The American Association of Paediatrics recommends 2-3 healthy snacks per day for little ones i.e.: one in the morning, one mid-afternoon and possibly one before bedtime.
In a recent report published, 86% of toddlers consume some type of sweetened beverage, dessert, sweet or salty snack in a day, and that they are more likely to consume these culprits than whole fruit and vegetables. This isn’t exactly surprising if you stop and take note of the types of snacks mamas are dishing out at play dates, in lunch boxes and when on-the-go.
Snack time doesn’t need to mean rolling out the red carpet for the processed, sugary or salty treats: it needs to be viewed as a time for your child to meet their daily nutritional requirements. To ensure your child is getting in the recommended 5 starch, 5 fruit and veg, 3 dairy and 2 protein portions daily, you need to keep your fridge and pantry packed with healthy snacks to tide your little monkey over between meals.
Here are my (and my son’s) top 10 favourite healthy snack foods:
- Mashed avocado/ guacamole: by far one of the most popular items in our fridge at home! Not only is this superfood crammed with goodness for growing little people, but it makes for an easy snack without much preparation required. Packed with unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and fibre, eating avocado means that your child is getting in all the building blocks needed for a healthy heart, developing brain and nervous system. Serve it it as a smooth/chunky dip for your little one to dip other healthy foods into. Your child will love the novelty of being able to dip, making snack time exciting (even if a little messy!).
- Hummus / bean dip: another low-sodium and sugar-free snack that makes for a healthy and nutrient-packed dipping food. Beans in general are a fantastic source of healthy fats, fibre, protein and carbohydrates for little people. Make your own with any bean/lentil of your choice, by pureeing soaked/cooked/tinned varieties with a splash of olive oil, garlic/ a squeeze of lemon juice and seasoning until the desired consistency.
- Cheese: another brilliant source of dairy in your child’s diet and something that always seems to go down well (unless your child is lactose intolerant, that is). For children over 2, it is recommended to rather opt for light-coloured, pasteurized, low-fat (not fat free) varieties given that they no longer need all the additional fat in their diets that was needed when they were babies. Try low-fat cream cheese, low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan. Serve on wholegrain crackers or rice cakes, or as slithers for a quick and healthy finger food amidt the activities. Remember that the more processed the cheese, the more additives and preservatives hiding inside, so always compare food labels (the longer the list of ingredients and the more ingredients you don’t recognise= more processed).
- Pieces of fruit and veggies: organic, fresh produce, loaded with vitamins and fibre, is still the healthiest way to enjoy fruit and veggies (versus juice or dried fruit). Dried fruit should be limited to no more than once per day due to the high sugar content. Veggie battons can be steamed for easier eating, and then served with a variety of healthy dips to keep things exciting. To ensure that the fruit or veg you are giving you little one has the most nutrients possible, have a look at some guidelines on preparing and storing baby food.
- Pâté: packed with flavour and simple to whip out the fridge, pâté can be served as a spread or dip. Mix it up with different types: liver, tuna salmon, egg or even veg. Liver pâté is only recommended for children older than one. Remember that whilst liver is a very wholesome food with a high vitamin A content, too much of it can be a bad thing. Rather limit liver servings to once a week.
- Wholegrain rice cakes or crackers: containing more vitamins, minerals and fibre compared to the white and nutrionally empty variety, it is recommended to opt for wholegrain snack options wherever possible. Ensure you have a pantry supply of these good-for-you items to serve with delicious spreads or toppings, or when on the go. Store in an air-tight container to lock in the freshness.
- Home made baked treats: whilst the store bought kind is tempting for us time-strapped mommies, by making your own baked treats at home means that there is a better chance of the good stuff going into every serving. Instead of sugar and additives, you can get creative with so many healthy alternatives (and you can even sneak some veggies in too!). If your child has a food intolerance, you have better control over what is going into their little body.
- Sugar-free nut butter: healthy and convenient, nut butters can be served with apples, celery, crackers or toast fingers. The American Association of Paediatrics recommends it as a food to offer to fussy eaters (unless they have a nut allergy) because it has been found that children are more likely to trial a new food if it has been dipped in nut butter! Opt for the sugar-free variety and mix it up with different types (peanut, almond, macademia and cashew), you’ll have a fantastic protein source on-hand in a matter of seconds.
- Boiled eggs: super easy to keep in the fridge and serve with ease, without any additional fat or oil required to prepare them. Each egg contains 6 grams of protein, which equates to just under half of your child’s daily protein requirements. An excellent source of vitamin D and B12, choline, amino acids and omegas for healthy development. Always ensure that eggs are well done or hard boiled, and store them for no longer than a week in the refrigirator (upeeled).
- Yoghurt: a delicious and healthy way for your child to get in their daily dairy requirement (one 125ml pot of yoghurt is the equivalent of one dairy serving). Opt for the unsweetened, plain kind to bypass up to 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving in sweetened yoghurts, and get creative with delicious flavour combinations and refreshing creations: smoothies, fruit lollies and parfaits to name a few. If your child has a dairy allergy then opt for soya yoghurt that has been fortified with calcium.
Tip: Remember to always offer your little one their snack with water (or diluted fruit juice) to ensure that they are getting in plenty fluids throughout the day.
Keep a look out for some inspirational recipe ideas using the healthy ingredients mentioned!