Toddlers are really passionate about a lot of things…dinosaurs, snacks, “I do it!”, snacks, jumping in puddles, and did I mention snacks?
If you’re in the toddler stage right now…you get it. Toddlers love snacks more than Canadians love Tim Hortons…and if you’re not from here, trust me, that’s a lot.
So what’s a parent to do? Argue about snacks 500 times a day…cave and let them graze all day…hide when they come asking for a snack? Don’t worry, I’ve got all the answers just for you.
If you want to skip over the basics and get to the practical and detailed solutions – I’ve got the ultimate toddler snack guide filled with nutrition info, dietitian-approved healthy toddler store bought snacks, 30+ yummy recipes, and over 75 simple throw together ideas for the best snacks for toddlers too!
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Toddlers and snacks, a true love story for the ages. I’ve seen so much content on social media revolving around moms serving snacks on repeat that I know that this is something most moms and dads experience.
I hear about it a lot in one-on-one sessions too…toddlers constantly asking for snacks, parents always giving in because that’s the only time they’ll eat, parents with concerns about what constitutes a healthy snack for kids, or how to get them extra nutrition, etc.
If you’re struggling with a toddler who just seems to want snacks all the time, or if you’re just so overwhelmed with figuring out what to feed your toddler and are looking for some easy toddler snack ideas, I’ve got you covered.
So let’s get into it and finally solve those snack related headaches!
Why Young Toddlers Love Snacks?
This can really depend on each individual family’s scenario, but I can tell you the reasons that are most popular.
- Snacks are pre-packaged, store bought, crinkly bags of goodness, or super easy to eat foods (no challenging textures, smells, or flavors).
- Meals are more formal sit down affairs, and snacks can be eaten while they play.
- Toddlers are allowed to choose snacks, but have to eat what’s served at mealtimes.
If I had to narrow it down, I’d pick these as the top reasons, so let’s dive into why these cause problems when it comes to snacks and toddlers.
Reason #1: Snacks are (almost) ALWAYS pre-packaged
The key word here is always. If your toddler can accurately guess what they’re having for a snack because they’re always being given a fruit snack, granola bar, or a bag of goldfish…it’s time to change things up!
I know that coming up with nutritious snack ideas is difficult, and honestly frustrating sometimes (that’s why I made this epic snack guide!), but it’s time to level the playing field between snacks and meals.
One can’t always be more fun than the other…because of course that’s the one they’ll always be excited about and therefore want to eat!
So what I’m suggesting is a bit of a combo approach.
STEP ONE: START OFFERING TODDLER FRIENDLY SNACKS THAT LOOK LIKE “MINI-MEALS”
This could mean that you include some produce (ie. cherry tomatoes or cucumber sticks), make them half a sandwich, grab some leftover meat and serve it with crackers, etc. (Tons more ideas in my snack guide!).
Using the mini-meal option doesn’t mean you have to be cooking, it just means that you’re throwing together at least two whole foods, so it looks something a bit closer to what would be served at mealtime.
This also adds some of those more challenging aspects that are often missing from packaged, store bought, snacks; like different textures, flavors, or even smells, as I mentioned above.
This is also where my FFP™ rule comes in. For the full explanation, see this blog, but basically you want to include a source of Fat, Fiber, and Protein at every meal. And to have the best toddler snacks, you want to include at least 2 of these.
Here’s why this is so important.
Snacks are usually very carb heavy. Even if they come from healthy sources (ie. whole grains or fruit). Heck – even if the snack is a piece of fruit – it’s not doing the best for your toddler if it’s not also paired with a source of protein and/or healthy fats.
When you have a high carbohydrate food, blood sugars tend to spike up fairly quickly and then come crashing down soon after. This means that your toddler will be left asking for another snack half an hour, or an hour, later.
Using the FFP™ rule will automatically help your snacks resemble mini-meals, while keeping them full longer and balancing blood sugars. AKA they won’t need to ask for snacks so often, because their snacks will actually keep them full!
