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.
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
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 them eat while they’re 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 snack foods that are high in sugar or salt.
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.
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.
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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