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The Snack bar: Rethinking Snack Time for Toddlers

Does snack time mean full-on war with your finicky toddler? Does your child insist on cheesy crackers for a snack while you coax him or her to eat carrots and dip?

While it’s natural for the toddler to like sweet, salty, and fatty foods (they’re hard-wired for these foods, after all), the goal is to keep snacks mostly healthy and nutritious. Remember, snacks should offer important nutrients that may have been missed at mealtime. Snacks are your “nutrient gap-fillers.” Here’s what you can do to make snack-time easier.

Shift the control

Just because you serve a healthy snack doesn’t mean your toddler will eat it. One way to have more success is to shift the balance of control, giving your toddler a bit more say in the situation.

You can do this is by using a “snack bar” approach. The Snack Bar is a spin-off of The Dinner Bar; it’s a way to serve the ingredient components of a snack while allowing your child to create the end product. This turns snack time into a learning experience, giving your child some say in food decisions while maximizing nutritious (and delicious) foods.

For example:

You: Decide what the snack theme will be, such as yogurt and fruit or toast and toppings. Place small amounts of the snack ingredients in a dish or on a plate.

Your child: Assembles the food any way he or she wants.

Remember to have fun with this, and use your imagination!

Here are few good Snack Bar options:

Cracker sandwich palette

4-6 whole grain crackers

A dollop (1-2 tsp.) of nut butter

A dollop of strawberry cream cheese

A dollop of fruit jam

3 thin slices of apple

3 slices of banana

Arrange the dollops and fruit on a paper plate, similar to a palette of paint. Let your toddler “paint” crackers with the toppings using a finger (or if older, provide a plastic knife) and let him or her pile on the toppings.

Farm stand kabobs

Cheese cubes

Grape tomatoes

Yellow peppers (1” pieces)

Green grapes

Clementine sections

Arrange fruit, veggies, and cheese in piles on a plate or in small bowls. Use toothpicks and let your child skewer them as desired. Supervise your child to make sure those toothpicks stab the food and not an eye!

An arsenal of strategies

Nearly every parent of a toddler has struggled at one time or another with picky eating. The Snack Bar is just one strategy to help toddlers move through this stage with fewer resistance and meltdowns.

The key to the Snack Bar is to take charge of the food ingredients and let your child decide how to put it all together. Ignore the urge to tell your child how to do this. Rather, step back and watch what happens. You may find your child assembles the snack as you expect—or does it in a new, original way.

The point is that your toddler will likely enjoy the freedom and control over his or her food and end up eating healthier snacks in the process. That’s a parenting win.


  • Mayo Clinic
  • Healthy snacks for kids: 10 child-friendly tips.
  • Snacks for toddlers.

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