STEP TWO: ADD SOME FUN INTO MEALTIMES WITH YOUR TODDLER
Snacks can’t get all the glory! Incorporate some food play or exploration into your daily meals (even just using some food picks to eat with will add some fun and novelty).
You can even try serving meals in snack cups, or a muffin tray. Making the meal look more appealing is something that kids love and can easily make a meal “toddler approved”.
Again, this is helping to level the playing field. Snacks aren’t always fun and meals are always boring – both can be either of those – and now your toddler can’t guess!
Reason #2: Meals are a formal affair and snacks happen while they play
Nope. Let’s just not do this anymore…I know getting your toddler to sit and stay at the table is tricky, I’ve been there. But again, what’s happening when they have to sit for meals, but can snack and play at the same time, is that snacks are looking way better than meals.
Again, let’s make it a fair fight. All meals and snacks should be offered sitting down at the table. No playing with toys as they eat. No jumping down to play, then coming back to snack and repeating again and again.
Besides the fact that this makes snacks so much more appealing to toddlers, it’s really not safe for them. They’re still learning how to eat, and their chewing skills may not be the most reliable yet (depending on age). So sitting while eating is a much safer option, especially for younger toddlers.
Reason #3: Toddlers get to choose their snacks
Again, this comes back to snacks being more appealing because the rules for them are different than the rules for meals. My recommendation is to follow the Division of Responsibility for all meals AND snacks.
This means that, as the parent, you get to decide what, when, and where they eat, and your toddler gets to decide if they eat and how much they eat of what’s being served.
They don’t get to pick the menu, you do. Which leads me to my next point…
SNACKS DO NOT NEED TO BE EASILY ACCESSIBLE TO TODDLERS
I see this so often now, especially on those home organization shows or Instagram accounts… beautifully organized toddler snack drawers/pantries/etc.
This might look like a cupboard dedicated to your toddler’s favorite pantry snacks…granola bars, goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, baby food pouches, fruit leather, etc. Or, it could look like specific drawers in the fridge filled with yogurt tubes, string cheese, juice boxes, etc.
These look like a great idea. Keeps things organized and I don’t have to hand deliver their snack, they can get it themselves, isn’t that a win? Well, not really.
What happens when your toddler has unlimited access to their favorite snacks? Well…they have unlimited access.
This typically results in your toddler grazing all day, filling up on snacks so they aren’t hungry at meals, or toddlers that override their hunger and fullness cues because they’re bored and their favorite snack is right there, might as well eat it. So I say – just skip it!
Hunger is not an emergency - snacks are not an emergency
I have a whole blog post on why this is true, and on why we actually want our toddlers to feel hungry throughout the day. It’s important for them to actually be able to recognize the difference between hungry and full so they can intuitively eat.
Snacks are not an emergency. Them asking for a snack does not mean you have to jump up and make it right away, and it doesn’t mean that they need to be able to grab one for themselves the second they feel even a slight twinge of hunger.
They can wait until the next scheduled snack time, and I encourage you to help them with that. I go over in my snack guide just how often most toddlers need to be having meals and snacks so you can decide how to space those apart in a way that works for your family.
I also have a blog post on implementing a schedule for your toddler, so if this is new to you, or you’re not really sure how to get started, check that out.
Bedtime Snacks - also not an emergency
A quick note on bedtime snacks, because this is a popular topic. Whether your child needs to be offered one will depend on your family schedule, and the length of time between dinner and bedtime (learn more about that here).
But, I want to warn you about them because toddlers love to use them as a stalling tactic before going to sleep, and it can also be a way for them to skip over trying to eat foods at dinnertime because bedtime snacks are more of the foods they love.
If it’s bedtime and all of a sudden your toddler is begging for a snack, and complaining about how hungry they are, and you’ve determined (based on the blog) that they don’t need a bedtime snack, it’s ok to hold that boundary.
