Meal Suggestions & Ideas for a Three Year Old

By Carolyn Scheidies
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Your 3-year-old is beginning to have definite ideas about what will and will not go into his mouth -- or onto the floor. He is beginning to show an independent streak and meal time should include foods a small child can pick up and eat without the assistance of an adult. Meals for your 3-year-old should also take into account nutrition, providing food that is fun to eat but also healthy.

Healthy Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast for your 3-year-old may include whole grain cereal with milk and whole grain breads. Oatmeal with fresh fruit makes a good hot breakfast. Pancakes made with whole grains can be topped not with syrup, but with a natural unsweetened apple sauce or yogurt. Yogurt is a healthy choice for your 3-year-old that is easy to eat. Look for yogurts low in sugar that meet National Yogurt Association criteria for live and active culture yogurt. 3-year-olds sensitive to dairy can often drink soy milk and use soy products. Keep in mind that dexterity may not not be well developed at this age. Cut all food served into portions your 3-year-old can pick up easily and that will not cause choking. Pieces must be smaller than 1/2 inch, according to the American Academy of Pediatric's website,

Lunch Time

Lunch for your 3-year-old should include whole grains, natural fruits and vegetables and dairy. Remember that a small child has a small stomach and can only eat so much food at a time. Avoid sugar and processed foods, instead focusing on nutritious selections. For a healthy lunch, serve whole grain crackers with turkey. This provides protein, as do sandwiches, using whole grain bread, with chicken or tuna, cut into portions easily picked up by your 3-year-old. Oranges can be pulled into wedges and served with whole grain muffins and cottage cheese.

What's for Dinner

Dinner for your 3-year-old should consist of a meat, or a protein substitute if your family is vegetarian, a cooked vegetable or two such as carrots, peas or beans, potato or rice and fruit. Serve meat that is easily chewed and digested by the 3-year-old stomach. Tough steak, even cut into small pieces, may cause choking. Hamburger is easier to digest. Chicken and poultry are also good meats. Remember to remove the skin. Meals should not be fried or overly processed. Hold the sauces.

Time for a Snack

Processed cheese, ice cream and sugar-laden juices are not a good substitute for healthy natural foods at snack time. Sugar laden and processed foods are not only unhealthy, they also harm the teeth. Be sure your 3-year-old has plenty of water. Pop or soda and sugar-laden juices are not a good substitute for water and should not be offered. For a sweet but healthy snack, blend milk and fresh fruit, or fruit frozen without sugar, with plain or natural yogurt to make a milkshake. Choose your 3-year-old's favorite fruit and serve with a straw. Apple or orange slices also make good snacks.

Please be Cautious

Always remove seeds before serving fruit. At this stage of your 3-year-old's development, you might also want to remove the skin of the fruit before cutting it into toddler-sized portions. Cook vegetables—even carrots. Stay away from popcorn, nuts, hot dogs, peanut butter chunks, marshmallows, gum and hard candy, warns the American Academy of Pediatric's website,, as these foods can easily choke your little one. A large portion of any food that is eaten at once can cause choking. Always keep an eye on your 3-year-old when he is eating.

About the Author

Carolyn Scheidies has been writing professionally since 1994. She writes a column for the “Kearney Hub” and her latest book is “From the Ashes.” She holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where she has also lectured in the media department.