Is your tot too busy — or full — to eat much at mealtime? Healthy snacks help toddlers get the nutrients they need to grow big and strong.

toddler eating and nutritionDespite what your mother used to tell you when you were a kid, snacks don’t have to spoil your appetite. In fact, when it comes to toddlers, healthy snacks should be a staple of their diet. It’s practically impossible for toddlers, with their tiny tummies, to eat as much as they need at mealtimes. 
And even if it were possible, you’d be hard-pressed to get a toddler to sit long enough at the table to eat a large meal (after all, toddlers are a lot more interested in playing than eating). 
So nourishing snacks are needed to fill in the nutritional gaps — and to keep those little tummies filled up. And if that’s not reason enough to keep the healthy snacks coming, consider this bonus: Snacks at regular intervals mean fewer hunger-fueled meltdowns.
What’s the best meal plan for your tot? 
Think six mini-meals instead of three squares a day — aiming for a meal or filling snack every two to three hours. 
This will keep your toddler’s tummy satisfied and his blood sugar and energy levels stable. Here’s the mini-meal breakdown: breakfast, a healthy snack mid-morning, lunch, another healthy snack in the afternoon, dinner, and then a final healthy snack in the evening before bed. Try not to let your toddler graze constantly throughout the day. Such all-eating all-the-time habits can lead to overeating — and an overweight tot. The six mini-meal solution, with food coming at set times, will help him learn to recognize when he’s hungry and full — and will lay a good foundation for maintaining a healthy weight throughout his life.
Now that you know when to serve those healthy snacks, your next hurdle is to figure out what those healthy snacks should be. Ideally, a healthy snack consists of a carbohydrate, a protein, and a fruit or vegetable. But in a pinch, you can simply offer your toddler a serving of whatever food groups he may have missed at mealtime. For instance, if your child had a whole-grain waffle for breakfast, he’s gotten a high-fiber carb serving, so at snack time you could offer a slice of cheese (to cover the dairy and protein) along with some cut-up fruit (for extra fiber and nutrients). Or say your toddler ate a turkey burger on whole-wheat bread (protein and fiber) for dinner, you could serve him mixed berries with yogurt (more nutrients and fiber along with dairy) for dessert later in the evening.
Need some healthy snack ideas? Try these the next time your toddler is hankering for a bite to eat:
  • Ants on a log — spread peanut butter on celery sticks and sprinkle them with raisins (Experts used to recommend waiting to serve peanuts until a child was age two or three — to help prevent a peanut allergy. But now, experts believe there may be no benefit to waiting that long. Talk with your pediatrician about when you should offer your tot peanuts and other allergenic foods, especially if food allergies run in your family.)
  • Whole-grain tortilla chips topped with veggies, salsa, and shredded cheese, alongside guacamole for dipping
  • Apple slices with string cheese or peanut butter (if your pediatrician says it’s okay to introduce peanuts to your toddler now)
  • Frozen no-sugar-added fruit bars with a glass of milk
  • Berries topped with a smidge of low-fat frozen yogurt
  • Crinkle-cut carrot “chips” with hummus
  • Whole-wheat pita-bread triangles or baked wheat crackers with melted reduced-fat cheese for dipping
  • Dip a banana in yogurt, roll it in crushed cereal, and freeze it for a tasty frozen snack
  • Whole-wheat tortilla chips with bean dip
  • Low-fat yogurt topped with granola and fresh or dried fruit
  • Cottage cheese with cut-up peaches, nectarines, pineapple, or bananas
  • Whole grain, fiber-rich cereal with (or without) milk
  • Graham crackers with applesauce for dipping
  • Yogurt smoothie made with low-fat yogurt, milk, ice, and any fruit (toddler favorites include bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and cantaloupe)
  • Baked whole-grain crackers with almond butter, and four to six ounces of 100 percent fruit juice (you could also dilute the fruit juice in carbonated soda water to give your toddler a fizzy, fruity drink)
  • Canned salmon mixed with low-fat mayo and spread on baked whole-grain crackers or celery stalks
  • A graham cracker sandwich filled with a scoop of frozen yogurt and sliced bananas
  • A small baked potato with melted reduced-fat cheese and salsa
  • Graham cracker with low-fat cream cheese, along with four to six ounces of 100 percent juice (you might consider diluting the juice to make it last longer and to cut the sugar quotient)
  • Whole-grain pretzels, soy crisps, baked pita chips, or rice cakes with a slice of cheese
  • Cucumbers, celery, or red peppers with low-fat dressing for dipping
  • All-fruit fruit leather with a glass of milk
  • Mix one cup of whole-grain oat cereal with 1/4 cup chopped walnuts and 1/4 cup dried cranberries for a healthy trail mix

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