This isn’t about starving them at all, but feeling a bit of hunger as they go to sleep won’t harm them, and they will learn quickly that they need to fill their tummies at dinner so this doesn’t happen again.
Now, I’m not saying don’t ever let them get up to have a snack…there are extenuating circumstances. For example, if you know that you didn’t offer a safe food at dinner, well maybe a snack is needed because it wasn’t reasonable for them to fill up on their dinner that night. Maybe they’ve been sick and slept through dinner and wake up later because they’re finally hungry. Probably a good idea to offer them something in this scenario.
You’re the parent, and you know them best, so there could be other scenarios too. But the point I want to get across is that you need to be the one deciding.
They don’t get to scream for a snack at bedtime, and you go and grab them something right away. Then they’re deciding when to eat and that’s your role. Have a set schedule in place, even for bedtime snacks.
WHY DO SNACKS FOR TODDLERS FEEL SO HARD?
As I mentioned before, snacks can be overwhelming and frustrating. I don’t remember anyone warning me about this parenting nightmare before having kids, but here we are.
So why is it that coming up with healthy and nourishing snack ideas for toddlers feels so hard? Well, I’ve got some theories for that.
#1: Feeding kids is exhausting
IT’S. SO. MUCH. WORK.
Meal planning, grocery shopping, finding recipes, cooking the meals, making the snacks, etc. Not to mention researching nutrition for kids, trying out new food play ideas, keeping track of adding in some variety – there’s so many aspects of feeding kids that go unnoticed and unappreciated by many. And it really is never-ending.
Between the mental load of figuring it all out, the actual physical aspect of cooking the food, and let’s not forget cleaning up afterwards, I’m tired just thinking about it.
It’s often a thankless job, and it’s ok to feel exhausted by it. Ask for help when you can – you deserve it, and it’s totally ok to do so.
#2: Three meals and two snacks a day…really?
Just writing that is overwhelming. I mentioned the mental load of it all above, and this is a huge contributing factor…they eat a lot.
And yes, they need to because they can’t eat enough to stay full for a long period of time yet, but that doesn’t make it less overwhelming. If anything, it adds to it. Have you ever missed a snack time and only realized once your toddler melts down from being hangry?
It feels awful – and that mom-guilt is a problem for another day – but the pressure to be the one that remembers, is a lot.
#3: Making nourishing snacks for kids by prepping whole foods is more time consuming…isn’t it?
See points 1 and 2 as to why something that’s more time consuming is clearly going to add an extra level of stress. It’s overwhelming enough, the easier and faster, the better. Which is why we thank the lovely manufacturers that came up with the pre-packaged toddler friendly snacks they love!
BUT – have you ever had a chore that you put off doing because you built it up in your head as something that takes a long time? Like maybe that pile of laundry on the floor that needs to be folded…just me?
Well, as with those chores, the length of time it actually takes to put together a whole food snack is not long. Sure, it’s longer than it takes you to open a fruit snack – so if you’re having a day where that’s all the energy you’ve got, that’s ok! Check out my snack guide for my favorite brand recommendations so you can stock the house full of healthier store bought snack options for when those days happen.
In general though, offering a whole food option for a snack is something you can do in under 5 minutes. In fact, I dare you to set a timer and prep your toddler one of the easy healthy snack ideas from the snack guide. I bet a lot of you can get that done in even less time than that, like maybe 2-3 minutes!
THE BEST SNACKS FOR TODDLERS - ALL IN MY NEW SNACK GUIDE!
I get it, trust me I do.
Honestly, sometimes the fact that you have to come up with 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day just plain sucks.
But not anymore!
Grab the BEST snack guide you’ll ever find for toddlers and be ready to tackle snack times with ease!
The guide is divided into three sections…
Section 1: Snacking basics and ideas
- How to space apart snack times based on how many snacks toddlers should have (and I talk about the role of snacks for babies and if/when to introduce them too!)
