Feeding Schedules for Kids
We hear about eating schedules for babies all the time, but a feeding schedule works really well for kids, too. Having a meal routine that offers regular meals and snacks at timely intervals throughout the day can help your child develop and hone his appetite regulation skills — or his ability to eat when hungry and stop when full– and this is the foundation of lifelong healthy eating and living.
A regular schedule of meals and snacks help children get the myriad requirement of nutrients in their diet on a daily basis (40 different nutrients!), helping children grow well and maintain their health. This feeding schedule may also help normalize appetite cues and reduce hunger complaints.
Let’s look at the typical feeding schedule based on a child’s age:
- Very young children require three meals and up to three snacks per day to meet their nutritional needs for growth and development.
- School age children need 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day.
- Teens are like adults and do well with three meals and one snack each day, unless they are an athlete requiring more nutrition for athletic performance or are in a growth spurt and need additional calories and nutrients.
What are balanced meals?
Balanced meals represent most of the USDA MyPlate food groups, including protein foods, dairy foods (or non-dairy substitutes), fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Not only are you aiming for most food groups at a meal, you are also trying to incorporate a variety of foods within each food group. For example, within the fruit group, offer a range of options. In other words, offer most food groups at each meal and don’t offer the same types of food over and over. Mix it up so that your child gets exposed to a number of different nutrients throughout the day.
A general rule of thumb is to offer four to five food groups at meals, and at least two to three food groups at snack time.Offer your child at least 4-5 food groups at meals, and at least 2-3 food groups at snack time. Click To Tweet
The Timing of Meals
It is good for children to have a structure to their day, and with meals and snacks, this holds true. Generally, feeding intervals of every three to four hours seem to be most effective in preventing too much hunger and overeating in children.
What doesn’t work well with children is unpredictable timing when it comes to meals and snacks. Try to set a daily schedule that stays consistent for meals and snacks in your home.
For example, breakfast in the morning, lunch at mid-day, an after-school snack, and a dinner at a predictable time. It could look like this:
- 7 am breakfast
- 10 am snack
- 1 pm lunch
- 4 pm snack
- 7 pm dinner
Predictability is Your Friend
Ideally, you want to keep your meals and snacks flowing during the day, especially during the younger years. This routine and rhythm will build predictability and security around food and eating, and help keep undesirable behaviors, such as overeating, at bay.
The emotional response from a child who is unsure about when meals or snacks will be happening can build into an insecurity about food and eating. This can be seen in rapid eating, preoccupation with food, frequent questioning about when and what is being served for meals, and “sneak eating”.
Promote rhythm in your child’s eating experiences by staying on time, staying balanced and being predictable. With feeding, this takes a little bit of planning and practice. The results? A child who learns to normalize his eating, a healthy weight, and less fixation on food.
Want to see if you’re on track with raising a nourished, healthy child? Snag my checklist!
Need help with scheduling and planning snacks? Check out my Healthy Snack Planner for Kids!