Expert Health Articles

Toddler Snacking: How Not to Ruin Dinner

*Through a collaboration between Blanchard Valley Health System and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the content of this article was provided courtesy of Nationwide’s 700 Children’s® blog by pediatric experts.

For toddlers, snacking is a very important part of the day. Unlike adults, they need to eat more frequently to maintain their energy levels. Healthy snacks help control toddler hunger while providing a nutritious boost, but how can parents ensure their little ones will still be hungry for dinner after a day of snacking? Here are some tips to help structure your toddler’s diet and not spoil their dinners.

A solid tactic for appropriate nutrition involves timing. Scheduling snacks around meals gives toddlers structure throughout their day, as they learn when to expect to eat and can look forward to a chance to eat again. An interval of every two and a half to three hours is recommended for the time between eating, and it’s important to include sufficient water intake during those intervals to keep your child hydrated (often, kids will confuse dehydration with hunger).

When it comes to preparing snacks for your toddler, it’s important to think of them as mini meals by trying to keep them between 100 and 200 calories. The best snacks pair a protein with a high fiber choice. Protein is what takes our bodies the longest to digest, so it’s perfect for keeping kids full during the suggested intervals. Some great snack options include Greek yogurt, fruit, veggies and hummus, cheese sticks, peanut butter, meat/deli meat and eggs.

To help guide your kids in the right direction, be mindful of snacks commonly marketed towards children. Things like fruit snacks, chips, cookies, granola bars and cereals are simple carbohydrates with a higher sugar content that tend to digest quickly and leave kids still hungry.

How often do your kids ask for snacks an hour before dinner, or while dinner is being prepared? Try offering a “no pressure plate” full of vegetables and fruits to allow your child to consume nutrient-dense foods that will help to fill them up, but not leave them too full for dinner. This is a great way to encourage healthy eating and have children recognize their hunger levels. Often, these are not the preferred foods your child would ask for, so they may opt-out. However, that likely means they weren’t quite hungry yet and will eat more during the meal.

By selecting the right foods and maintaining a structured schedule for your toddler’s diet, they will be energetic, well-fed and hungry…just in time for dinner.

Ericca Lovegrove, RD, LD
Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition
Nationwide Children’s Hospital