Toddlers and young children require small regular meals so snacks are an essential part of their diet. Toddlers and young children have small tummies and fast metabolisms so they need to eat little and often to keep the fuel tank from running on empty. For toddlers and young children, this typically equates to breakfast, lunch and dinner with one snack in the middle of the morning and another in the mid afternoon.
As with all food for toddlers and young children – snacks need to be nutritious to help fuel the intense growth and the laying down of building blocks for a healthy body and mind.
So we agree, healthy snacks are important…. but as we all know….taste will ultimately influence whether a snack is eaten or not.
Tips to help with snack time
- Look for healthy, whole food options over refined foods. Healthy snack choices are those that are low in fat, salt, refined sugar and additives.
- Look for snacks that are both nutritious and filling. When choosing a snack for your child, look at both the energy content (calories) AND also the nutrients provided. Foods high in calories are fine for children as long as they are packed with valuable nutrients. Low GI (fruit, vegetables), high protein foods (eggs, lean meat) and foods with good fats (avocado, nuts, fish) are great options as they will help make your child feel full and have lasting power so you’re child is less likely to binge. In contrast, refined foods that are full of additives (junk food) are often high in calories. These ‘empty calories’ offer very little nutritionally and can lead to health problems for your child.
Yum Yum Tip
A large glass of juice has the same kilojoules as two pieces of fruit. Whole fruit is a better option as it has more fibre, is more filling and lasts longer. Cut the fruit into interesting shapes and present it on a funky kids plate - your child can then have a choice and it makes a colourful, exciting snack.
A healthy snack is not simply the one with the least calories. A glass of milk has about 600kJ but is packed with protein, calcium and other vital nutrients – with no artificial sweeteners or colours. It’s a bone building, tooth friendly snack for growing children.
- Your child’s appetite will vary from day to day. Toddlers and young children have a naturally fluctuating appetite which is influenced by growth cycles. To ensure snacks provide nutrients and energy without compromising your childs’ appetite you need to schedule snacks around 2 hours prior to mealtimes (no less than 1 hour).
- Make a rule to eat only while sitting. This can be a challenge but is worthwhile as it allows your child to focus on the activity of eating, savour the tastes/textures of food and make the time for food. It is also safer (reduces the risk of choking), is more social and makes the experience of eating much more fun!
- When possible, serve your snack on a plate so your child can see how much and exactly what they are eating. Snacking straight from a packet can contribute to bad habits (convenience eating/’eating on the run’) and is not conducive to developing an appreciation of food in the long run.
- Keep snacks cool when you're out and about in an insulated lunchbox.
- Plan ahead. Stock the kitchen, fridge, fruit bowl, nappy bag and car with only healthy snacks. It helps avoid impulse sugar and fat binges – if only healthy alternatives are available your child will happily choose them for snacks.
- Snacks that are overly sweet and sticky can play havoc with your little ones teeth. Snacks that help to produce saliva (like vege sticks) are good as saliva is a natural defence against tooth decay. If your child has a sweet tooth, replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, fruit juice or barley malt.
Some ideas for healthy snacks –
Fruits and Vegetables – raw vegetables (carrot/celery/cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, snow peas), grated vegetables and salads, vegetable juices (watch the salt content), and soups. Fresh, unsweetened and/or frozen fruit.
Dairy and milk products – milk, yoghurt, cheese, cottage cheese, cheese spreads, and fruit/milk smoothies (made with yoghurt)
Meat and alternatives – hard boiled eggs, lean cold meats, tuna, salmon, peanut butter, seeds and legumes (eg. hummus).
Breads and cereals - sandwiches/bread rolls/wraps, healthy muffins (low sugar), fruit bread, cereals, and popcorn.
Yum Yum Tip
After school is a great window of opportunity to get your child to eat something healthy. Children come home ravenous and desperate to eat something immediately. Use this to your benefit as a hungry child is a less fussy child.
Avoid your child grabbing a biscuit or packet of chips by a little forward planning - cut up fruit and veges and present it on a cool kids plate; keep a well stocked fruit bowl or for older children stock the fridge with tasty healthy snacks like hummus, baby carrots, pasta salad, or wraps.
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