How to Align Baby’s Meal Times with Family’s Meal Times

When to move your child’s meal times so they are at the same time as the rest of the family. What time should baby eat dinner?

baby eating family meal

When you first start to feed your baby solid foods, baby’s eating schedule isn’t usually lined up with the same times the family eats meals.

You can really start to feel like all you do all day is feed people between baby eating and feeding the family.

As baby gets older, there is a natural progression of moving more toward eating at the same time the rest of the family moves. This happens in part because the feeding schedule lines up, in part because you line up with the baby’s schedule, and in part because baby becomes more independent of an eater.

Here are the details on the steps you take to get baby eating meals at the same time as the rest of the family.

Start with Finger Foods at Family Meals

I would consider the first step in aligning meals with the family to be starting by having the baby sit with you at family meals and eat finger foods while the family eats.

You will likely feed the baby her meal first, then do a family meal. Let’s take lunch for example. If your baby is eating at 7-11-3-7, then you would feed baby her liquid and solids at 11. Let’s say your family eats lunch at noon. At noon, you would put your baby in the high chair (or whatever you use) and give her finger foods that are safe for her while your family eats lunch.

A good thing about having the baby be there for meals is that they can see early on what proper table manners are and also so they are part of the social environment of meals.

With the finger foods, you aren’t worried about getting well-rounded nutrition in; focus on that at baby’s meal times. You want to feed healthy snacks, but you don’t need to be concerned about exactly what it is.

There are a lot of vegetables you can give baby. While you want to be careful about foods that pose a choking hazard, your little one can probably handle more than you think. For example, those who do Baby Led Weaning give their baby entire chunks of broccoli to eat.

Other food ideas include banana, avocado, green beans, whole wheat pasta, peas, pears, cheese, sweet potato wedges, and tofu. Get a lot more ideas in the finger foods post linked below.

>>>Read: Finger Foods Basics

Start with Breakfast

Breakfast will likely be your easiest meal to align with the family.

This is a matter of having baby eat her first meal of the day with the family. If she wakes up earlier than the family eats, you can simply get her dressed and ready for the day prior to eating to extend the time before she eats.

You also might need to move breakfast earlier for the rest of the family to meet the baby’s needs of eating.

This is a situation where everyone compromises.

Shift Family Meals  if Needed

This leads me to my next topic. Shift the times of day your family eats if needed.

We eat dinner pretty early compared to most people I know. We do this so that whatever baby/toddler we have at the time can eat soon after nap time is over.

As your child gets older, you can shift the family meal time back to what you want it to be.

Another option is to give your older baby or toddler a small snack in the afternoon and then do family mealtime a little later.

Add Lunch Time

The next meal that is easy to add is lunch. This one is easy once baby is on a 4 hour schedule.

You might need to shift lunch time, but most babies are up during lunch whether they have two naps or one. The trick would be if your child can wait all the way until your lunch time to eat lunch.

Snack Time Might Be Required

Another option other than shifting family meal times is to offer snacks to the toddler. If your spouse isn’t home until later and you need dinner later in the evening, for example, you can do a snack right after nap and then dinner when it works best for your family.

Always be mindful of snacks with children. Keep them healthy and small. You don’t want to create a snacking habit. You don’t want your child eating enough at the snack that she isn’t hungry for dinner and then wakes early in the morning.

You have to come to a place where she gets enough to be satisfied but not so much she won’t eat her next meal. Focus on healthy foods and keep portions small.

Do Not Rush It

Quite frankly, sometimes it is easier to not have a baby’s meal at the same time the rest of the family is eating.

I found this true when nursing my babies. I couldn’t very well be fixing a meal at the same time I was breastfeeding a baby. I fed my baby her meal, then gave her finger foods while we eat for as long as I was breastfeeding (12-13 months old).

The day will come when your child is eating with you at meals rather than at different times. There is no reason you need to force it or make life more stressful by trying to get meals aligned.

I do think family meals are important, but you can have your child eat finger foods rather than stressing a meal earlier than you or your baby are ready for.

It is great to have your baby present at the meal. You can gain benefits of family meal time just by having your child at the table–she doesn’t have to be eating her official meal.

Age Guidelines

There really isn’t a right or wrong age for this. Do what seems right for your child and your family. People do this anywhere from 9 months to 24 months. That is quite a range.

For me, I didn’t even consider aligning meals until the child was done breastfeeding. So that put us at 12 months old before thinking about it.

I did have finger foods at meals earlier than that. It is a great thing to do if your child is awake for the meal. I would say so long as your child is awake during the meal time, have your child sitting with the family.

