Toddler eating snack

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Nutrition
30 Lunch Ideas Your Toddler Will Love

Your growing child burns up energy pretty quickly and needs to refuel between meals, which is why snacks are so important. Experts agree that toddlers and young kids need at least one or two healthy snacks a day, in addition to three small meals, for happy, healthy development. Not sure what should be on the snack menu? Learn how to choose and serve nutritious snacks for your toddler or preschooler, and check out our 32 healthy snack ideas.

30 Kid-Friendly Snacks

Healthy, kid-friendly snacks are easy to come by once you know what to look for. Here are some ideas on what to serve your toddler or preschooler as a between meals or after-school snack, what to pack as a snack when you’re out and about, and what works well in the school lunch box:

  1. Cereal. Pour some in a cup for an afternoon snack. Part of the appeal for a toddler is picking up the pieces one by one. Choose a whole grain cereal that’s sugar-free or low in sugar.

  2. Eggs. They’re a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Offer cut-up hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, and even omelets cut into bite-sized pieces for snacks. Some children may be allergic to egg whites, though, so watch carefully for any allergic reaction when introducing this food.

  3. Fresh fruit. While fruit juice is high in sugar, whole fruits are great sources of vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients. Give your child small slices of fresh, juicy peaches or plums, apples or oranges, and see how long he can resist! Bananas are another kid-pleaser. Drizzle creamy peanut butter over the fruit for an extra little kick.

  4. Applesauce. It’s another appealing way to add fruit to your child’s diet. Buy the kind that has no added sugar or make your own applesauce at home. Simply combine cubed, peeled apples with a tiny bit of water or lemon juice in a saucepan and cook on low heat until it’s soft enough to mash.

  5. Cottage cheese. Your kid may find the lumpy texture fun! Stir in some cut-up fruit or berries for some flavor, nutrients, and crunch.

  6. Potatoes. Cooked and diced potatoes or sweet potatoes can make a healthy snack. Avoid fries, which are too greasy and salty for developing children.

  7. Unsalted pretzels. Offer the classic twisted mini pretzels or pretzel sticks and see which one your little one prefers. Look for unsalted whole-wheat pretzels, as these are often the healthiest choice.

  8. Toast. Choose a healthy whole-grain bread to toast. Serve it with a little butter, cream cheese, hummus, or peanut butter.

  9. Cheese. Offer string cheese, slices of American cheese, cubes of cheddar, or whatever type of cheese your kid likes. No matter the type of cheese, it’s a good source of calcium and protein.

  10. Peanut butter. Choose the creamy kind and spread it thinly on whole-grain toast or crackers. It’ll be a hit. Other nut butters are also good. Just be sure to look out for the signs of an allergic reaction (like a rash or difficulty breathing) the first few times you give a new type of food.

  11. Plain mini bagels. These are a wonderful way to encourage healthy snacking. Cut them into manageable bits or just in half to gnaw on. Add cream cheese, creamy peanut butter, or pureed fruit.

  12. Rice cakes. You may think of this as a bland health food snack, but your kid will love the crispy, crunchy texture. It’ll also be fun for him to hold onto the big disk of puffed rice. Try spreading it with a little cream cheese or creamy peanut butter for added flavor and nutrition.

  13. Dried fruit or raisins. Make sure you cut the dried fruit into strips and remove the pits from any prunes or dates. Toddlers will love picking minced dried fruit or raisins out of their favorite cup.

  14. Steamed vegetables. Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and carrots can be fun for a kid because of their shapes. Broccoli and cauliflower can be upsold as little “trees” and green beans as little “sticks.” Serve with something yummy for drizzling or dipping into, such as melted cheese or ranch dressing, and check out these tips if you’re having trouble getting your little one to eat his vegetables.

  15. Yogurt. Plain yogurt with some fresh berries or cubes of peaches or plums stirred in makes a great snack.

  16. Whole-wheat pita. Cut into strips and served with hummus. Pita sticks can be really fun for your kid to dip into hummus and eat.

