Make Life Easier, Start Infants and Toddlers on Healthy Snacks

I am often dismayed when young patients are sitting in my office munching away on high calorie or even not so high calorie, carbohydrate snacks, usually small crackers. Infants and toddlers love them and easily fill their mouths and stomachs.  Might even be just before lunch or dinner.  Looking at the children, it's easy to see that they aren't starving, just bored or a little hungry.

When I say something to the parents, they're often confused or listen to my comments with a dismay that speaks of hearing a criticism of their parenting.  I'm not really doing that.  I'm trying to help their food choices for the future.

Crackers and puffs aren't bad, per se, particularly those that are whole grain.  It's just that there's often better options that have fewer calories and more nutrients.  And those better options are often fruits and vegetables, even the saucy or pureed varieties that come in squeeze packs.  Also, you can make a smoothie from the fruits, adding just a bit of juice, or you can add yogurt when the baby is approximately 10 months of age and you're doctor is ready to add milk products into the diet).  Remember to keep the snacks bite sized (about the size of a Cheerio).

I will use a table from What to Feed Your Baby (Rowman Littlefield, 2013) to sum up my recommendations for infants:

  • Fruits and vegetables
    • Small bites of fruit
    • Cooked, diced pieces of vegetables
    • (once your child is older, you can coat pieces in hummus, cream cheese, or dips)
    • Avocado
  • More fruits and vegetables
  • More fruits and vegetables
  • (Do I make my point?)
  • Yogurt (after eight to ten months)
  • Cheese (after eight to ten months)
  • Crackers (preferably whole grain)
  • Fruit smoothies with yogurt or juice

Toddler Snacks

Those same foods are just as good for toddlers (what's wrong with fruit or vegetables at any age?).  But you can expand your selection a bit.  Larger puffs can be used.  Edamame (immature soybeans) are great as a source of fiber, protein and several minerals, though you may have to cut them in half for young toddlers.  Egg whites are fun, protein filled snacks that can be incorporated into the diet and you can include citrus fruits unless your child has significant reflux or allergies.

You can gradually increase the size and texture of various vegetables as well and eventually allow them to dip carrot and other fresh vegetables into different sauces and salad dressings for another playful snack.

Nuts and popcorn should be avoided until 3 years of age, because of the risk of choking until then--or even later if your child has a swallowing problem.  That doesn't mean they can't eat peanut butter or hazelnut spread (as long as they don't have an allergy), but avoid the nuts themselves.  (Please see the blogpost on choking).

Timing Snacks

Most older infants and toddlers want to eat every few hours to keep their energy up (so they can run circles around the house and continue to enjoy exploring their new world).  However, that doesn't mean you want to encourage their grazing with near-constant eating.  Try to set a specific time for their snacks: when they return from an activity or around nap time (before or after).  But make sure the snacks are not too close to mealtime.  Otherwise they may not eat their main meal and their behavior might well be worse at the table, so it will be harder to teach them appropriate mealtime manners.

Liquid Snacks

Water's wonderful.  And so are breastmilk, milk and milk substitutes (please see Bailey Koch's post about alternative milks), but juices add little more than Vitamin C--but lots of calories, which isn't a great trade for infants and toddlers (See the blogpost on Juices).  As always make sure that you leave the liquids till last, so that they'll eat what you want them to.  Otherwise, they fill up on the fluids and have little interest in their solid foods.

Dr. Stan Cohen 16 July 2014

Dr. Stan Cohen is one of our founders and our CEO as well as the Chairman of our Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Stan is an internationally recognized expert in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. He is a Read More

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