Introducing three meals a day

With solids replacing milk as your baby's main source of nutrition, what should he be eating and when?

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In the early stages of weaning, eating solids is more about getting your baby used to the taste and texture of food than about filling him up. Until a year, most of the calories and nutrients he needs will come from his milk feeds. But as he becomes more established on solids, you’ll find you need to introduce more meals and snacks and reduce the amount of milk he takes.

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Most babies are ready to eat three meals a day once they’re about 10 months old. By this point, your baby should be able to sit up on his own and is moving on from purees to chunkier foods. He’ll also be expending more energy by crawling and possibly taking his first steps. This means he’ll be needing more in the way of solids: a good breakfast followed by either two hot meals, or one hot meal and one lighter or finger-food meal, such as sandwiches or scrambled egg. 

Fitting in three meals a day

Children love routine, so find a mealtime schedule that fits in with your lifestyle and try to stick with it. That way your baby will come to expect food at certain times of the day. Fitting in three meals a day can be tricky, especially with naps and activities to cram in too, and you may need to experiment slightly with timings to find a schedule that suits your baby.

Most mums aim for breakfast to be finished by 8am, then have lunch around 11.30-12noon and tea at 4.30-5pm. Don’t worry too much if your baby seems to be eating at slightly odd times; if he usually goes down for a nap at 11.30am, you might find you have to postpone lunch until he wakes at 2pm. As he gets older and moves from two naps to one, it will be easier to implement a more grown-up feeding routine. 

What to feed and when

It’s best to serve up the main protein meal of the day at lunchtime. If your child is tired by teatime, and liable to be fussy with his food, at least you know he’s had one good meal and you can be more relaxed about rustling up something easy. Be flexible according to the needs of your baby (and you!). If you have to take an older child to playgroup, for example, you may want to give your little one his milk before you leave the house, and then make his breakfast when you get back.

As well as having three meals a day, your baby will also need a couple of healthy snacks, ideally one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Space the snacks evenly between meals to help avoid the tantrums that come with being over-hungry. Avoid giving snacks – or large quantities of milk or juice – too close to mealtimes as it’ll take the edge off your baby’s appetite. Milk is still a vital part of his diet at this age, however, so make sure you still give him a cup or a bottle first thing in the morning and  another one before bedtime. Offer another cup with his teatime meal, but not before they’ve eaten at least half of their food first. 

Nutritious puddings, such as fruit salad with yoghurt, are a valuable part of your baby’s meal, so offer a light dessert after both lunch and tea. But don’t use a pudding as a bribe for eating the savoury course, or your child will come to the conclusion that his main meal isn’t something to be endured, not enjoyed. Remember too that babies and toddlers only have little tummies and can’t eat large amounts of food at one sitting. Keep portion sizes small and then offer more if your child is still hungry; a huge pile of food on the plate can be so daunting that your baby is completely put off. 

Finally, bear in mind that toddlers’ appetites can vary from day to day. Don’t worry about exactly what he eats at each mealtime; just ensure he’s getting a good balance of food types across the day, and throughout the week. Aim for a minimum of 350ml (12oz) of full-fat cow’s milk and two servings of dairy products, four servings of carbs, four servings of fruit and vegetables, and one serving of meat, eggs or pulses. 

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