  17. Graham crackers. A kid classic, graham crackers can be served alone or even used to dip into plain yogurt. Look for ones that are made with less sugar.

  18. Crackers. Unsalted soda crackers make a handy snack as they can be dipped into hummus, spread with cream cheese or peanut butter, or just served plain.

  19. Smoothies. Blend together your child’s favorite fruit with some low-fat milk or yogurt. It’ll be so much fun for him to watch it all get blended in the machine and see the colors transform.

  20. Cereal mix. Make your own kid-friendly cereal mix by combining your child’s favorite sugar-free cereal, like corn flakes, with pieces of dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, prunes, etc. He’ll love picking at this "trail mix" snack.

  21. Chicken. Don't overlook cold, leftover chicken as a great snack that's packed with protein. Seared or baked chicken tenders can be a good choice for young kids because they’re easy to chew and there are no bones in the way. Just be sure to cut them into small pieces for your toddler.

  22. Deli meat. Choose low sodium deli meats like chicken, turkey, or ham. For some fun ways to serve these, cut the meat slices into strips, or use fun cookie cutters to cut out shapes, like hearts or stars.

  23. Oatmeal. A breakfast food like oatmeal can do double duty as a snack for your child. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and add cut-up fruit for some variety.

  24. Frozen fruit bars. Why not go for a frozen snack, especially on a hot summer’s day. Look for 100 percent fruit bars with little to no added sugar. You could also make your own fruit bars by pureeing ripe fruit and pouring it into ice pop molds before adding it to the freezer. Experiment by layering different fruit purees to create rainbow-striped bars.

  25. Whole-grain chips. Luckily there are many good whole-grain and whole-wheat chip options on the market now. Look for ones with the least amount of added salt and sugar. Serve them plain or with hummus for fun dipping.

  26. Fish-shaped crackers. A childhood favorite, these fun crackers are available in vegetable flavors and pretzel varieties. They make the perfect snack when you’re on the go with your kid, or for adding to a school lunch box.

  27. Pudding. Buy a low sugar vanilla or chocolate pudding cup, which can make a nice sweet snack now and then for your child. Add it to your child’s lunchbox occasionally for snacking at school.

  28. Gelatin. Kids love the texture and different colors of gelatin. Look for gelatin cups that are low in sugar, or make a batch and cut up into serving sized portions. Another plus is that the snack travels well for when you’re on the go.

  29. Frozen yogurt. A better and healthier option than ice cream is frozen yogurt. Buy plain or vanilla and add some fresh berries or cut-up fruit.

  30. Fruit cups. When certain fruits, like peaches, are out of season, you can buy fruit cups in natural fruit juice, not sugar syrup. Fruit cups are also easily portable. Or buy a bigger can of fruit and offer it in small portions.

12 Tips for Kid-Friendly Snacking

Making healthy snack choices is just as important as offering your child nutritious meals. Although the word “snack” can get a bad rap as it’s often associated with sugary or salty treats, healthy snacks are actually a crucial part of your toddler’s diet.

Here are some tips for choosing healthy, energizing snacks that are nutritious and tasty:

  1. Resist stocking up on junk food. Everyone loves a little junk food from time to time, but having it in the house can be very tempting for your child and for the whole family. To keep demands at bay, don’t stock your kitchen with cookies, candy bars, or chips. If you've got a junk food drawer or shelf, get rid of it. This will help ensure your child fills up on healthy snacks on offer instead. You can also set a good example by eating and enjoying healthy snacks in plain view of your child and modeling this as the norm.

  2. Pack on the protein. Some great protein-packed snacks can include hard-boiled eggs, lunch meat, and cooked chicken, all cut into small pieces. Nut butters are also a great option when spread thinly on bread or crackers.

  3. Go for whole grains. Instead of offering white, overly processed foods, go for whole grain choices, like whole-grain pretzels, breads, or tortillas. An example of a snack could be a slice of whole-grain bread topped with cheese or spread with hummus.

