Inside: Looking for some easy 3 Year Old Meal Ideas? In this post I’m sharing what my 3 year old ate in a day, plus a simple feeding schedule to follow for less stressful mealtimes.
If you’re in need of some healthy, practical, and most importantly – easy! – meal ideas for a 3 year old, you’re in the right place.
Today I’m sharing what my 3 year old daughter ate in a day + a basic feeding schedule to follow for mealtimes and snacks.
The meal ideas shared in the post are based on what I had on hand that day. I didn’t do any sort of special grocery shop for this post. This is basically a snapshot of an average day around here.
Feeding our kids is a reality of our daily lives as moms (or dads!) but you don’t often hear about the invisible mental load associated with this never-ending task.
- What to feed them?
- When to feed them?
- How much to feed them?
- What’s the grocery budget?
- Are there any good sales or coupons this week?
- When can I get to the store without the kids?
- What should the meal plan be this week?
You’re not alone. The mental gymnastics of feeding a family is exhausting.
My goal today is to help simplify that process for you.
Feeding Schedules & Division of Responsibility
(WHAT TIME SHOULD I FEED MY CHILD?)
The times of day your preschooler eats largely depend on two factors:
- The time they wake up in the morning
- The time they go to bed at night.
For example, if your 3 year old is an early riser, 7 AM is a good time to eat breakfast. However, if they usually sleep until 8, you may not be able to feed them breakfast until 8:15/8:30.
You’ll want to start with their wake-up time and space out the rest of their meals and snacks from there.
Their hunger is also the best indicator of how much they should eat. After all, they know their bodies best. Let their hunger guide how much they eat and you guide when they eat. This is also known as the Division of Responsibility.
In other words, you can’t make your child eat a certain amount, and you wouldn’t want to! Kids are very intuitive when it comes to hunger and it’s important to remember that portion sizes at this age are actually very small.
Of course it’s natural to worry, “did they eat enough?” – but forcing them to eat or leveraging dessert with dinner, only creates power struggles when it comes to mealtime.
- You decide when meals are served and what foods are served
- They decide what to eat (from what’s served) and how much
As parents, we set the snack and mealtimes for our families. Whether your child chooses to eat at those set times is up to them. You can always remind them that “there will be another snack after naptime” – or – “we just finished breakfast, we’ll have something else to eat after we play outside.“
SAMPLE DAILY FEEDING SCHEDULE FOR A 3 YEAR OLD
Please remember that all kids are different! This is just to give you an idea and help guide you in planning meals. Just a friendly reminder that I am not a nutritionist or dietitian, as always, I’m sharing what works for me and my kids.
6:30 AM – Wake Up / Play in room until 7
7:00 AM – Light snack (if necessary)
7:30 AM – Breakfast
10 AM – Morning Snack
12:00 PM – Lunch
1:00 PM – Quiet-time
3:00 PM – Afternoon Snack
5:30 PM – Dinner
6:30 PM – Bedtime snack (if necessary)
Related: My 3 Year Old’s Daily Routine
How many meals or snacks should my 3 year old eat in a day?
Again, you know your child best! Some days your growing toddler may eat nonstop and other days they may take one bite and be done. Yes, this is normal!
- It’s important to take into account what your 3 year old eats throughout the week, not just in a single day.
- Kids are also known for front-loading their calories, meaning they may eat a huge breakfast, small lunch and even smaller dinner. This is normal.
- As kids get older, growth slows down a bit, so you may notice that your 5 year old eats less than your 3 year old.
- Most kids this age will need 3 meals and 2 snacks. That being said, it’s okay if your child is more (or less) hungry and requires more (or less) meals and snacks.
To avoid the constant begging for snacks, use a feeding schedule or routine to provide structure to your day.
- Serve meals at the table or at a little kid’s table
- As much as possible make regular meals distraction-free
- Bring snacks along with you on outings to avoid hunger meltdowns
- Provide filling snacks that combine protein + carbs + healthy fat
Easy 3 Year Old Meal Ideas: What My 3 Year Old Ate in a Day
Morning Snack 7:00 AM
Penelope wakes up at 6 AM and plays in her room until her nightlight turns green at 7. You can read more about how I set up that morning routine, here. I like to have a simple snack for her at 7 since she’s already been awake for an hour.
Here are a few pre-breakfast snack ideas:
- Yogurt or applesauce pouch
- Sliced apples or banana
- Dry cereal (such as Cheerios) and fruit
Breakfast 7:30/7:45 AM
By this time I’ll have breakfast made. I usually make the same meal for both of us to keep things easy!
- Omelette bites (instructions below)
- Mini bagel & cream cheese
- Sliced strawberries
Easy variations: sub scrambled eggs and regular toast, sub whatever fruit is in season!
Morning Snack 10:00 AM
Sometimes this snack happens on-the-go while running errands and other times at home. I’ve shared two different options here to give you ideas for both!
- Pita chips
- Dried blueberries
- String cheese
- Applesauce cup
- Horizon chocolate milk
- Strawberries & cantaloupe
- Hummus pack
- Pretzel sticks
Lunch 12:30 PM
Some days my 3 year old will eat a huge lunch and other days she only wants fruit. As I said before, this is normal and it’s important to respect their hunger cues!
- Tuna salad & crackers (we like Simple Mills crackers)
- Chopped cucumbers
- Orange segments & blackberries
Variations: Use chicken salad instead of tuna, sub in whatever fruit is in season.
Afternoon Snack 3:30 PM
This is the last snack before dinner, and my only rule is that once I start cooking dinner, the kitchen is closed on snacks, except for easy raw veggies like cucumber or carrot sticks.
- Simple Mills crackers
- Chopped avocado
- Frozen mango (thaw slightly for younger toddlers)
Dinner 5/5:30 PM
We eat a pretty early dinner as this is when the kids are most hungry. They typically can’t wait much past 5:30 so I like to prioritize an early dinner. My girls (3 & 5) are usually in bed by 6:30 PM, so this spacing between dinner and bedtime works well for us.
- Annie’s Mac & Cheese
- Peas and carrots (sauteed in a little butter)
- Frozen strawberries (let these thaw a little and chop for younger toddlers)
Variations: Sub in pasta for the mac & cheese, use fresh fruit if available, serve roasted carrot sticks for a different shape & texture.