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Why toddlers need to eat in between meals

Did you know? Toddlers may get up to 25% of the calories they need from snacks.

3 mins to read Jan 28, 2021

Why toddlers need to eat in between meals

As your child becomes more and more active, he needs the appropriate amount of energy from food to keep him going. Yet your toddler’s tummy is still relatively small, so he may need to eat in between his main meals to maintain his nutrient and calorie intake.


One recent study found that about 40% of toddler eating occasions were snacks rather than meals. When choosing options for between meals, offer a variety of healthy foods, which provide vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients for your toddler. 



Making the most of “mini meals”

While toddlers may get a quarter of their calories from snacks, not all snacks are healthy choices. Try to think of them as mini meals. Approach them in the same way you do main meals, by including foods from various food groups, and offering new foods in appropriate textures. 


Mini meals can take many different forms, from simply cut-up fruit or vegetables to filled sandwiches or leftover pasta. The main thing is to avoid the high-sugar, high-salt foods that might be considered traditional snack foods, such as sweets and salty snacks. Focus instead on offering options that contain the vitamins and minerals he needs in his diet. These nutrients will support his healthy growth and development. Dairy-based mini meals, for example, provide calcium, which is essential for bone growth. Iron, a crucial nutrient for brain development, can be offered via small dices of cooked meat, fortified breads and cereals, or dried fruit.


Healthy snacking can also help your toddler to develop his independence in eating. See it as another opportunity for him to try new tastes and textures, and foster his enthusiasm for healthy foods. Need some inspiration? Use The snack challenge for five simple, nutritious mini meal ideas.




Campbell KL, Babiarz A, Wang Y, et al. Factors in the home environment associated with toddler diet: an ecological momentary assessment study. Public Health Nutr 2018; 21(10):1855-64.doi:10.1017/S1368980018000186


Deming D, Reidy K, Fox MK, et al. Cross-sectional analysis of eating patterns and snacking in the US Feeding Infants and Toddler Study 2008. Public Health Nutr 2017; doi:10.1017/S136898001700043X


Duyff, RL (2017). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Complete food and nutrition guide (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Shelov SP & Altmann TR (Eds.). (2009). American Academy of Pediatrics. The complete and authoritative guide Caring for your baby and young child birth to age 5 (5th ed.). USA: Bantam Books. stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/Selecting-Snacks-for- Toddlers.aspx (Accessed August 8 2018)