  4. Choose lots of colors. Fruits and vegetables come in a wide variety of eye-popping colors that appeal to kids. You could offer mini bell peppers in red, orange, and yellow, for example, or pieces of pineapple, mango, and avocado. You could serve the veggies with a low-fat dip or hummus. The fresh fruit can be dipped into plain yogurt.

  5. Repeat breakfast time. Who said that you can only eat breakfast in the morning? Breakfast foods can also make great snacks, like dried cereal mixed together with some dried fruit, or pieces of an omelet or scrambled eggs in bite size portions.

  6. Offer healthier versions of sweet snacks. If you happen to have a child with a sweet tooth, try offering low-fat puddings, frozen yogurt, or frozen low-sugar fruit bars, or make a fruit smoothie with plain yogurt and frozen berries.

  7. Make snacks with fun shapes. Remember when you were a kid and you got a sandwich cut into triangles? Do that for your little one, too, but take it one step further: Use cookie cutters to create even more and different fun shapes. Or, take some cut-up fruit and arrange the pieces on a plate to make a funny face. Do whatever it takes to make your kid laugh and enjoy her snack. This is also a good way to get your child to try new foods.

  8. Set up a snacking area. Keep snack time to certain areas of the house like the kitchen counter or table. Avoid serving your little one snacks in front of the TV, which can lead to mindless eating, and make sure she is seated when eating.

  9. Offer choices for your older child. Consider allowing your older toddler or preschooler to pick her own snack from time to time from a selection you have at the ready. Stock the fridge with veggies that are enticing to grab and go, like mini peppers, mini cucumbers, etc. Have a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter. Assemble some low-sugar, whole-grain store-bought snacks and canned or packaged unsweetened fruit cups in a cabinet or drawer. Encourage her growing independence by praising her for making a good choice.

  10. Read package labels. With store-bought snacks, you’ll notice that many foods are labeled low-fat, fat-free, cholesterol-free, etc. In fact, many of these snacks are packed with extra calories, sugar, and sodium to make up for the lack of fat. Be sure to read the nutrition labels carefully in order to make a smart, informed decision. Look for items that have low levels of sugar and sodium. Reach out to your child's healthcare provider if have any questions about your child's nutritional needs.

  11. Keep snack time on time. It’s a good idea to restrict snacking to certain times during the day, so it won’t interfere with lunch or dinner. Avoid snacks and juice two hours before meals to ensure your child will be hungry enough to eat a filling and nutritious meal.

  12. Choose easy-to-pack snacks when on the go. When snack time might occur during an errand or visit to the park, pack your toddler a snack, or have her choose one or two for the trip. Snacks that you can tuck into a tub or resealable bag or that come naturally packaged are the easiest choices. Good on-the-go snacks include bananas, mandarin oranges, crackers, string cheese, yogurt sticks, and cereal bars.

Foods to Avoid

The following foods can be choking hazards for kids under the age of 4, so avoid them at this stage:

  • Hot dogs (unless cut into pieces by quartering lengthwise before being sliced)

  • Chunks of nut butters (unless thinly spread on bread or crackers)

  • Raw carrots, celery, green beans, or any hard vegetable (unless cut into pieces and/or cooked)

  • Whole grapes, whole cherry tomatoes, whole cherries with pits

  • Dried fruits like prunes with the pit still in

  • Hard candies, including jelly beans

  • Marshmallows

  • Gum

  • Popcorn

  • Nuts

  • Seeds (such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds)

  • Large chunks of any food such as meat or potatoes.

The Bottom Line

Planning your child’s snacks doesn’t have to be a huge headache. Having a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, crackers or breads, and spreads on hand will ensure you have loads of options at your fingertips.

Giving your little one the power of choice is another smart strategy as he grows older. And, by seeing you enjoy healthy snacks, in time he’ll follow your lead by choosing healthy and nutritious options over sugar-laden candies and cookies.

In the long run, all these small steps will lead to a future healthy eater, one of the best gifts you can give as a parent.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.