Healthy Snacking & Food Traps To Avoid
Plus, some toddler hacks to try.
Children can be busy bees, which is why snacks play an important role in fuelling them with the energy they need in between meals. In fact, snacks may make up about 30% of their total daily caloric intake—and proper nutrition is key to ensuring they hit important development milestones. But they’re more than just filling an empty belly or occupying their time, healthy toddler snacks should strike the right balance of quality and frequency.
With more of us working from home than ever before, many people in general are snacking more often. And other times, it may seem like grabbing healthy toddler snacks on-the-go is an ideal rather than a reality. To help, we’ve put together this guide to healthy toddler snacks (that works just as well for the whole family too). Read on to learn what good snacks for toddlers are, common food traps to avoid, and some toddler hacks to help keep them satiated without ruining their dinner.
What Are Good Snacks for Toddlers?
For starters, two to three healthy toddler snacks a day about halfway between three healthy toddler meals are pretty necessary. Your kid’s tummy is tiny, so it can’t hold enough food from their regular meals to keep them from getting hungry before it’s time to eat again. But any more than three snacks a day—or multiple snacks in between meals—can easily backfire, reducing their appetite for mealtime.
Store-bought kids’ snacks are frequently highly processed and high in salt and sugar—and missing out on the important stuff, like protein and fiber. They tend not to keep your kid full for as long, which can cause them to want even more snacks. Plus, too much sugar in their diet isn’t just bad for their teeth. It can lead to major health issues down the road, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. So, it’s important to limit their intake of sweets. Instead, give them healthy toddler snacks that support their nutrition—and can even improve it.
Use snacktime as a way to boost their nutrition: With every snack time comes an opportunity to get some good, healthy food and drink into your kid. Try pairing fruits and veggies with low-fat dairy or dairy substitutes, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Introduce a rainbow of foods: Brightly-colored fruits and veggies—like strawberries, bananas, and spinach—can make for quite an impressive display. You can make them more interesting by telling your child about where they come from and about the farmers that grow them.
Keep healthy toddler snack options in stock: Avoid last-minute dashes for meals by having nutritious items on hand to make sure they make it into your kid’s tummy. Foods that are good ideas to keep as staples in your home are fruits and veggies, of course, but also cheese sticks, yogurt, and hummus. We’ll give you some more toddler snack ideas next.
Our Favorite Healthy Toddler Snacks
You can use any number of fresh or dried fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, whole grains, and lean proteins as healthy toddler snacks. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a pretty comprehensive list of recommendations. (Just be sure to slice, dice, chop, or mush them up so they’re not choking hazards.)
But as far as our faves, we like to give kiddos the most nutritional value possible at snack time. And you can do that by ensuring your child has both protein and fiber each time. Below are some yummy options that fit the bill (though some of them may be off limits if your kid has certain food allergies).
- Nut butter and banana
- String cheese and strawberries
- Veggie sticks and/or whole wheat pita bread with hummus
- Fruit and hard-boiled egg
- Deli meat and whole grain crackers
- Yogurt and fruit
- Apple and nut butter, nuts, or hard-boiled egg
- Fruit and veggie smoothie, like with yogurt, milk, spinach leaves, and frozen berries
Food Traps to Avoid
We’ve all been there: overindulging at holidays, vacations, and other events. Or, being in a pinch for time and grabbing something easy, but not necessarily nutritious. Guilty.
See if any of these common kiddy food traps ring a bell. Then, discover some tricks to help keep you and your kid from falling into them.
Random snacking: Toddlers tend to be nibblers, but that’s just the way they’re built. Those tiny tummies don’t hold a whole lot, for one. They also aren’t likely to want to stay through a whole meal until everyone is done eating. This can all lead to spontaneous snacking—or, at least—asking for a snack. But if they nibble their way through the day, they won’t be as hungry when mealtime arrives—plus, they’ll likely be less receptive to trying new foods, especially if they’re already a picky eater. Mindless munching or snacking out of boredom can also set them up for bad habits later in life, like overeating.
Special occasions: Special times often come with loads of opportunities for tasty, yet unhealthy foods and treats. Of course, it’s OK if your child indulges a little, but be sure they’re still getting some healthy toddler snacks too.
On-the-go snacking: With school, playdates, and extra activities, it’s easy for your kid’s calendar to get booked—and for healthy snacks to go out the window. A lot of parents have an arsenal of things for their kids to munch on while they’re going from point A to point B. And it’s really common to use munchies during this time to distract kids or keep them busy, especially if you’re on a long trip or running errands. This type of grazing while out and about can not only put a damper on their mealtime appetite, it can also interfere with your child’s ability to know when they’re hungry or full—a recipe for poor nutrition. Not to mention, there is a risk to your kid eating while you’re in transit, since you might have too many distractions to get to them fast enough if they start choking on something.
Mommy Pro Tip: Tummy troubles are common in kids, especially with impromptu and/or unhealthy snacking at play. Children’s Mylicon chewable tablets or our new liquid formula can help. They each quickly relieve acid indigestion and discomfort from overeating in addition to gas and bloating for kids ages 2 to 11.
Toddler Hacks & Healthy Toddler Snacks On-the-Go
Fortunately, as with many things, you can help avoid food traps by sticking to a routine and being as prepared as possible.
Schedule snacks: Kids thrive on routines, and having snack time hop on that bandwagon can be beneficial too. The majority of little kids can easily go about two hours between meals and snacks. So (as often as you can) try giving healthy toddler snacks about midway between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime. If they’re used to snacking more frequently, it may take time for them to adjust, but they should eventually acclimate to the schedule. (Bonus: It can even provide them with reassurance that they’re reliably getting something to munch on at certain times.) And if there are any issues with them being hungry sooner than midway between meals, try shifting them a little earlier. Or, if they’re hungry before a meal, give them some of their food to munch on, like a side of veggies.
Reduce the association of snacks with treats: It’s common for kids to think of snacks as treats. But if you try giving them nutritious foods to munch on—like whole fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein—over time, you may be able to break that association.
Simplify your out-and-about snacking arsenal: If you’ve been packing a ton of snacking options for when you and your kid are on-the-go, try simplifying. Bringing one or two small, easily snackable foods along should be plenty. These could be apple slices, a small container of whole grain crackers, or a banana. And if you need to buy some time while you’re out, bring different things to keep them busy, such as a couple of small toys or books.
Next: After a busy day—and hopefully a bunch of nutritious food—it’s important for your growing kid to get a good night’s rest. Find out how much sleep toddlers and older kids need, and what to do if they’re suddenly having trouble hitting the hay.