Easy Tips for Making Healthy Snacks for Baby

Chow on 03.18.11
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Serving snacks at the table. Photo: Jenni Grover

Ahh snack foods. Such a huge phenomenon here in America. Almost every aisle in the grocery store has some version of what we consider a snack food. Unfortunately, many of the convenient choices available tend to be high fat, high sugar, and high sodium...a.k.a  junk foods. (Just check out Rachel's adventures in cheetos vs carrots for more on that struggle...)

Even packaged foods labeled organic or natural can have hidden sugars and additives. These junk foods are often marketed to our children with cartoon characters, kid-friendly packaging, and of course advertised on television with a catchy tune.  As parents, and as advocates for healthy, nutritious food, this drives us nuts because these "snack" foods tend to leave kids hungry and do not provide the variety and nutrition that kids need to supplement their diets.

Snacks Are as Important as Meals

Because babies, toddlers, and school-age kids all need snacks to help meet daily nutrition and calorie requirements, it is our job to make sure they are receiving and choosing healthy snack foods instead of loading up on sugar and fat.  

We'd love to say that we - as parents - create every single snack for Lilia - our 17 month old - from scratch. We'd love to claim that we carefully balancing the ingredients for both nutrition and flavor. But let's be realistic, there are just not enough hours in the day.

As parents, we all know that sometimes when the phone is ringing, laundry is overflowing, dishes are piling up, and you are running out the door the easiest and most convenient choice is to grab a pre-packaged bag of goldfish, a fruit roll-up, a doughnut, and a juice box.

Healthy Convenience Food is Not an Oxymoron

Give yourself a break. We all know these days happen. But remember that snack time is the perfect opportunity to give your kids healthy foods that nourish them and keep them happy.  With a little planning you can have snacks on hand -whether homemade or store bought - that offer a broad range of what your child needs.  Obviously getting a complete nutritional profile of each snack is taking it a little far (although Jenni has been known to get pretty zealous!), but try  to think in terms of broad food groups - including proteins, grains and/or vegetables or fruit for each snack.

Schedule Snack Times Like Meals

It is important to space snacks out evenly in between meals. We try to schedule them just like we would schedule Lilia's mealtimes - usually right between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner. Of course exact timing is more of an art than a science - given the inevitable unpredictability of parenting - but by following some kind of schedule you can discourage grazing on snacks in-between meals, a habit that can prevent them ever being fully hungry for their meal. This way your child learns their own hunger cues. (We also try to encourage Lilia to eat in her high chair or at the table - this allows her to concentrate on her meal and avoids both mess and choking hazards...)

Right now, our 17 month old daughter eats 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.  If we had to think of a healthy snack off the top of our sleep deprived heads that is nutrient dense and fits her daily needs we would never leave the kitchen.  So instead we've developed a permanent snack list that we posted to the fridge, and we've also created a freezer full of batch-cooked  home made servings of healthy foods. There's no doubt that this little bit of planning has saved an awful lot of headaches and tantrums (from both parents and child!) when we've found ourselves pinched for time.

Here are a few items off the Grover Family Snack List:

Whole wheat crackers and cheese
Plain yogurt with honey and fruit
Hummus and whole wheat pita
Apple or banana with peanut butter
Frozen peas or edamame
Fruit smoothies
Nuts and dried fruit
Veggies and Ranch dressing
½ Sandwich
Avocado and cream cheese spread on whole wheat crackers
Cottage cheese and fruit
Cereal and milk
Hard boiled egg

Here are a few items we have batch cooked and frozen:

Veggie pakoras
Lentil and oat patties
Green hummus
Broccoli with cheese sauce
Sweet potato cubes
Broccoli and cheese nuggets
Zucchini cheese bread
Fish sticks

We treat snacks equal to meals at our house. And because we take the time to pre-plan a little and prepare foods in advance it makes snack time much easier for us. Of course that doesn't mean we don't occasionally reach for those cheddar bunnies in exasperation, but with a little forethought it is much easier to ensure that snacks are a healthy, significant part of our child's food intake.

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