By the time your child is at one nap, she is likely ready for having meals with the family. At that point, she is eating breakfast with the family, up for lunch with family, and can eat dinner with the family if you shift dinner time or offer a snack post-nap. 

A benefit of waiting until your toddler is a little older is she will be better at using a spoon. Then she can eat foods like cereals and yogurt while feeding herself.

Sample Schedule

Here is a sample schedule for a child who is eating with the family for meals:

  • 7:00–wake up and eat breakfast with the family
  • 9:30–morning nap
  • 11:30–wake up and have lunch with family
  • 2:00–afternoon nap
  • 4:00–wake up and have a cup of milk (or breast milk or formula) and/or a small snack to tide over until dinner
  • 5:30/6:00–dinner with family; finish the remainder of milk from snack time
  • 7:30/8:00–last of milk needed for day, ready for bed, go to bed

What To Feed Your Baby

As you align your baby’s or toddler’s meals with family meals, you might wonder what exactly to feed your kiddo.

You can feed your little one finger foods as I discussed above. You can also start to feed your kiddo the same thing you are having for dinner if the ingredients are safe for your kiddo’s age.

I will not list what is safe and what is not. In my years as a parent, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has changed recommendations on many foods at least once (for example, when peanut butter is safe for a baby has changed). I recommend you consult with current guidelines and your baby’s doctor to know what is okay.

I would add what you are eating to baby’s diet as soon as you are able. This will help baby get used to different textures and new tastes as young as possible. This can help prevent power struggle in the future.

Related Posts

Reader Questions

Salina said:
Ok, Val, I know I have 2 more months before I want to start weaning, and that the 3rd bfeeding time (now at 3 pm) will be the first to go, and I want James to start eating at our dinner time (around 6). So for now, what should I do? How/when is Kaitlyn eating dinner now? I remember you said you’re giving her solids at her last feeding instead. But could I just bfeed at 3 then offer a snack of finger foods instead of a full meal, then feed him solids at our dinner time (6), then breast feed him again at 7? Would he even eat that close together?

The Babywise Mom said:
This is how our evening goes right now: 3:30–breastfeed then some finger foods5:30ish–the family eats dinner. She will sometimes eat finger foods, but is usually not that hungry then. She will play with toys and just sit with us.7:00–nurse and dinner I would just offer him some finger foods at 6. I would try to make the finger foods something that isn’t filling and maybe even takes him a long time to eat. A couple of things I am thinking of are those Gerber rice puffs (it takes somewhere between 75-85 of them to equal 25 calories) or the biter biscuits (those take Kaitlyn a long time to eat the whole thing). Once he is weaned from nursing, you will be able to do milk and a snack around the 3ish feeding, then do full dinner at 6 with the family.

Hunter’s Mom said:
My son is 8 months and I am trying to figure out an eating schedule for him. How much formula should he be having a day? Should he have formula at every meal?

The Babywise Mom said:
I breastfeed, so I am not sure about number of ounces for an 8 month old. He should have 4-5 liquid feedings for sure each day, though. My kids both did 4 at that age, but some do 5. You might check out the book Super Baby Food for ideas on number of ounces for him.

LEM said:
It seems like my 6 month old is getting hungrier earlier at night. Right now he eat at 7, 11, 3, 7 with solids at 7, 11, and 3. He is on two naps so between the 3 and 7 feedings he is awake. Lately he struggles to eat at his schedules times throughout the day but I have found some tricks to get him to eat. Then, by 5pm-ish he has been incredible fussy and crying without being stopping at times. I knew he wasn’t sick and it was so unlike him to not be able to be consoled. I tried giving him some water and he took it s if he was starving and calmed down. So, I figured he was hungry. Should I just feed him earlier maybe? I was thinking I need to align meals with the family and maybe that will help?

The Babywise Mom said:
LEM, I wouldn’t align meals with the family yet; that is a bit young. I would guess that either:1-he still needs a short 3rd nap2-he is going through a growth spurt and is just hungry earlier3-he just had a growth spurt and now needs more sleep (they need more sleep than usual after the growth spurt of eating is over).

LEM said:
Thanks. I think it was a growth spurt time. I have ended up feeding him about 6:30pm instead of 7pm and he goes down for bed a half hour early (7:30pm)I’m still having issues with him being hungry every 4 hours during the day though. He takes his morning bottle and evening bottle fine, but during the day is a different story. I usually have to wake him up from his naps and it’s painful to go in there and know I’m going to have to fight him to drink his bottle. What would be an appropriate age to move to a family schedule?When that does happen, how would I rearrange the schedule? Our morning waketime and bedtime (7am, 7:30pm) works great for us and his waketime is at 2hr 15min right now.

