All toddlers and babies need a variety of healthy snacks throughout the day, and finger foods are an important part of a toddler’s diet, especially in their second year. It’s also an important time for parents to help develop their child’s taste for healthy foods by offering a wide range of flavours and textures.
Baby foods formulated for infants up to 12 months and toddler foods aimed at children aged one to three years are governed by specific food regulations, however, some of these products aren’t necessarily different from snacks made for older children or adults. Products packaged with “kid friendly” messages aren’t guaranteed to be healthy for your child. Just avoid products high in saturated fat, added sugars and salt (labelled as sodium). Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Clare Evangelista, says parents need to take a proactive role in reading nutrition panels when looking for snacks for their children. “Parents can save a lot of money looking for regular products with low levels of sodium and/or sugar rather than buying the kid version, and this way the whole family consumes a healthy diet, not just the toddler.”
Savoury crackers, biscuits and cheese sticks in small, easy-to-hold and oft en individually wrapped portions can be a lifesaver when you’re out and about with a hungry child. The danger with many of these snacks, however, is high levels of fat and sodium – with sodium being the dietitians’ major concern. The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand state that toddlers aged one to three shouldn’t have more than 1000mg of sodium per day, so check the nutritional panel on the pack. Even something as apparently innocent as cheese can be loaded with salt; a 20g Kraft Dairybites Cheestik contains more than 30% of a toddler’s upper daily limit for sodium.
Not all child-friendly savoury snacks are loaded with salt and fat. Heinz Little Kids Cheesymite Bread Sticks, for example, which are designed for children aged one to three years, have moderate levels of fat and sodium, lower than many other savoury snacks. However regular Sakata Plain Rice Crackers are lower in fat, sugar and sodium, will appeal to the whole family, and pricewise will give you a lot more biscuit for your buck.
Baby muesli bars, tiny biscuits, fruit bars and even baby yoghurt are all waiting to appeal to your baby’s sweet tooth, even if he or she doesn’t have any yet. While it’s not possible to list every product in this category, there are some rules of thumb when considering sweet treats. Your average, active three-year old shouldn’t be having more than about 74g of sugar per day. When you consider that a couple of pieces of fruit and a cup of milk could contribute about 40g of sugar, there’s not a lot of (wiggle) room left for sweet snacks.
The products DiPrima particularly dislikes are strapstyle fruit bars, which she says are just concentrated fruit sugar in a gum-like consistency without the benefit of fibre that comes in fresh fruit. They can also stick to the teeth and contribute to dental caries.
Yoghurts may seem like a healthier option, but it pays to read the pack. Nestlé Hi-5 Real Fruit Yoghurt Strawberry has a moderate amount of fat – from milk – but like many yoghurts it contains only 5% fruit and quite a lot of sugar (16%). Even babies have their own yoghurt. Aimed at the six months-plus market, Yoplait’s baby yoghurt claims to have a texture close to breast milk that is gentle on little tummies and clings to the spoon, making it easy to eat. While technically it doesn’t include added sugar, apple juice contributes to its 14.4% sugar content and it costs a lot more than a serve of natural yoghurt with some puréed fresh fruit added.
Evangelista says parents should bear in mind that just because a product is marketed specifically for children it doesn’t mean your child needs it. Her basic rule is, “if you don’t normally eat it, there’s a good chance your child doesn’t need it either”.