Sunday, April 26, 2009

Make Toddler Snacks a Learning Adventure

Many toddlers need to snack between meals since their stomachs are small and they may not eat enough at meals to stretch until the next meal. Snacks can contribute to a balanced diet by providing needed nutrients like calcium, vitamins, and fiber. The best snacks contain some protein (cheese, peanut butter, lunchmeat, milk) which stays in the stomach longer than grains or simple sugars (popsicles, juice). When snacks are a daily occurrence, caregivers can get weary of the same choices. Creating a theme for your snack choices can be fun for your children and yourself – and a learning experience. Preschools often focus on colors or shapes. How about having circle shaped snacks one week like Cheerios, round pretzels, green or red pepper slices, cucumber slices without the seeds, doughnuts or bagels. Another snack theme might focus on local foods, choosing snacks grown or produced in your community or county. This might require a trip to a local farmers’ market or outlet store. Your child might be too young to appreciate the value of supporting local vendors but would enjoy the field trip. Snacks might also center around the Nutrition Facts label, choosing snacks that include 2% calcium or labeled whole grain. Check the serving size and see how much your child is eating. The serving sizes are established for adults but give you a reference for making healthy choices. Many snacks are advertised to children with popular movie or TV characters. If the labels indicate that these are good choices, include these into your themes. While poor snack choices can lead to empty calories, overeating and missed meals, preplanned snacks in proper portion sizes can keep the day going and contribute to your child’s mental and physical development.

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