Your smart snacking guide
While you may associate snacks with high-calorie, salty foods that adults often eat, snacks can be a good thing for your toddler if you get them right. “Mini meals” can provide essential nutrition as part of a balanced diet, rather than simply filling a hunger gap or making up for not eating enough at a previous meal.
As your toddler becomes increasingly independent and able to feed himself, it’s even more important that you encourage him on a path of healthy eating. Toddlers are active and may not always be interested in stopping for mealtime, if they are busy playing. You may notice that his appetite varies from meal to meal, or day to day. If he eats less at one meal, there’s no need to follow him around, trying to encourage him to take “one more bite”. He will make up for it later with a mini meal, at dinner, or tomorrow. Always remember the principles of responsive feeding and take note of his hunger and fullness cues, which he’ll be able to express more vocally as he gets older.
Although it may no longer provide half of your toddler’s calories, milk still plays an important part in your little one’s diet. Breast milk, cow’s milk, and growing-up milk supply calcium to help build strong bones. At 12-18 months of age, milk provides about 30% of the calories your toddler requires each day. Offering milk alongside meals and mini meals is a good way of aiming toward this target.
How to make the most of mini meals
Do… offer nutritious food in between meals. As an adult you may believe the healthy thing to do is avoid snacks as you think of them as high in sugar and salt. With their small tummies, toddlers may need to be offered food outside of main mealtimes.
Don’t… think of snacks as tummy-fillers, treats, or something to keep your toddler quiet.
Do… Offer all meals and mini meals in a safe and supervised environment, with your toddler seated in a highchair.
Don’t… let him eat while he’s playing or distracted by screens.
Do… think vegetable or fruit first! Fruits and vegetables provide a super-nutritious base for all your mini meals.
Don’t… offer your toddler foods that are high in sugar or salt, such as many of the snack foods eaten by adults.
Do… always offer water with food. Help him keep hydrated by providing water alongside all meals and mini meals.
Don’t… give him sugar-sweetened beverages.
Do… try to stick to regular times for eating between meals. This will help encourage a healthy-eating routine. Always keep in mind the principles of responsive feeding. If your toddler misses his regular snack time because he has an extra-long nap and shows signs of hunger when he wakes up, it’s okay to offer him a snack.
Don’t… offer a constant supply of snacks all day, which may mean he won’t be hungry at mealtimes.
Do… think about taste and texture too. As you do at main meals, continue to try out new foods, offering them in varied and age-appropriate textures.
Don’t… offer anything that might be a choking hazard. Continue to avoid whole grapes, hard chunks of uncooked vegetables, uncut cherry tomatoes, apple chunks or slices, hot dogs, sausages, popcorn, chunks of nut butter, whole nuts, and seeds. Always avoid large chunks of any food.
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