When I was a child, my parents would always stress that I should try foods because “they were good for me.” But I didn’t understand; they didn’t taste good, so how could they be good? I resented mealtimes where it seemed like all I could do was disappoint my family when I said I didn’t want to eat something that they cooked. Now that I’m a mom, I understand their struggle.
With toddlers, it can seem like one day, they have stomachs that are bottomless pits and other days where it seems like they are simply surviving off of a few crackers and a cup of milk. Worrying about whether they’re eating enough food that’s good for them is common for parents.
But fear not: While toddlers seem to have a mighty will, they are no match for parents who team up and share our tips and tricks to make sure our children are eating enough. Here are five snack hacks that worked for me and are easy to add to your feeding routine.
1. Kids Snack Boards
Try setting out a charcuterie-style board for lunch a few times a week and gradually introducing more “problem” foods like broccoli or peas that would normally be an instant rejection from your child. What I love about a kids snack board is that it can put a lot less stress on children to eat all of their food during mealtimes and can encourage children to have more freedom and choice over what they want to eat.
By including kids’ preferred and non-preferred foods, you are exposing your children to a mix of foods in a much lower-pressure environment. They still have the freedom to pick and choose among other options. From cheeses to cold cuts and fruits to jerky, you can put a range of foods on a kid-friendly platter (you can even try muffin tins!) that can appeal to the pickiest of toddlers. Fun shapes can help too.
When my children were too young to have a conversation about healthy food choices, one of the easiest ways I learned to get them to eat fruits and veggies was by blending them into smoothies. This allows smaller children an easy way to consume greens and makes snack time a breeze, since you have so many options without the need to cook.
3. Kids Cubby and Kids Drawer in the Fridge
Have snack drawers your children can easily reach as well as a drawer in the fridge with healthy options. I have found that having easy-to-open packages, fruit, yogurt, and even a treat or two allows children to become more interested in eating. By allowing our children more autonomy over their food choices, they are more open to trying new things within our boundaries, one being that they must eat all the snacks in the fridge and cubby before each is replenished. We do this so our children don’t eat 20 cheese sticks and popcorn but ignore the fruit and yogurt. I love that it makes snack time less stressful and argument-free since we are all on the same page—and they can often help themselves without asking me!
If all else fails, use dips. Sometimes, children will refuse their once-favorite foods or cringe at the moment a carrot touches their plates. It’s OK to take advantage of the power of dips added to everything and anything you need to. Children may need a little extra motivation to try new foods, so dips can be a great motivator when varying their diet or on a particularly difficult food day.
I know from firsthand experience that toddlers and kids will sometimes try to eat all the dip, lick it off the chicken or celery, and then ask for more dip. So it is important to explain that they can only have more dip if they eat it with their food. Dips are a big hit in my house, and now that my children are 4 and 5 years old, they know the rules and it makes dinner and mealtimes much more peaceful.
5. Have a Healthy Snack Available to Them at Mealtimes
Hear me out. I grew up in a household where I had to eat everything on my plate, even if I hated it. This was very difficult and led to my complicated relationship with food today. When I had my children, I knew that was something I didn’t want to pass down, so my husband and I have an easy way to compromise with our children when they don’t want to eat what’s for dinner. We always give them the option to have a healthy snack alternative to the meal, but they can only get one serving of whatever the alternative is.
We make sure to have an alternative that is healthy and that we know they like. Sometimes it’s an apple, other times it’s yogurt or a smoothie. If they are still hungry after, we will again offer the food served. This way, we know that they are not starving, and it also gives them a little more control over the decision without the pressure of not having anything to eat.