The Babywise Mom said:
LEM, Mine are closer to a year old when meals are aligned with the family–at least all of them. On 4 hours, breakfast is with family, lunch is with family, but dinner usually isn’t. You can wait up to 30 minutes after waking if needed before feeding him.

LEM said:
I just recently moved my 10 month old’s schedule to align with the family’s. Our previous feeding schedule was:7am – bottle, solids11am – bottle, solids3pm – bottle, solids6:30 – bottle, bath, then bed by 7:15pmNow it looks like this:7am – bottle, solids11:30am – bottle, solids3:30/4- bottle5:30/6 – solids6:30 – bottle, bath, then bedWith this new schedule I feel like his is eating all the time in the afternoon. I guess because I am essentially breaking up the previous 3pm feeding into two sessions. At his “snack” time he takes a full bottle, at dinner a full meal, and another full bottle afterward. He just got over being sick so I know he’s eating more than usual to make up for lost time but the timing of the snack, dinner, then night bottle seems so close together. I feel like the whole purpose to have them take 3 full meals, not grazing all day has been lost with this new schedule. Bedtime has to be at 7:15 because he needs about 12 hours of sleep (in fact I think many times he should go down by 7).Here’s an example: The other day I gave him a bottle at 3:30 for his snack. He took 10 ounces which is a lot for him. Then I went out to an early dinner with a friend where he continued to snack on cherrios and a biter biscuit the entire time we were there. Once we got home it was time for his dinner and he ate a full meal of his regular solids. Immediately afterward, it was time for his 6:30 bottle and he took 7 ounces. Does this sound OK to be eating so frequently in the evenings? I don’t know if I just need some time to adjust to this new schedule and realize that this is OK. But for some reason, breaking up that 3pm feeding seems like I’m going against the BW principle of not feeding bottle at one time then solids a hour or two later.

The Babywise Mom said:
LEM, this is the way I would do it:3:30–bottle with solids OR just bottle5:30–finger foods while family eats dinner6:30–bottle with solids OR just bottle (depending on what you did at 3:30)Once he is able to have only 3 liquid feedings in a day, you can more easily have meals the same as the family’s.

LEM said:
Thanks! I think will stick with3:30 bottle and solids5:30 finger foods while family has dinner6:30 BottleSo..once he has only 3 liquid feedings in a day what bottle would I be taking away and what would that adjustment look like?Also, since his naps can be from 1.5 hours to 2 hours, his feeding schedule varies sometimes. He has 2.5 hours of waketime, so he goes down at 9:30 and sometimes wakes on his own at 11 or I wake him at 11:30. This means that sometimes he eats at 11 or 11:30, depending on the nap. Then, his next nap starts depending on when he woke up from his first nap (so maybe 1:30 or maybe 2). And once again, he will sleep 1.5 or 2 hours so his third feeding will be at 3, 3:30, or possibly 4 (if he went down at 2 and slept 2 hours). I wanted your opinion on that. What are your thought on this slight variation from day to day? Should I wake him after 1.5 hours no matter what to keep him on schedule? Or, should I feed every 4.5 hours even if he doesn’t sleep to his next feeding? I just wasn’t sure if I should be varying it as I am now depending on his naps.

The Babywise Mom said:
LEM, With three liquid feedings, I do one at breakfast, one at lunch, and one at dinner with the family. Kaitlyn went to three liquid at a year, but Brayden didn’t until about 18 months, so just take it at his pace.I think the variation on the feedings is fine. If you want more consistency, the days he wakes earlier you can have him wait 30 minutes before eating if you want to. So you plan to eat at 11:30 each day. If he wakes at 11, you have him wait until 11:30 if he can.

Kelly said:
My daughter will be 7 months next week. She has been on a 4 hour schedule for a month and started solids about the same time. She recently dropped her third nap. Her schedule now is:
7:00 nurse/solids
9:00 nap
11:00 nurse/solids
1:00 nap
3:00 nurse/solids
7:00 nurse
7:30 bed
I’m running into two issues. First she doesn’t seem really interested in solids at 3. Second, she seems very hungry at 5:30 and wants what we’re eating. I was reading on Growing Kids and noticed that Connie gave the following schedule option:
8:00am Bottle / Nurse
8:30am Rice cereal mixed with breast milk, Fruit baby food
10:00am Nap
12:00pm Bottle / Nurse
12:30pm Vegetable baby food, Fruit baby food
2:00pm Nap4:00pm Bottle / Nurse
6:00pm Vegetable baby food, Rice cereal introduced solid finger foods while Mom and Dad eat dinner
7:45pm Bottle / Nurse
8:00pm Sleep for the night
Both problems might be solved if I nursed at 3 and did solids at 5, but I thought that was considered snacking according to Babywise II. Could you clarify if this is ok and possibly suggest other solutions? Thanks in advance for your advice!