- How big snacks should be (and if you should put a time limit on snacks)
- More tips for levelling the playing field between meals and snacks
- How to manage your time so healthy snacks are almost always possible
- How to create snacks with staying power and that are full of nutrition
....And mix and match whole food snacks, plus 75+ no recipe healthy snack ideas!
- Pantry, fridge, and freezer staples to have on hand to make sure you can quickly whip up a snack
- 75+ no recipe snack combos to quickly reference that get your toddler the nutrients they need while balancing their blood sugars so they stay full
Section 2: Registered Dietitian approved store bought toddler friendly snacks - for when you just can’t!
- My favorite brands for store bought snacks that meet the mark nutrition-wise, because these still have a place in your menus (complete with images)
Section 3: Make ahead snacks - easy recipes to get started meal prepping!
- Over 30 recipes for the ambitious times when you’re able to cook, bake or meal prep snacks ahead of time and store – then easily access them all week, or month!
Grab it now!
SNACKS FOR TODDLERS: FAQs
Now that I’ve covered the basics of offering your toddler snacks, let’s get into the nitty gritty. These are some of the most popular snack related issues I get asked about on the daily!
What about healthy snacks for kids on-the-go?
Pre-packaged, store bought snacks don’t have to be all you pack when you’re on-the-go. Cheese, crackers, and veggies or fruit travel great with an ice pack!
But I totally get why you reach for pre-packaged, or store bought, things when traveling – it’s just so convenient to pack snacks like these in a diaper bag and go! That’s why I made sure to include my favorite store bought toddler friendly snacks in my snack guide!
You don’t have to eliminate pre-packaged foods from your life – we’re all about that balanced lifestyle here! We just don’t want your toddler obsessed with them, or melting down when the Paw Patrol fruit snacks run out.
Switching things up with a bit of variety is always key, especially as a tactic to prevent or manage picky eating.
You can also rely on items that you’ve prepped ahead of time and stashed away in the fridge or freezer for just this reason!
Muffins and bars travel great, are relatively mess free, and I have tons of healthy options in my snack guide so you can easily switch up flavors and textures to keep some variety in your toddler’s snacks.
My toddler screams and screams when I say it’s not snack time…what do I do?
Ooof, that’s tough mama. Toddler tantrums are next level aren’t they?
It’s completely normal for your toddler to get upset about this…they aren’t getting what they want, and most people, adults included, get upset when that happens. Helping your toddler through those big emotions is really my go-to when this happens.
Letting them know that it’s ok that they feel this way, that it’s ok for them to be upset, and also not backing down on the boundary that you’re setting.
They can be upset about it, but that doesn’t mean you have to change your mind.
Transitioning to having snacks and meals on a schedule can be a big change for a toddler who’s never experienced that before. And that change can come with some big feelings, and that can often mean tantrums.
My recommendation is to include them in this transition as much as possible, and make it fun! So talk with them about it, head over to my blog on setting up a schedule, and make sure to grab my freebies there that will help make this fun for them – like the schedule clock they can help you set up!
I also highly recommend the following accounts to help you handle those big feelings and tantrums:
My toddler only eats snacks though… so I can’t get “strict” on them because then they’d never eat!
This is a common one for sure! And often this is happening because of what I went over above…snacks are more appealing than meals (and they’re not offered on a schedule so they’re filling up on those vs leaving true hunger for meals)!
I want you to examine what you’re offering for snacks, and what you’re offering for meals. Keep a little tracking sheet for the next few days of everything you serve for meals and snacks, and also note what they did while they ate.
Here’s what I want you to look for:
- Are you offering snacks on somewhat of a schedule or are they a free-for-all?
- Are they eating pre-packaged, store bought, fun snacks every snack time?
- Are they having any safe foods at meals?
- Do they get to choose their snacks but not their meals?
- And are they allowed to continue playing, or watching their show, while they have snacks, but not while they have meals?
You may notice other common trends too that are specific to your child! Like maybe your kids love fruit, and that always appears on the menu at snacks, but meals are always veggies which they struggle with, etc.
