Helping your young child keep balanced nutrition between meals.

Snacking plays an important role in your toddler’s nutrition and as a parent, preparation is everything. Snacks that are well-balanced and well-timed will help your child develop and maintain a healthy weight.

Parents should be deciding when and what food is offered at snack time, but the toddler should have the freedom to choose what they like and how much. Snacking should be based on individual taste preferences and hunger cues. Letting your child make decisions or even help prepare the snack will make the process fun and engaging while instilling healthy eating decisions at an early age.

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Regulate

Everything should be done in moderation. After your child chooses their healthy snack and eats it, remove what’s leftover and send the child back off to playtime. Designate times the “kitchen is open” to avoid those spur-of-the-moment situations that can lead to the pantry becoming a revolving door. Snacking should be set in a designated area and preferably at designated times. Establish a routine with times for meals and snacks. This will provide a safe environment for the child to learn about self-regulation, and help the caregiver when the time comes to say “no” to foods outside meal and snack times. Depending on the child, a mid-morning snack and an afternoon snack (between typical meals) should be appropriate.

Age-appropriate healthy fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables should be at the top of the menu. The less packaging the better, as many convenience foods are packed with refined grains, salt and sugar to which a toddler is not yet accustomed.

Furthermore, they offer very little nutritional value as compared to whole, fresh foods. Think of snacks as “mini meals” and include at least two food groups in each snack. Including a source of protein with snacks is a good idea. Protein is an important nutrient because it plays a crucial role in a child’s growth and development.

Smart liquids

Fruit juices and sugary drinks can really be a pitfall. Water is always the best drink choice at snack time and will keep little ones from consuming otherwise empty calories. Unflavored milk is the second best option.

Snack time is important for young, growing bodies and minds. A little bit of caregiver planning will go a long way and help ensure your child is satisfied.

Julie La Barba, M.D., FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician, health consultant and professional volunteer. Dr. La Barba serves as medical director of the Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF) program at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Dr. La Barba grew up in an Italian produce family and learned to appreciate real food at an early age. This fostered her professional commitment to children’s nutrition and resulted in her extensive professional training and targeted advocacy for public health education and research. For more information, visit chefsa.org.