Snacks for Tots

Snack is a big thing in a toddler’s life and it will be good if we can take it seriously. By this, I mean not just dismissing snack as unimportant. No doubt it is not a main meal like breakfast, lunch or dinner. If we don’t pay attention to the kind of snack that our kids eat, chances are, they are going to eat a lot of junk food. Toddlers snack a lot. In fact, you may find that they snack more than eat a proper meal. So if they are eating junk food for snacks, this translates into a lot more junk food in a day, compared to the ‘healthy meals’ that you painstakingly prepare 3 times a day.

It seems to me that a lot of parents try to give their toddlers healthy meals but don’t pay enough attention to the kind of snacks that their toddlers eat between meals. Hence, the most common snacks I see toddlers munching on are cookies, crackers, chips, sweets, confectionary, etc. Usually, they chomp on snacks that are liable to spoil their appetite for the healthy meals, which they end up picking at.

If you refer to baby & toddler cookbooks, you will usually find a whole array of snack suggestions. Some takes quite a bit of preparation. Being a lazy mom, snacks, to me, should be easily accessible, stock-able, minimal preparation, yet healthy. And healthy should not automatically mean taste yucky. No toddler will eat yucky snack.

Choosing Snacks (and other food, for that matter)

Golden Rule : Read Labels.

For the sake of yourself, your kids and your family, learn to read labels. Learn what each ingredient means. For example :

“Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil” = trans fatty acid, or an unnatural form of fatty acid that will drive up cholesterol, among other things that are bad for our bodies. Margarine is an example. Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil is widely found in snack food because they are cheap. Avoid them!

“Corn Syrup” = a type of cheap sugar, mainly consisting of fructose, which the body cannot handle well and contributes to health problems. Again, it is commonly found in snack food because they are much cheaper. Avoid them!

Learn what the quantity means.

Something with less sugar per serving must be good? Not true. Check the serving size. I have found ‘cheat’ cases where the serving size is smaller than other competing products. If you are not careful, you would be fooled into thinking that this particular brand contains less sugar than its competitor.

And read the whole label.

I have found a particular brand of a certain product specifically marketed as low sugar and suitable for children. The packaging even has kiddo designs on it. But a check on the salt content reveals that it contains substantially higher salt content than other brands. So they trade one thing for another and the parents unwittingly give their kids chips instead of candy.

If you want to learn more about the food that we eat and what the labels mean, “Eating Well for Optimum Health” by Dr Andrew Weil is a good read. Be warned that you will need to plough through quite a bit of jargons and stuff though.

Here are some snacks that Dominic chomps on:

1. Breakfast Cereal

Of course you can serve breakfast cereal for snacks. It does not have to go with milk and fruits and all the works. A small serving of dry cereal is a good replacement for chips and crackers

But forget about those that are specially targeted for kids (e.g. Coco Crunch and those multi-coloured ones). If you take the trouble to read the labels, you will realise that they are nothing but sugar, starch and E-numbers (i.e. artificial food colouring).

My recommendation is Cheerios (the plain ones). It only has 1g of sugar per serving. Most breakfast cereals contains about 13g of sugar per serving. And it is tasty! I can safely tell you that lots of kids love it, even after they have been exposed to sugar-laden ones.

You can find Cheerios in supermarkets that expats patronise, e.g. Tanglin Mall, The Market Place at Raffles City, etc. Fairprice Finest and Cold Storage has it as well. Alternatively, explore organic breakfast cereals. Again, read labels because it does not mean that organic = healthy. Some of them are also sugar-laden.

2. Dried Fruits

Raisins, dried figs, cranberries, honey tomatoes, etc. A healthier alternative to candies. Less messy than real fruits and more variety is available. I like to buy organic ones to ensure that they are not laden with preservatives and pesticides and other harmful stuff.

Do take note that it can be a choking hazard for very young children, so make sure that you get things that you know your child can handle. Dried figs, which I love, for instance, will be more suitable for older toddlers.

3. Dried Nuts

Again, there are a great variety to tempt your child’s taste buds. Healthy source of protein and other important nutrients.

Again, take care as they are choking hazards for very young children. They are probably more suitable for older toddler due to their hardness. If your family has a history of allergies, you may also want to be extra careful with nuts, especially peanuts.

4. Puffed Grains

Puffed grains, which you can find from health food stores. They are usually organic. You can find puffed rice, puffed millets, etc. They are usually quite bland in taste, but would be good snack for young children whom you want to restrict sugar and salt intake. They sort of soften once they are in the mouth so they are quite safe for the younger ones who can’t really chew yet.

Finger Food Cocktail

For older kids who may prefer tastier options, here’s a trick to get them to eat some of these less preferred options like puffed grains :

Give them a mixture of puffed grains with dried fruits and/or nuts. They may be more open to eat up the whole cocktail than the puffed grains alone.

In fact, what I like to do is to give Dominic a cocktail of a variety of finger food, e.g. Cheerios with dried fruits and nuts. It is more interesting in terms of look and taste than just one type of food. He has fun picking and choosing also. A small container of such cocktail is great for outing or a long car/bus trip.

And as I can’t possibly eliminate all ‘unhealthy’ snacks, instead of giving him sweeties as it is, which he will end up eating a lot of those, I add the sweeties into a cocktail of healthy ones. That way, I limit the amount of sweeties he eats.

5. Fresh Fruits

No further elaboration needed as this is a common snack food recommended by baby books. You can be more adventurous and give a great variety of different fruits. Cut into small bite size. If you have the time and the energy, you can try cutting them into interesting patterns.

