Snacking can play an important role in managing your child’s hunger and boosting nutrition. It can prevent crankiness and help sustain energy when you’re on the go. Another bonus: healthy snacking can be added insurance that picky eaters are getting the necessary nutrients when they push their dinner away.
When you think of snacks, it doesn’t have be the unhealthy, pre-packaged and unnaturally colored foods on the market. Try to be mindful of what you choose to offer, how much and when. Here are five keys to healthy snacking for older babies and toddlers:
- Balance. Choose nutritious snacks that offer a good balance of protein, fruits, vegetables and grains. Snacks are usually high in sugar and fat, which is not what we want to be introducing to sensitive little palates at this young age. We want to encourage babies to develop a taste for real, clean, nutritious food. I like to freeze homemade baking or leftover meals in little containers for quick on-the-go snacks. If serving pre-packaged foods, please read the labels and look for more natural products with no added sugars, artificial ingredients or unnecessary ingredients.
- Portion control. This is important to ensure snacks do not to interfere with the next meal you have planned. Serving breast milk, formula, water or milk alongside a snack will help with consumption balance.
- Timing. A well-timed snack will be just a couple hours after one meal and a couple hours before the next. For example, if your child eats breakfast at 7:30 am, then perhaps snack time is at 10 am, with lunch at 12:30pm (every 2-3 hours is a good rule). A structured snack and meal schedule provides consistency and allows your child to determine what they would like to eat and how much.
- Avoid using “rewards.” While it may be tempting to use sweets to reward good behavior, this can send a message that less-than-nutritious foods are better and more valuable than their healthy counterparts. This behavior can start a pattern of unhealthy eating. Remember, you are the director in the development of their relationship with food.
- Present options. It may seem like a lot of work, but it takes just a little extra time to dice cheese alongside your apples for baby or ask your toddler if he’d prefer bananas with peanut butter or crackers and cheese. Older babies and toddlers are becoming independent eaters, and they like to make their own choices – they’re more likely to eat when they have chosen what they are eating.
- Squoosh and other fruit & veggie puree
- Mushies, which are freeze-dried fruit & veggie melts
- Teething biscuits with fruit puree for dipping
- Diced fresh fruit
- Diced fresh or gently cooked veggies with hummus or other dips (toddlers)
- Cheese and crackers
- Toast with nut butter and bananas, cut into bite-sized pieces
- Mini muffins
All babies and toddlers are different, and sometimes their hunger cues may not be timed like the rest of us. If they are not particularly hungry at one meal, at least they have a chance to recoup the missed nutrition in a smaller, between-meal snack. Happy Feeding!