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What should I know about feeding nutritious snacks for babies and toddlers?
Snack time can be used to boost your child’s nutrition as well as help them learn to enjoy healthful foods
Beware of “kid-friendly” packaged snack foods that may be high in added salt and sugar
Learn easy, nourishing snack ideas and recipes for your baby and toddler
With your baby and toddler growing fast, snack time provides a great opportunity to continue improving your child’s health.
Try to avoid lower-in-nutrition foods at snack time, and instead think of snacks as mini meals that can introduce your child to a wide variety of healthy foods, increasing the amounts of vitamins and nutrients in their diet. Choosing the right foods can also provide your little one with the energy and nutrients needed to play, explore, and learn.2
Beginning at approximately nine months, your little one should eat two to three nutritious snacks (in addition to three well-balanced meals) each day.3
Meal Plan for 6-9 Month Old Baby
Meal Plan for 12 Month Old Toddler
Why are nutritious snacks important for babies and toddlers?
Gaining exposure to a highly varied diet. The more opportunities youuse to offer new and different nutritious foods, the more likely it is your little one will develop a taste (and desire) for a varied and healthy diet.4
Providing an opportunity to eat more nutritious foods. Think of snacks as a chance to help fit in the nutrient-dense foods that help your child grow and develop. Eating enough protein, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, calcium, iron, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals will help fuel the rapid development occurring in the first two years of life.5
Getting enough calories. Because babies and toddlers have small stomachs that fill up quickly, they need to eat multiple times throughout the day to get the energy needed to support their rapid growth. Did you know that infants triple their birth weight by one year?6
Learning appropriate eating behavior. Just like mealtime, snack time is an important opportunity both for socialization and modeling healthy eating habits.7
Read about: Helping your Child Learn to Love Healthy Foods
Want to learn more about snack options for your little one? Our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists are available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET) and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 2 pm (ET) to answer your questions live. Chat now!
Review ingredients of packaged toddler snacks
Remember that when it comes to snacks, quality matters. Just because a packaged food item is marketed towards kids doesn’t always mean that it’s nutritious.
Store-bought toddler foods often contain excess salt and sugar, as well as highly refined carbohydrates.8 Regularly consuming highly processed snacks or beverages may set up a preference for these types of foods that could also last into the future.9
Know that not all packaged foods are bad! In fact, many provide nutritious options that are quick and easy for when you’re on the run. Check out the ingredient list to be sure the foods you purchase for your toddler are choices you’re happy about.
Read More: Avoid Giving Your Child Too Much Sugar and Salt
Tips for choosing nutritious snacks for babies and toddlers
Choose snacks that are nutrient-dense, wholesome foods
Use snack time to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein your little one needs.2
Focus on providing snacks to be chewed, rather than sipped (unless, of course, your child is not feeling well and not able to eat as they normally would; or has any issues with chewing and swallowing). Calories from drinks are often devoid of nutrients and fiber while being loaded with sugar and additives.10
The exception to this would be whole fruit and vegetable smoothies or pouches, which contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
For packaged convenience/on the go snacks, look for foods that have no added sugar in the ingredient list.
Learn more: How to Minimize Processed Foods in your Diet
Perishable foods, such as yogurt and cheese, should be refrigerated or kept on ice in a cooler. And supervise your little one while they eat, making sure to offer foods that are appropriate in terms of texture, size, and shape for your child’s abilities.
Avoid having your child eat while crawling, walking, running, or sitting in a moving stroller or car-seat, which could pose as a choking hazard.11 Instead, sit down to enjoy a snack together!
Family Meals: Developing Healthy Eating Patterns
Preventing Choking in Infants and Toddlers
Cultivate healthy snacking habits and routines
To encourage healthy snacking, avoid eating in front of a screen or while distracted by other activities.12 It’s also important to develop an eating schedule (with flexibility) so that your little one knows that snacks are at specific times.13 This helps prevent ‘grazing’ all the time on foods, which can result in picky eating or not being hungry at a mealtimes.
Remember that kids typically eat about every three hours (or five to six times each day). Aim to have snack time no closer than about 2 hours before a meal so that your little one comes to the table hungry and ready to eat.14
While parents should determine the what, when, and where of feeding (what healthy foods, what time, where they will eat); in order to have a healthy relationship with food, children should be the ones to decide how much of those foods to eat, if they choose to eat at all.14,15
Read more: The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating
Snack ideas for your baby and toddler
To ensure you have healthy snack choices available, keep your child’s favorite healthy foods stocked at home, and always pack snacks while out and about or for daycare.14
Cut up, cook, or mash foods as needed so that they don’t pose a choking hazard.
Nutritious snack ideas for babies and toddlers include:
Soft, fresh fruit like bananas, apples, pears, peaches, oranges, clementines, mango, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and grapes
Plain or no sugar added whole milk fruited yogurt
Cottage cheese with berries
Steamed carrots, string beans, sugar snap peas, peppers, zucchini, green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. If you feel like letting your little one get messy, let him dip the vegetables into hummus or homemade black bean dip (puree equal parts canned black beans and plain yogurt)
Peeled cucumber spears
Green peas (preferably frozen and defrosted, rather than canned)
Rinsed, canned beans like chickpeas, cannellini, kidney or black beans (look for varieties without any salt added)
Dried Seaweed, especially plain, toasted sheets of nori (toasting makes the nori brittle and easy for a new eater to handle) or arame, which cooks in minutes and is a great finger food
No sugar added whole grain cereal
String cheese or small cubes of cheese
Small cubes of tofu
Vegetable soup (low sodium)
100% Whole grain crackers with sliced cheese
100% Whole grain bread with smeared avocado and hummus
100% Whole grain PB&J (or other nut or seed butter. Look for 100% fruit spread)
Quesadilla: whole grain tortilla with black beans, sautéed chopped mushrooms and melted cheese
Kale chips: toss kale leaves with olive oil, spread on a single layer on a sheet and bake at 275*F until crispy
Oat pancakes: mix 1 egg, ¼ cup oats, ½ mashed banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg and cook on a skillet until golden brown
Nut butter pancakes: mix 1 cup smooth almond butter, 4 eggs, ¼ cup Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons of 100% fruit spread, 1.5 Tablespoons vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon and cook on a skillet until golden brown
Egg sticks: chop 1 cup of spinach, sauté, add 2 beaten eggs, cook well-done and cut into finger-size sticks
Egg Muffins: beat eggs and add in your favorite chopped veggies, pour into a greased muffin tin and bake 10-12 minutes at 350*F
Older toddlers can enjoy all of the above foods for snacks, as well as:
A thin spread of nut butter on whole grain crackers, rice cakes or a banana
Quartered cherry tomatoes
Soft fruit and oat granola bar with no sugar added
You can also serve leftover, uneaten and properly stored food from mealtime at your child’s next snack
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET).Chat Now!
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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
Healthy and Easy Snacks for Moms and Toddlers
Minimizing Added Sugar
Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipes and Snack Tips