Snacking isn’t just an extra treat in a toddler’s life-it’s an eating event that’s as important as a meal. That’s because their stomachs are small and their energy needs are constant, so they typically require more than three traditional meals a day. By some estimates, a child needs to take about 20% of her energy and nutrients from snacks. That’s why it’s important to avoid snack foods high in fat and sugar content and offer nutritious treats instead. Here are some easy ways to make the most of snack time.
Don’t let your child snack at will. This can lead to tooth decay and obesity. Better to weave predictable snack times into the daily routine. For most families, this means a midmorning snack between (breakfast and lunch) and an afternoon treat between lunch and dinner. Some children also need a snack before bed.
Serve snacks while your child is seated at the table. Eating-on-the-run can be a choking hazard. Sitting down to eat helps your child focus only on the food-a good habit to develop as she grows-instead of noshing mindlessly while doing something else, such as watching TV. Also, to avoid choking, don’t serve anything that is hard, round or difficult to chew before age 3, such as nuts, uncut hot dogs, raw carrots or popcorn.
Make the most of all the different food groups. This helps you avoid taste ruts, introduces new flavors in a fun way and boosts overall nutrition. Nineteen-month-old Cole Cleminshaw loves the easy-to-hold, mini pumpkin muffins that his mom, Mary Briggs, bakes. “He also loves to dip flour tortilla strips in guacamole that’s not too spicy,” says Briggs, who lives in Oakland, Calif. Mary VanClay of San Rafael, Calif. offers a different treat: “One of our snack favorites is a homemade currant scone, toasted and topped with plain yogurt. My son, Andrew, licks all the yogurt off first, but in the end he eats the scone as well.”
Here, you’ll find some additional healthy, toddler-safe snack ideas, based on those recommended by the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Breads and Cereals
- Whole-grain breadsticks
- Whole-grain crackers with cheese
- Pumpkin bread
- Bran muffins
- Fig bars
- Graham crackers
Fruits and Vegetables
- Steamed broccoli or Chinese pea pods with a yogurt dip
- Grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches
- Cheese and veggie quesadillas
- Peeled pear slices
- Cubed melon
- Strawberries or bananas with yogurt
- Orange segments or kiwi slices
- 100% fruit juice or frozen 100% juice pops
- Sliced avocadoes or guacamole with crackers
- Yogurt shakes or smoothies
Meats and Meat Substitutes
- Wedges of hard-boiled eggs
- Bean dip on tortilla
- Tuna spread on whole-grain crackers
- Hummus with pita triangles