As your little one crosses the 12-month milestone and becomes a toddler, their nutritional needs evolve. At this stage, as with every stage of introducing food and eating, you will be looking at introducing new flavors, shapes and textures to support the development of their motor skills and palate. We are here to share some thoughts and tips to help you make healthy choices.
Let’s dive right in.
Considerations for Introducing Snacks
Developmental readiness: Your baby’s transition to toddlerhood is exciting! But how will you know they are ready for toddler snacks? Well, your little one will show you! Watch for cues like increased independence, curiosity, and improved pincer grasp. These signs indicate your child is ready to explore a wider range of foods.
Complement their regular meals: Snacks are meant to complement regular meals, not replace them. Keep a balance between nutritious main meals and well-timed snacks. Ideally, they should be having 5-6 meals in a 24-hour period, spaced 2.5-3 hours apart. These would be breakfast, morning tea (snack), lunch, afternoon tea (snack), dinner and supper if required. This will also go a long way in keeping your toddler’s energy levels steady throughout the day. Additionally, while snacks provide extra nutrition, they should not be your little one’s main source of nutrients. Try to avoid frequent and continual snacking throughout the day as this will affect your toddlers’ appetite resulting in decreased intake at mealtimes. Ensure that your toddler is still getting a variety of nutrients from balanced breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Timing is key: It is easy for toddlers to over-indulge in things, especially when they enjoy them. Therefore, offer snacks strategically to prevent over-snacking. Aim for two to three balanced snacks per day between main meals.
Avoid over-processed snacks: opt for organic whole-food snacks whenever possible. While processed snacks might be convenient, try to limit them because they are often loaded with excess sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. For more information on the benefits of organic, please read our article Organic Baby Food vs Conventional: What’s the Difference?
Homemade vs. Store-Bought: Homemade snacks are great because you get to control the ingredients. However, if you are strapped for time and looking for convenience, ready-to-eat snacks are your best bet. However, as you buy store-bought toddler snacks, opt for natural and organic. Avoid anything that is overprocessed.
Toddler appetites can vary on a daily basis. Suggested daily servings are half a fruit (apple, banana, kiwi, and berries are all excellent choices), 2-3 servings of vegetables (we love sweet potato for its rich fiber and nutrient content), 4 servings of grains, 1-1.5 servings of dairy like natural, Greek yoghurt, and 1 serving of protein.
Make sure your toddler is well-hydrated at all times. Water is all they need. Avoid soft drinks, fruit juices (too much sugar), and flavored milk or water.
Toddler Snack Ideas
Homemade delights: The beauty of toddler snacks is the fact that you can whip them up pretty quickly with whatever you have on hand in your kitchen. So, get creative with soft fruits, steamed veggies, and finger-friendly foods. Think mini sandwiches, cheese cubes, and whole grain crackers. This gives you control over ingredients and additives.
Creative food art: Make snack time fun for your little one with food art. You can make fun shapes and patterns using fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain crackers. The more interesting the food looks, the more likely your little one is to try it.
Freeze fruits like grapes, berries, and banana slices for a refreshing twist on snacks. These treats are also great for soothing teething gums!
Think of snacks as mini-meals. Offer a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. For instance, you can offer Little Bellies animal crackers with cheese and sliced cucumbers to create a well-rounded snack.
Explore textures: Your little one is a curious explorer! Introduce a variety of textures to stimulate their senses. This also encourages chewing and helps develop their oral motor skills. From crunchy veggie tubes to soft fruit like banana or mango, this is a great way to develop their palate and enrich their snacking experience.
Tips for Picky Eaters
Make it fun: Picky eaters can be challenging, but don’t worry! Turn snacking into a playful adventure. You can arrange colorful snacks into patterns or let your toddler dip foods into hummus or yogurt for interactive eating. Read our Play with Food Guide for some tips and hacks from Simone Emery.
Make your little one part of the fun: Involve your child in snack preparation. When kids have a hand in making their snacks, they often become more enthusiastic about trying new flavors.
Continually introduce new flavors: Adding a variety of spices, herbs, and seasoning blends to fruits and vegetables can change the sensory properties of the foods which can lead to more acceptance and enjoyment of these foods. By exposing your child early, they are more likely to be eating exactly what the rest of the family eats!
Dip it! Many toddlers love to dip! Provide nutritious dips like hummus, yogurt-based dressings, or nut butter for dunking fruits and veggies. This adds an element of playfulness to snack time.
Repeat exposures: Don’t be discouraged if your child rejects a new snack at first. Research shows that it can take up to 30 exposures to a food before a child decides to give it a try.
Managing Allergens When Snacking
When introducing allergens, if there is no family history of allergies, early introduction of the allergenic foods is advised, and should ideally be introduced to these foods before 12 months of age. Gradually introduce one allergen at a time. They should also be given earlier in the day so that you can monitor for symptoms. Then monitor for any adverse reactions over a couple of days before introducing the next one.
Signs of allergies: Watch out for common allergy symptoms like hives, vomiting, or difficulty breathing. If you suspect an allergic reaction, seek medical attention promptly.
Diversify your child’s diet to reduce allergy risk: Studies have shown that offering a variety of foods can help reduce the risk of allergies later in life. So, embrace this to promote your little one’s overall health.
Reading labels: Whenever you go for packaged snacks, always read the ingredient labels carefully. Look out for allergenic ingredients and potential cross-contamination warnings.
Allergy testing: If your family has a history of allergies, consider consulting an allergist before introducing high-risk foods. Allergy testing can help determine the safest approach for your child.
Creating Healthy Snacking Habits
Have a consistent snacking schedule: Set a routine for snacking that aligns with regular mealtimes. Predictable eating patterns can foster better meal habits.
Be a role model: You’re your child’s first teacher. You can model healthy snacking habits by choosing nutrient-rich options and enjoying them together.
Be patient: Introducing new snacks can be met with curiosity or resistance. It can go either way. So just be patient, expose and encourage exploration. It’s all part of your child’s culinary adventure!
How do I handle messes during snack time?
Messes are part of the fun and essential for feeding development and avoidance of fussy eating! Lay down a washable mat or use a high chair with a detachable tray for easy cleaning. Keep damp cloths handy for quick clean-ups.
How can I handle my toddler’s preference for unhealthy snacks?
It’s natural for toddlers to be drawn to sweets and treats. Balance is key. Introduce healthier versions of their favorites, like sugar-free biscuits from the Little Bellies biscuits range or yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit.
Are there snacks suitable for on-the-go adventures?
Absolutely! Pack pre-cut fruits, cheese cubes, Little Bellies puffed snacks and crackers in small containers.
The most important thing to remember is that every child is unique. Your little one’s journey to healthy eating is going to be gradual and different from any other child’s. Trust yourself, do what’s natural and enjoy being a parent! Happy snacking!
Read our article Why is Playing with Food Importantto learn about the role of food in your child development and how playing with food helps to build a healthy relationship with food.