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12+ months

PLAYING: Your smart snacking guide

Your smart snacking guide

In order to meet their nutritional and energy needs, your toddler may need to eat between their main meals. Think of the snacks that you offer as “mini meals”, providing essential nutrition as part of a balanced diet.

4 mins to read Jan 4, 2022

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 themself, it’s even more important that you encourage them 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 their appetite varies from meal to meal, or day to day. If they eat less at one meal, there’s no need to follow them around, trying to encourage them to take “one more bite”. They 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 their hunger and fullness cues, which they’ll be able to express more vocally as they get older.

Milk matters

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 and whole cow’s milk, and growing-up milk supply calcium to help build strong bones. At 12-18 months of age, milk still 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

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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. 

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Do… Offer all meals and mini meals in a safe and supervised environment, with your toddler seated in a highchair.

Don’t… let them eat while they’re playing or distracted by screens.

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Do… think vegetable or fruit first! Fruits and vegetables provide a super-nutritious base for all your mini meals.

Don’t… offer your toddler snack foods that are high in sugar or salt.

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Do… always offer water with food. Help them keep hydrated by providing water alongside all meals and mini meals.

Don’t… give them sugar-sweetened beverages.

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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 their regular snack time because they have an extra-long nap and shows signs of hunger when they wake up, it’s okay to offer them a snack.

Don’t… offer a constant supply of snacks all day, which may mean they won’t be hungry at mealtimes.

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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.


  • Butte NF. Energy requirements of infants. Public Health Nutr 2005; 8(7A):953-67.

    Dattilo AM, Reidy, KC, Uesugi K. Modifiable risk and protective factors for healthy growth among infants and toddlers: Development and application of a global survey [abstract]. Nutrition and Growth Meeting, March 1-3, 2018, Paris, France.

    Dattilo AM Programming long-term health: Effect of parent feeding approaches on long-term diet and eating patterns. In: Early nutrition and long-term health, mechanisms, consequences and opportunities. Ed., Saavedra and Dattilo, Elsevier, 2017: 471-95.

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

    Jequier E, Constant F. Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Eur J Clin Nutr 2010; 64(2):115-23.

    World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding: Model chapter for textbooks for medical students and allied health professionals. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009.… (Accessed August 8 2018)… (Accessed August 8 2018)


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