Your toddler is constantly grazing, but you’re not constantly near a kitchen! Dietitian Vanessa Furlong investigates the best packaged snacks.
We’d love to give our little ones healthy homemade snacks all the time, but sometimes it’s neither practical nor possible. But a convenient, pre-made snack doesn’t need to be an unhealthy one. Knowing what to look for will put your mind at ease when your heart is in the right place, but your hectic lifestyle is pulling rank.
Do toddlers actually need snacks?
Yes. Toddlers have little stomachs, so they need to ‘graze’ quite regularly (rather than eating three big meals each day). Snacks are therefore important to help them meet their daily energy and nutrient requirements. There is no set number of snacks that they should eat each day, but the following daily guidelines provide a good framework for how much food your toddler should eat:
- 1–1 1/2 serves fruit (where 1 serve = 1 piece fruit or 2 tablespoons dried fruit)
- 1–1 1/2 serves veg (where 1 serve = 2 tablespoons cooked vegies)
- 3–4 serves breads and cereals (where 1 serve = 1 slice bread, 3/4 cup cereal, 1/2 cup porridge, 1/2 cup cooked pasta or rice)
- 1/2 serve meat (or alternative) (where 1/2 serve = 1 egg, 30g cooked meat/chicken/fish, 1/2 cup cooked legumes)
- 2–3 serves dairy (where 1 serve = 250ml milk, 200g yoghurt, 40g cheese)
How much energy should a snack provide?
Unlike adults and older children, you don’t need to be too concerned with the amount of kilojoules in toddlers’ snacks – studies show toddlers will eat when they’re hungry (and let you know when they’re full!). With this in mind, it’s still important to keep an eye out for snacks with a lot of added sugar – a good rule of thumb is to limit these to about 1 teaspoon per snack (roughly 5g). Snacks containing sugar from natural sources – like fruit – or snacks with a little bit of added sugar are fine, but snacks with more added sugar than this are best saved for special occasions.
What nutrients should I look for?
Calcium is particularly important, as are iron and omega-3. These all play a significant role in mentaland physical development during these early years. Cheese, omega-3-fortified yoghurts, tuna and ironfortified cereals are great ways to get these nutrients into your toddler’s tummy.
Taming a fussy eater
In addition to filling a grumbly tummy, snack time is the perfect opportunity to widen your child’s food repertoire. Toddlers are notoriously fussy eaters, so keep in mind that it is natural for them to refuse new foods – up to as many as 10 times – before accepting them. But don’t give up on offering new snacks to your toddler – the eating habits they develop as a child will shape the habits they have as adults, so a sense of adventure will help ensure nutritional variety in their diet as they grow. Of course, it’s still a good idea to keep old favourites on hand – not every snack needs to be a ‘new’ food. Toddlers have a natural preference for sweet foods, too, so offering snacks like dried fruit, fruit-flavoured yoghurt or cereal bars will help make life easier.
Fussy eater or not, making sure your toddler gets all the necessary nutrients for healthy development is of utmost importance. Healthy snacks that incorporate calcium, iron or omega-3, as well as fruits and vegetables will round out a wide and varied diet. Whichever snacks you choose, just remember to keep a varied and steady supply on hand.