I never really mastered the "mom bag." I carry a big shoulder bag instead of a proper diaper bag, and I might not always have enough antibacterial wipes (or even regular baby wipes). Heck, on one regrettable occasion I even got cocky and left the house without spare diapers. (Never again.) But I always have snacks, because I have a toddler. With toddlers, there is a fine line between sweetness and chaos, and staying on the right side of that line often comes down to snacks.
Carrying snacks is important, because small children eat a lot to keep up with the speed at which their little bodies are growing, but they won't necessarily tell you in advance when they're getting hungry. Trust me — you do not want to face a hangry toddler.
But finding food that is both healthful and convenient can be tricky — especially when some foods marketed as being good for toddlers are actually full of sodium and sugar. So we checked in with five pediatricians to get their pointers when it comes to shopping for and planning snacks for toddlers.
1. Watch the sugar.
Dr. Dina DiMaggio and Dr. Andrew Porto, authors of The Pediatrician's Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers, say to look for foods with no added sugar. "We try to buy foods that don't contain added sugar, and instead we add our own fruit to naturally sweeten the snack. For example, we buy plain Greek yogurt (toddler yogurt is often loaded with sugar) and add in fresh strawberries or blueberries," they say.
Also, they warned that added sugar can appear under many names, including "sugar, sweetener, syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, fructose, malt, maltose, molasses, dextrose, glucose, lactose, sucrose, turbinado, and trehalose. Ingredient labels may also say 'juice concentrate' or 'cane' (juice, syrup, or sugar) as sources of added sugars."
2. Check the sodium.
"The recommended daily intake for sodium is less than 1,500 milligrams, with an adequate intake of approximately 1,000 milligrams, or about half a teaspoon, for 1- to 3-year-olds," DiMaggio and Porto add. Processed snacks are going to be high sodium and ideally should be avoided.
3. Stick to the basics.
"The best snacks for children are fruits and vegetables," says Dr. Robin Jacobson, pediatrician at NYU Langone Pediatric Associates at Irving Place, part of Hassenfeld Children's Hospital. "If you are going to buy other store-bought snacks, then veggie sticks or veggie chips are better than potato chips."
Dr. Aviva Schein from Tenafly Pediatrics agrees: "When asked for toddler snack recommendations I say fresh fruit or veggies, nut butters for toddlers too young for nuts, yogurt (ideally plain or with limited sugar — I tell parents look for less than 10 grams sugar per yogurt), hummus, edamame, cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, and whole-grain crackers."
4. Check out this brand.
When shopping for store-bought snacks, Dr. Deena Blanchard of Premiere Pediatrics says she likes organic snacks from Earth's Best. "As a mom and a pediatrician I am always looking for healthy and tasty snacks to take on the go," she says. "I love the Earth's Best snacks that are available for toddlers and young kids. Specifically, I like the Sunny Days Snack Bars, Letter of the Day Cookies and Fruit Yogurt Smoothies."
Go shopping: Earth's Best
5. Or make your own stuff.
"We like to pre-make (include your toddler in this — they love to help cook and decide on their own snacks!) packets of cut-up fruits for our children with slices of banana, oranges, peaches, pears, or blueberries," DiMaggio and Porto add. "We also prefer to make our own veggie- and fruit-filled muffins and freeze batches of them so we can easily take one out on the go, or make our own granola bars so we can control the ingredients we serve our toddlers." Having stuff ready means you can just take something good out whenever you need it, as opposed to scrambling for a solution at the last minute.
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What are your favorite snacks for kids?