Switch things up! See my notes above for how to add some variety into their meals and snacks, and how to switch it up so things aren’t like what they’re used to. It may take some time to see results, that’s ok, trust the process.
Grab my Feeding Toddlers online course to learn more about offering safe foods, embracing your role in the division of responsibility, and other tactics to manage picky eating in a step-by-step manner!
Can I select two options and let my toddler choose one of them?
I’m actually going to leave this up to you!
What does the division of responsibility tell us? You need to choose what is on the menu. If you approve of both options and your toddler could select either and it’s really not making a difference to you, yes maybe providing the option has some perks.
But, if you’re going to have some sort of a reaction to your toddler choosing one of the options, it’s probably not helpful to leave it up to them to decide.
Therefore, this is how I break it down.
This tactic works well for…
- Parents that have selected two snack options that they approve of equally, and that they will not have a positive or negative reaction to when their toddler chooses it (ie. they won’t sigh when they pick the chocolate option vs. saying “great choice” when they pick carrots and hummus).
- Parents of toddlers who are craving independence and who are less likely to experience tantrums and big emotions if they’re involved in the process.
This tactic doesn’t work well for…
- Parents who will react, either positively or negatively, to their toddler’s choice.
- Parents of toddlers who will use this as an opportunity to seek further independence, maybe they’ll reject both and put in a special request, and then tantrum when you say no (if your toddler will react negatively to choice, or it causes more harm than good, avoid this one).
My toddler is sneaking snacks - what do I do?
If your toddler wanders off into the kitchen and comes back with a snack, maybe a granola bar or fruit snack, and asks you to open it so they can eat it…your snacks are too easily accessible. Time to move those up to a higher cupboard!
Independence is amazing, and being able to grab their own snack is so exciting for them, and something that will come with age. But until they’ve reached an age where they can understand that snacks happen at a certain time, and that they need to ask before they do, snacks need to be out of reach.
Remember – as per the division of responsibility – you, the parent, are responsible for choosing when meals and snacks are offered. Leaving this up to the child results in an imbalance in feeding roles and picky eating tendencies start to emerge. See my points above on easy to access snack drawers for toddlers!
How many snacks should a toddler eat?
Typically, toddlers need to eat every 2.5 hours or so. Therefore, they will usually eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks (depending on your toddler’s bedtime).
Toddlers aren’t able to eat enough in one meal or snack to stay full for as long as adults do, so they really do need these opportunities, and tend to be genuinely hungry when they come along.
Providing this many options for eating throughout the day also gives you the opportunity to ensure that they’re getting the nutrition they need by offering variety.
Plus, the number of times they eat allows for repeat exposures to happen more easily, therefore helping to prevent or manage picky eating by continuously exposing them to foods they may not like yet.
When do toddlers stop needing snacks?
This will vary greatly depending on the child. I still offer my boys snacks as part of their schedule, and they’re 13 and 11.
Generally speaking, if you know your meals and snacks are well spaced apart (see my toddler schedule blog for more info on setting that up), and your toddler doesn’t seem hungry at snack times, or is beginning to refuse multiple meals after eating at snack time, it’s possible there’s no longer enough time in between to develop a true hunger.
This means that they could be capable of eating enough to stay full for longer than they were previously able to.
If this happens, you can try removing one of the snacks, and make sure you’re communicating this with them so they know what to expect. As I mentioned before, toddlers are not a big fan of change, so preparing them for this transition will be very helpful for both of you!
Get ready for snack time with your toddler!
Now that you have all the info you could ever want to know about snacks and toddlers, and then some, it’s time to grab my complete guide on the best snacks for toddlers!
Get all the healthy recipes and snack ideas you could ever want, plus my registered dietitian recommended, pre-packaged, toddler friendly snacks buying guide. You’ll have a complete list of snacks that you can use in any scenario…bedtime snacks, snacks on-the-go, non-messy snacks, snacks you can meal prep, etc.
Buy it now and never wonder what to offer for snack time again!