6. Yogurt

Great accompaniment for fresh fruits and great as an alternative for ice-creams. Alternatively, you can give fromage frais (check out Yoplait’s Petit Maim from the supermarket), which is a french curd cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk or goat’s milk, very similar in texture to yogurts.

Instead of giving sugar-laden Yakult-type of cultured drink, try giving yogurt for the live culture. Once again, read labels. Find the least processed, with least sugar and colouring and additives added if you can.

By the way, Dominic loves Lassi (an indian yogurt drink). You can easily make your homemade version with plain yogurt, add water/ice, fruit puree (mango is great!) and some honey or sugar (where necessary). Blend! Great for adults too!

This, however, is not for children who are allergic to dairy, unless it is clearly stated that the product is not made of cow’s milk.

7. Cheese

I much prefer the type that is one big chunk, not the sliced, processed type. Next time you are at a supermarket, read the labels on those sliced cheese and you will know why. Again, cut up into small, manageable pieces. Another great accompaniment for fresh or dried fruits.

Do look for those with lower salt content and take care that your child is not allergic to dairy.

8. Fruit Juice Jelly

Ok, if you have the time to spare, like a free weekend, why not engage your little one in a little kitchen activity and make some fruit juice jelly together?

Basically, you make them like you would for your usual jello or our local version of agar-agar, or the recent favourite Konnyaku, but instead of all the sugar and colouring, use fresh fruit juice (useful to strain them first), fruit puree or fruit pieces.

Make them in little molds with nice, interesting patterns and store them in the fridge.

9. Homemade Pop Corn

NOT the microwave type that you buy from the supermarket. It is easy to make pop corn at home and you can control how sweet you want it to be. Simply oil the surface of a wok, heat up, pour in corn kernels (which is easily available in supermarkets), cover up the wok and wait for the corn kernels to pop! Turn off the fire once you hear the popping slowing down so that you won’t burn the corn kernels. After that, stir in honey for the sweet version. You can even pour melted cheese on it for the salty version, like you would for nachos.

10. Baked Potatoes, Sweet Potoes

Wrap them up in foil and throw them into the oven to bake. You have a fuss free snack easily. They can be very filling because of the starchiness so you may want to limit the quantity you give to your child so as to not spoil the appetite for a real meal.

Sweet potato is great because, well, it is sweet and certainly appeals to youngsters more than plain old potato. Add some herbs for enhanced fragrant and flavour. You can also sprinkle with some grated parmesan cheese (the real one; not the Pizza Hut type).

11. Boiled Beans/Corn

You know, the kind you see at pasar malam stores? You can boil corn (frozen corn from supermarket is better for this), or Japanese green soy bean, or chickpeas. Make your own kacang putih!

12. Onigiri

Japanese Rice Ball. When I went to Japan recently, I found onigiri really a life-saver and a wonderful snack for on-the-road, especially when you are not very sure when your next meal will be. I think it is great for outings with kids also and an interesting alternatives to your regular sandwich picnic.

This snack is probably more troublesome than the others that I have mentioned. You need rice. Hot rice. And preferably short grain rice (like Japanese rice) because it sticks better. So if you happened to be cooking short grain rice for dinner, you can make this on-the-way for an afternoon snack, or supper. Apart from the fact that you need to have rice on hand, the making of it is really easy :

1. Wash your hand first! Wet your hand with water and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Actually, I would do without the salt part for kids. You can also just wet your hand with salt water. Your hands need to be wet or else it can be tricky to manage the rice.

2. Make sure the rice is HOT. Take a handful and make a dent in the middle.

3. Place the filling in the dent. You can use any kind of filling you want, although the Japanese typically put pickled plum (ume), all sorts of pickles and preserved stuff, flaked salmon, etc. You probably want to steer away from all the highly salted, strong flavoured stuff if you are making this for your young child. On the other hand, remember that the filling is eaten with the rice and if the filling is not tasty enough, the whole thing can be quite bland. Experiment a bit with different fillings, e.g. cooked chicken meat with mayo, chopped up dried fruits (e.g. apricot), some fried fish meat leftover from the previous meal, etc.

4. Wrap the rice around the filling, such that the filling is in the middle of a rice ball. Ok, at this stage, if you think you want to stop here and let it remain as a rice ball, you can. After all, you are not sitting for some Japanese cuisine exam and your child probably won’t know the difference. You can wrap a strip of Japanese seaweed over the ball of rice to complete the thing.

5. If you want to make one that is triangle, like the authentic Japanese ones, simply mold the rice ball into a triangular shape. Practice makes perfect. After you are done, again, wrap a piece of seaweed over the triangular onigiri.

6. You can now find molds for making onigiri. They are much easier to use and quicker to make.

13. Sandwiches

Need I say more? If there is bread, if there is suitable filling (forget about luncheon meat, sausages and ham, they are full of cancer-causing nitrates and artery-clogging saturated fats), this is still one of the easiest thing to whip up. Use wholemeal bread instead of white.

Other Snacks that Dominic Eats

Cookies, cakes, confectionary, sweeties, etc.

I must be honest with you. I will be lying if I say that Dominic does not eat all these ‘junk’ snacks. I think it is just impossible to completely abstain from them. Not a very realistic expectation. It will be especially difficult for you to keep your child from eating such things when he sees other kids eating them. We adults eat them once in a while too.

So once in a while, Dominic also eats normal ‘junk’ snacks. The only difference is that firstly, we restrict the amount he takes and the frequency, and try to balance with healthier snacks and keep healthier snacks the main portion of his snack menu.

Secondly, read labels! Yes, once again, I am back at this point about reading labels. If you can’t stop your child from eating ‘junk’ snack, you can at least select the better ones by reading the labels and buying those that are better in terms of ingredients, salt and sugar content, additives and preservatives, etc.

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