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Healthy Snacks for Toddlers and Preschoolers

By — California Childcare Health Program
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

Growing children need more food energy than they can consume during a single meal. Therefore, nutritious, well-planned snacks are an important and necessary part of a child’s diet. Snacks can account for up to 20 percent of children’s nutrient needs, and help maintain their energy between meals. Offering snacks at regular intervals between meals encourages children to not eat on demand all day or refuse a meal because they know a snack is soon to follow. It is helpful to think of snack time as a planned mini-meal and not a spur of the moment indulgence. Remember that snacks should not replace a meal, but rather provide a valuable supplement.

With a little planning it is easy to choose and prepare snacks that have child appeal and are nutritious. Textures should be chewy, soft or crisp, not tough. Flavors should be mild, and neither too salty or too spicy. Temperatures should not be too cold or too hot. Colors should be bright and (when possible) shapes should be fun and interesting. Serving portions should fit the child’s needs depending upon his or her age and size. When preparing snacks for young children, the emphasis should be on healthy food choices, and avoiding foods a child is allergic or intolerant of and those that might be choking hazards.

If you are participating in the Child Care Food Program (CCFP), be sure you choose foods that are reimbursable and that you serve the appropriate portion size based on the child’s age. For additional resources or information on the Child Care Food Program call your local resource and referral agency or the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in your area.

Important

  1. Choking Hazards: Young children can easily choke on nuts, seeds, popcorn, raw vegetables, grapes, peanut butter, meat sticks and hot dogs. Do not give these foods to infants. Cut foods into small, easily chewed finger food for toddlers and preschoolers who are still learning to bite and chew. Watch children of all ages closely whenever they are eating.
  2. Food Allergy: An offending food triggers an allergic reaction by the immune system. Foods that are common allergens include peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.), shellfish, fish, milk, soy, wheat and eggs. If a child in your care has a nut allergy, you must have an Epi-pen available at all times. A care plan from the child’s health provider, plus training on how to use the Epi-pen from a public health nurse, the child’s health provider, or the parent is also required. For more information regarding allergies, visit www.foodallergynetwork.org or call the Healthline at (800) 333-3212 for a sample care plan.
  3. Food Intolerance: An adverse physical reaction to a food or food additive that does not involve one’s immune system.

Healthy Snack Ideas

Fruit-type Snacks

Canned fruit packed in light syrup or water is also acceptable.

  • choose small, whole fruits in season to reduce cost and waste — cut in slices or halves for variety, and serve plain or with cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or yogurt (dairy or soy)
  • raisins and other dried fruits
  • apple ring sandwiches (creamy peanut butter* on apple rings)
  • frozen fruit cups (freeze pureed or crushed fruit and allow to soften slightly in the fridge before serving)
  • homemade popsicles (freeze any 100 percent fresh fruit juice, except pineapple juice which does not freeze well, and pour it into small paper cups or ice cube trays, insert popsicle sticks, and freeze until solid; then remove popsicle from cup by running under hot water for about 10 seconds. Blending yogurt with the fruit juice is another option)
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