Guide to Healthy Snacking for Toddlers
Toddlerhood is a busy time for your little eaters. And healthy snacking for toddlers is more important than you might think! Learn healthy feeding strategies and get tons of wholesome snack ideas below.
It might seem like your toddler needs to eat all day long. And that’s because… they kind of DO need to!
When you hear the term “snack,” you might think of treat food like chips and cookies. But as parents, we should really think of snacks as nutritious foods from multiple food groups, almost like a mini meal.
Here’s why: with toddler’s small size and constant busy-ness, it’s challenging to fit all their nutritional needs into just meal times. Their bodies are growing and developing so fast that they need good and evenly-spaced fuel to help keep their energy levels stable.
Toddlers generally need two snacks a day in addition to three regular meals. Every child is different, but it’s common for toddlers to need to eat about every 2-3 hours.
Sample Toddler Meal Schedule
Here’s an example of an appropriate eating schedule for your toddler.
Breakfast 7:00 am
Morning Snack 9:30 am
Lunch 12:00 pm
Afternoon Snack 3:00 pm
Dinner 6:00 pm
Before-Bed Snack 7:30 pm
What If My Toddler Won’t Eat?
Often toddlers will refuse some foods at snacks or meals. But don’t worry. If they won’t eat at one meal or snack, the next opportunity isn’t too far away. Your job as the parent is to offer the healthy foods at regular times and your child has control of how much they choose to eat.
Keep in mind that “snacking” doesn’t mean eating when ever the mood strikes. Snack times should happen at about the same time each day. And when the inevitable “I’m starving!” declaration pops up, you can let your child know exactly how long until the next snack or meal time.
What Makes a Balanced Snack?
It’s a great idea to include multiple food groups in each snack, whenever possible. Fruits, veggies, protein and whole grain foods make great snacks.
Since we’re trying to make snacks compliment mealtime nutrition, we need to focus on nutrient dense foods (foods that have a lot of nutrition for the amount of calories they have.)
A balanced snack should include two or more food groups. Some examples of what this might looks like:
- Apple Slices + Nut Butter
- Cheese Cubes + Whole Wheat Crackers
- Veggies + Hummus
- Greek yogurt + Berries
- Dried fruit + Popcorn
- Cottage Cheese + Canned Peaches
- Bell Pepper Slices + Sliced Turkey
- Homemade Guacamole + Tortilla Chips
- Banana + Nut Butter
- Bran Muffin + Carrot Sticks
- Pear Wedges + Vanilla Greek Yogurt
- Whole Grain Pretzels + Edamame
- Hard Boiled Egg + Apple Slices
4 Tips for Healthy Snacks for Toddlers
1. Start with fruits & veggies.
Who doesn’t need more fruits and veggies? Snack time is a perfect way to add those healthy foods. And we all know that any food tastes better when we are hungry. So why not take advantage of these hungry bellies and fill them with fruits and veggies. Not all kids will like something the first time they are offered it, but after seeing it several times and tasting it a few more, they just might actually eat those carrots and cucumbers. If your kids aren’t thrilled by the idea of fruits a veggies, try cutting them in fun shapes or dipping them in a sauce they like. Find the ways your kids enjoy eating veggies and start there. Pretty soon you can add in new and different ones.
2. Pack in some protein.
If we add a protein to the snack, kids are more likely to be filled up and satisfied instead of asking for another snack in 5 minutes. Some easy, snack friendly proteins include:
- Nut Butter (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter)
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Cottage Cheese
- Refried beans as a spread
- Cheese Cubes
- Sliced turkey, ham or roast beef
3. Make a plan.
When you’re digging through the cupboard and the kids are whining, it’s easy to grab some crackers and fruit snacks to make them happy. But if you have a snack plan in place, it’s a no-brainer to pass out healthy snacks instead.
- Remember to start with fruits and veggies and then add a healthy protein. Whole grains can be part of great snacks too.
- Try keeping a stash of pre-cut up veggies and fruit in the fridge. This is a simple way to allow kids to choose their snack and keep it healthy at the same time.
- Find a formula that works for you. One option is allowing kids to choose one item from the fruit and veggie basket and the protein box. Another might be having snacks assigned to certain days; Mondays are string cheese and apple days, Tuesdays are for smoothies Wednesdays are hard boiled eggs and fresh veggies, and so on. If your kids know what to expect (and you stick to your plan), the complaining dissipates and kids enjoy snack time more.
4. Involve the little ones.
Complaining kids are no fun, but if we involve them in planning and preparing they are much more likely to enjoy and eat what we are serving. Give them a few simple guidelines (such as the snack must have a fruit or vegetable in it) and let them be creative and have fun! Kids love to be involved with the food they eat and it’s a perfect time to help them learn to make good food choices along the way. So next time you hear “I’m starving”, you can tackle the situation with confidence. With these 4 tips, you’re well on your way to healthy snack time!
Having good healthy snacks prepared ahead of time will help to make sure that healthy snacking for your toddler is something that happens everyday! It is so satisfying to see your kids eat and enjoy healthy foods and have energy to play, strong immune systems, and happy attitudes.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
Great Tips! very well explained about balance diet, which is very important for Toddler. great one Natalie
This is a great article, and I love the nutritious ideas. However, I would like to bring to your attention the concern about popcorn and toddlers. As an Injury Prevention nurse, this is one of the items we do NOT suggest for toddlers. As a matter of fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians has increased the recommendation to age 5 for popcorn, as it still poses a choking hazard for younger kiddos. But, thanks for your excellent articles and suggestions – I really love this site!