If you have a toddler, you know the challenge of coming up with healthy toddler snacks. How to balance convenience as a busy parent with providing your toddler with the nutrition they need can seem complicated. Let’s break it down, so that thinking of healthy toddler snacks is one less thing on your plate (get it?).
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It can be a challenge offering toddlers snacks every day (!), while choosing snacks that are low in added sugar and salt, and that tick at least several nutritional boxes.
We’re guilty of offering raisins and breadsticks on repeat most days, so this blog post is in part a challenge to myself to come up with a larger variety of healthy toddler snacks!
Whether you’re looking for homemade healthy toddler snacks or the best healthy toddler snacks to buy, read on!
The complete guide to healthy toddler snacks
Do toddlers really need snacks?
The short answer is: yes! I think confusion may arise when we think of snacking as grazing on foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
But for toddlers, snacks are simply a smaller meal to provide them with energy and nutrients throughout the day. This is especially important if they have small appetites and only eat small amounts at mealtimes.
Eating a variety of wholefoods is key to any healthy diet – and snacks offer an opportunity to provide more of that variety of foods.
Here’s what our schedule looks like with our two year-old (we get the boys up quite late – so you might want to shift this around to adapt it to your lifestyle):
- 8:30 Breakfast
- 11:00 Snack + soy milk
- 12:30 Lunch
- 15:30 Snack + soy milk
- 18:00 Dinner
- 19:30 Soy milk
Also note that this is the ideal schedule – things rarely run on time, as I’m sure you’ll know if you have small children!
Not sure what to offer at snack time? Then the next two parts are for you – whether you choose homemade or store-bought toddler snacks (or a combo of both!).
17 homemade healthy toddler snack recipes
Key foods to include
We’re all busy – so you won’t find any complicated snack recipes here! It’s more about identifying which foods you might already have in your house that you can combine to create healthy toddler snacks.
Enter the Plant-Based Juniors plate! Whitney and Alex over at Plant-Based Juniors share evidence-based guidance around children’s nutrition. Here are the three food groups they recommend having at the forefront of your mind when planning meals for your little ones:
I tend to aim for including all three in every meal and two or more in every snack.
I took some snack ideas from the First Steps Nutrition Trust and broke them down into the three categories, to give you ideas of homemade healthy toddler snack combos you could put together:
|Fruits + vegetables
|Legumes + nuts + seeds
|Grains + starches
Red / green pepper
Smooth nut butters
Healthy toddler snack ideas
And here are 17 homemade healthy toddler snacks you could make by combining them:
- Breadsticks with cannellini bean houmous dip and tomato and avocado wedges
- Mini avocado and tomato salsa sandwiches
- Oatcakes with Brazil nut butter and oranges
- Peanut butter on toasted muffin, with grapes
- Pitta bread with tahini dip and apple
- Rice cakes with lentil and peanut butter pâté, and red and green pepper
- Rice cakes with mushroom pâté and cherry tomatoes
- Vegan fruit scone with strawberries
- Wholemeal roll with almond butter, and carrot sticks
- Wholemeal toast with pinto bean spread, and carrot sticks
- Chapatti and carrot sticks
- Puffed wheat and mango
- Puffed wheat and melon
- Puffed wheat, carrots and peppers
- Rice cake and apricot
- Matzo cracker and mango
- Matzo cracker, carrot, pepper and tomatoes
If you want photos and recipes for these ideas, check out Eating well: vegan infants and under-5s (from page 98 onwards) for the first 10 ideas and Eating well: snacks for 1-4 year olds (from page 17 onwards) for the last 7.
Best healthy toddler snacks to buy
What to avoid
When thinking of healthy toddler snacks on the go, it’s easy to just grab whatever is labelled as a toddler snack at the supermarket and call it a day. Unfortunately, these are often highly processed foods and contain too much sugar.
Let’s start with the major no-nos of buying toddler snacks:
- Whole nuts, which might present a choking hazard. Guidance in the UK is to avoid them until kiddos are 5 years old.
- Savoury or sweet packaged snacks that are designed for adults and that are high in salt or sugar.
- Foods containing the following additives: artificial colours E102, E104, E110, E122, E124, E129 or the preservative sodium benzoate (E211), which are linked with hyperactivity in children.
Reducing salt and sugar
Regarding the sugar and salt, I have yet to find an official guide of what is “too high” for children. It’s up to you to decide how strict you want to be here.
You could choose to not buy anything with added sugar or salt in the ingredients, or you could choose to check the nutritional information and only buy snacks that have less than 5g of sugar per 100g and less than 0.3g of salt per 100g. (This corresponds to “green” in the green, amber and red labelling system you often see on the front of food packaging.)
This can require a bit of effort the first few times you go shopping, but soon you’ll be a natural at picking things out!
What to buy
I did a quick Amazon* search and here is what I found that fits that “green” criteria: drumroll please…
Nothing! At least nothing on that first page. I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but this illustrates that packaged “healthy toddler snacks” aren’t as always as healthy as they sound.
These two exceptions came very close, but were still slightly above either the 5g of sugar or the 0.3g of salt per 100g:
There were “amber” snacks containing no added sugar or salt in the ingredient list, for instance using blends of fruit to add sweetness. They can still contain a lot of “naturally occurring” sugar (up to 22.5g per 100g) from concentrated plant sources, so maybe use these more occasionally if you want to protect your toddler’s teeth. For example:
Another option I found was minimally processed cooked fruit, which is cooked to make for an easier snack on the go:
How to offer healthy toddler snacks for picky eaters
When it all gets a bit stressful, remember that your job is simply to offer healthy toddler snacks. Whether or not they eat them is up to your kiddo. Pressure off!
Here are a few tips though:
- Lead by example – eat similar foods in front of your child.
- Give your child a choice: do you want pepper or carrot for your snack?
- Present foods “separately”, i.e. not touching in the plate or bowl.
- Offer foods that were refused in the past alongside foods your child typically eats.
- Involve children in food preparation (OK, this last one is definitely “do as I say, not as I do”, but hey, we’re all a work in progress…).
This post was all about what snacks toddlers should eat.
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