How often should my child eat?

Young children have small stomachs and high energy needs, so they need to eat frequently. In this blog, you’ll learn how often toddlers, preschoolers, and young children need to eat, to grow and thrive.

From toddlerhood onwards, food is your child’s primary source of nutrition. Children rely on us – their parents or caregivers – to provide them with planned and regular opportunities to eat (i.e., structured mealtimes). Your child’s feeding schedule will change as they grow, so it is important to know what to expect at each stage. The section below provides general advice on how often you should feed your child, according to their age.

Feeding Schedules by Age

Toddlers (1-3 years) 

Parents and caregivers should offer children aged 1-3 years, three meals and 2-3 snacks per day with eating occasions spaced 2-3 hours apart. A typical feeding schedule would consist of breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and/or a pre-bedtime snack.

Australia’s Infant Feeding Guidelines encourage breastfeeding beyond 12 months of age for as long as the mother and child desire. During toddlerhood, you may breastfeed your child on one or more occasions within a 24-hour period. Where possible, you should offer breastfeeds after meals and snacks, to avoid impacting food intake. Continued use of bottles or formula is discouraged for children one year or older. You do not need to stop providing bottles or formula to your child immediately – a gradual transition to cow’s milk (or alternatives) over several days or weeks is okay.

Parents and caregivers should think of milk (breastmilk, cow’s milk, or alternatives) as a drink that accompanies a meal or snack, rather than the meal or snack itself. Parents and caregivers should limit their child’s milk consumption to a maximum of 500 ml per day to avoid displacing nutrients from food.

Preschoolers (3-5 years) and young children

Parents and caregivers should offer children aged 3-5 years, three meals and 2-3 snacks per day with eating occasions spaced 3-4 hours apart. Because your child’s stomach capacity has increased and they are able to go for longer periods between eating occasions, you may find that two snacks are sufficient. Often the pre-bedtime snack is the easiest to forgo because you can offer dinner later (compared to when your child was younger). Children older than five years are likely to only need three meals and two snacks per day, with eating occasions spaced 3-4 hours apart.

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