The Babywise Mom said:
Kelly, I would consider that snacking, but you can certainly try it if you want to. I know the Baby Whisperer recommends doing liquid, then solids two hours later, then liquid, etc. I would do just nursing at 3, give her finger foods when the family eats dinner, and then nurse and solids at 7.

Kristin said:
Hello! I am struggling to figure out my sons eating schedule and weaning process. He is only 9.5 months old, but I am just trying to prepare for all of these upcoming things. My first question is: Once my son is beginning to be weaned and starts eating dinner with us (instead of at 3), should I offer the milk in the sippy at 3 for a snack and then eat dinner around 5:30? Then nurse at 7:30 (until weaned from this feeding)? Is this the best way to do this? It seems like a long time for him to wait to eat. Secondly, I am concerned about weaning and would like some advice. My son will be 1 year at the beginning of October. My goal is to have him weaned by his birthday because we are moving to Australia in early November and I would like to be well established with this by then. The only issue with this is that we will be at our training for Australia for the 3 weeks before his birthday, so I will be busy those weeks and he will be in the nursery at the training site. Any advice on what the best timing would be for weaning in order to make this a smooth process? He also doesn’t really drink anything from a sippy right now, so this worries me for the future. (He refuses bottles, so this is not an option either). Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you!

The Babywise Mom said:
Kristin, Yes, at first, you will need to have some sort of snack. Milk might not be enough on its own. So definitely do a light snack at 3 and then dinner with the family. He sounds like McKenna with the drinking. She wouldn’t drink from bottles and wouldn’t drink milk from sippys. Continue to offer water in a sippy for him right now. So would you be able to go in to him while he is in the nursery to feed him? If so, I think you can still start 2-3 weeks before his birthday. If not, you need to be at least done with the middle two feedings by then (I am assuming you would be able to breastfeed in the morning and night). Then you just have to offer him his milk in a sippy and wait for him to start drinking it. Try to not stress over it. I would also keep water with him at that point. McKenna has a sippy of water with her in bed so she gets enough liquid. Also, don’t stress about the milk exactly. He can get his dairy from cheese and yogurt (and other dairy products). If you look at McKenna’s summaries right around her birthday, you will see some info on how I did that. She still only drinks 8 ounces of milk a day, so I still offer her other forms of dairy.

Happy Lady said:
Hi! Thank you for running this site. I’m sure it keeps you VERY busy! You’re willingness to help all of us in need is such a blessing! I’m looking for some direction with my 8 1/2 month old. Her normal schedule is
7:30 – nurse/solids
9:30 – nap
11:30 – nurse/solids
1:30 or 2:00 nap
3:30 – nurse (snack)
6:00 – nap
7:00 – nurse/solids (dinner)
9:00 – nurse/bedtime
I believe my daughter has been eating too much (and is ready to drop a feeding). She is CONSTANTLY spitting up and for some of her feedings, especially snack time, she doesn’t seem very hungry. I normally nurse her on one side, give her solids, then nurse the other side (except for snack & bedtime when there are no solids). I was wondering if it is okay to go to a 4 1/2 hour schedule at this age, which would also knock her feedings down to 4 a day, or should I just not continue nursing her after I offer her the solids (only offer one breast per feeding). Or should I try to move her dinner to 7:30 and drop the bedtime nighttime feeding? I’m just not sure whether she would be able to wait until 7:30 in morning for her next feeding. Any suggestions? I don’t remember going through this confusion with my other 2 children, but we all know how each child is different (or maybe I have major “mommy brain”!) Thanks so much for your time.Stacy

The Babywise Mom said:
What you want to do is drop the 9 PM nursing. If she needs, you can move the 7 feeding back to 7:30. It is easy to forget if you don’t have it all written down 🙂

Happy Lady said:
I’ve dropped the 9:00 feeding, and my daughter has been doing great with the new schedule. I was surprised that she could go 12 hours between feedings at night. I really don’t think I dropped that 9:00 feeding with my other girls until I was starting to wean them. I wish I would have discovered your blog back then! Thanks again!

The Babywise Mom said:
Thanks for sharing your success! It is scary to move them to sleeping longer at night, but they usually do great. It is lovely isn’t it!

Eat meals with family

This post originally appeared on this blog in December 2007

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