Toddlers are notorious nibblers. Their small bellies mean they can’t eat a lot at one time, and their go-go-go nature means they don’t want to sit at the table too long, so snacking can help add needed nourishment into a toddler’s day, as long as it’s done right. Here are four common mistakes and how to be smarter about snacks.
Mistake 1: Giving Lots of Snacks in the Car and Stroller
Many parents carry an arsenal of munchies to dole out when they’re on the go, but too often, snacks are given to distract or occupy kids while running errands or on long drives, not because the kids actually need food. Grazing on the go also makes it hard for children to focus on their food and listen to their internal signals of hunger and fullness. Eating in the car can even be risky. If your child chokes, you may not be able to get to him right away.
Smarter Strategy: Carry one or two small and easy snacks, such as a banana or small container of whole-grain crackers, in case hunger strikes while you’re out. Try other distractions first, such as a book or small toy when you need to buy time.
Mistake 2: Snacks Too Close to Mealtime
It’s frustrating when toddlers come to the table at mealtime and don’t want to eat. It’s true that their appetites tend to fluctuate day to day, but snacking may also be to blame. Snacks before mealtime can wreck their appetites and make kids less receptive to trying new foods at meals. Toddlers may also learn to prefer “snack foods,” such as pretzels and gummy fruit snacks over “meal foods,” which can make things even tougher.
Smarter Strategy: Avoid snacks in the hour before meals. If your toddler’s hunger doesn’t seem to match up with your mealtimes, consider moving meals earlier or serving your child a portion of the meal, such as the veggies, while you finish prepping.
Mistake 3: Serving “Treat Foods” at Snack Time
Many snack foods that are marketed to kids are full of refined flour, added sugar and salt. Those foods are OK to eat occasionally, but they don’t provide the nutrients your child needs the most, such as calcium, iron and fiber, and they teach kids to associate “snack” with “treat.”
Smarter Strategy: During most snack times, serve the same kinds of foods you serve at mealtime, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains including whole-wheat tortillas or bread as options, sources of protein such as hard-boiled eggs and hummus, and dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese.
Mistake 4: Grazing All Day
Letting kids nibble all day not only ruins mealtime appetites, but also sets up bad habits. Like adults, kids can learn to snack out of boredom. Mindlessly munching can also lead to a pattern of overeating.
Smarter Strategy: Establish scheduled snack times. Toddlers can go two hours between meals and snacks, so a mid-morning, mid-afternoon and evening snack may work well. Asking your toddler to wait may be tricky at first if she’s used to munching whenever she wants. By sticking to dependable meal and snack times, she’ll feel reassured that there are plenty of opportunities to eat.
Tip of the Day
Be food safe! Wash your hands, utensils & cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood & eggs.