So you’ve got this feeding thing underway now. Your baby has met all the developmental markers and has started to eat foods. You know how much you should be feeding them at each meal, but just how many meals should your baby be eating?
At 6 months old, start by feeding your baby at least two meals a day. Feeding three meals isn’t a bad thing and can help with skill development. It can be quite the task between nap times and the amount of time your baby wants to sit at the table, though! So don’t feel the need to get 3 meals in every day at the beginning. (As with pretty much anything I write about, please pay attention to your baby first and foremost. These are general guidelines, but your parenting intuition rocks and you should listen to that above all else!)
It doesn’t matter what time these meals are at. The most important thing is that you, or another adult, sit down and have food with your baby. Babies learn by modeling from their parents. If you are demonstrating how to eat food it will only help your baby's skills progress. If you are new to the blog, make sure to check out the post on the importance of family meals to help start you off on the right foot. Also check out this one on how to start your baby on solid foods.
Do not fret if your baby seems to play with their food more than actually eat it. It is totally normal and developmentally appropriate. It also means that you have a bit of a grace period during this time while you are trying to figure out how to serve them meals at the right time, with the right foods, and everything else that goes into the feeding relationship you are developing with your baby. However you end up doing it that works for you is fine for your baby! As long as somehow you are getting them food a few times a day that they can practice eating with it will work. For a few pointers on how to start your baby on solids, grab my free First Foods printable.
By the time your baby has been eating for a few months, they have likely progressed to actually being able to ingest more of their food. When this starts to happen, start to feed 3 meals every day. You will start to notice that your baby is much more interested in meals. Your baby might even demand solid food! This is normal and great progress, but do make sure that you continue to consider breast milk or formula their primary source of nutrition throughout their first year. Babies will naturally start to want less breast milk or formula as they approach being one year old. They start to eat more and more solid food, so do not be alarmed as long as they continue to develop and grow normally.
During this eight to ten month period, there will be lots of changes happening as you actively transition into feeding your baby more solid food. Some days you will be out and about and unable to sit down to give that third meal. As tempting as it is to feed on the run, your baby is still learning to eat and is at a high risk for choking. If you aren’t able to sit with your baby being actively monitored by you or another adult while eating, it is not worth the choking risk to feed them. Breast milk or formula is still providing most of their calories. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to feed your baby multiple meals a day at this stage! But sometimes life happens, and missing a meal of solid food is preferable, in my mind, to feeding unsafely.
As your baby gets even more comfortable with solid foods, they will start to want more meals. At this point you can transition to three meals a day plus 1-2 snacks. Think of the snacks as just more meals, and aim to make all of them balanced so they have staying power and keep your baby full between meals. Check out my video on building balanced snacks to get started, and grab my fridge list of snacks to help yourself build snacks on the fly.
Feeding your baby multiple meals a day can feel daunting at the beginning of introducing solid foods. Knowing what to expect, how to progress, and allowing your baby to lead the way can help reduce any uncertainties around the whole process. As your baby gets older, incorporating them into your family meals will get even easier, especially as the amount of time they are asleep decreases and stabilizes throughout the first year!