, we thought it would be helpful to give a few plans for this age instead of just 1.
So since these are general recommendations, let's lay out a few things that you should keep in mind:
- Some days your child will eat more than others – that's normal. They might want way more than you served one day and barely anything at all the next. Again: that's normal. Children naturally understand portion control and how to follow their bodies' cues. Unfortunately, we often un-learn that as we grow up.
- A hungry child should always be fed!
- You are in charge of what you serve, your child is in charge of what they eat. They might want more potatoes one day while ignoring the chicken on their plate. But the next day could be the opposite. Don't force them to finish something just because it's on their plate. They didn't put it there.
- You are in charge of monitoring your child's allergies and dietary requirements. These meal plans have not been customized for any specific child's allergies, dietary requirements, pre-existing nutrient deficiencies, or any other food-related requirements.
- Nothing can replace proper supervision of your child while they are eating. It should go without saying, but keep an eye on your kids while they eat. If you have any concerns for your child's health, you should seek advice without delay. And always follow safe food handling practices when preparing food.
How this Toddler Meal Plan is Designed
The 16-18 months toddler meal plan is based on 5 daily meals – 3 main meals and 2 snacks which can really be served in any order.
It also assumes your toddler is no longer drinking breastmilk or formula (if not the case, consider a milk/formula feeding would replace a snack).
We have a sample day to use as an example, and then a "make your own" which provides a guide based on food groups. That way you can make your own meal plans based on the foods you like to eat.
Click here to see all our other meal plans here.
Sample Toddler Meal Plan
Adapt the order of the meals to your family's eating habits if it doesn't fit for you already. However, try to keep a consistent schedule to provide your toddler with a sense of order to their day.
Lots of toddler breakdowns can be avoided by anticipating and serving them food before they get hangry!
Recipes Featured in the Toddler Sample Meal Plan
Build Your Own Meal Plan
Use this to improvise each day, or to plan some meals in advance. Quantities certainly don't need to be exact, but hopefully this provides a simple guideline to follow if you're unsure what your child needs.
For a list of portion sizes per food groups, click here.
Both the sample meal plan and build your own are based on average recommendations per age per FAO/WHO/UNU Energy Requirements. But please adapt the quantities to your own child!
Hopefully this helps you to have an instinct for what kinds of foods to serve and in (approximately) what amounts. Ultimately we hope this makes life a little easier for you and your toddler!
To learn more about toddler nutrition and see toddler nutrition charts see the Daily Toddler Nutrition Chart, 3 toddler meal plans and schedule, Toddler 12-15 month old sample meal plan, 19-21 month old toddler baby food chart and meal plan and the 2 year old food chart, food menu and meal ideas.