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Toddler Snacks: 9 Food Ideas for Brain Development

The toddler brain is growing at a rapid rate. Toddler snacks need to include nutrients that support their developing brain. Find out which foods make great snacks for the toddler!

 Two toddlers eating a bunch of grapes. Photo by Anna Shvets

If you’ve raised a toddler, you know they have little tummies and they snack a lot. Those little tummies can only hold so much food, so the foods they eat need to meet their nutritional requirements for growth and development. 

But some toddlers snack on crackers or sweetened cereals, which aren’t ideal when we consider what’s going on in their little heads.

Brain development.

What Nutrients are Important for Brain Development in the Toddler?

The brain needs many nutrients to grow optimally. One could argue they need all nutrients (in fact, they do).

However, research has teased out the following nutrients as important for brain development in young children:

  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B12
  • Choline
  • Omega-3 DHA
  • Vitamin E
Top nutrients for brain development in toddlers.

What are the Healthiest Snacks for Toddlers? 

The healthiest snacks for toddlers include wholesome, nutrient-rich foods that offer macronutrients like protein or healthy fats, and key micronutrients such as iron, vitamin D and calcium.

Healthy snacks help you raise a good eater!

Some nutritious snack ideas for toddlers include fortified, unsweetened cereals with whole milk, plain yogurt with fresh fruit, and blanched vegetables with hummus.

Healthy Snacks for Toddlers that Focus on Brain Health

As I mentioned, wholesome, nutritious foods will help the toddler grow and develop well. Add these foods and snack ideas to your routine, and you’ll be supporting your toddler’s developing brain as well.

1. Nut Butter

A superb source of vitamin E, healthy fats, iron and zinc.

  •             Spread peanut butter on toast
  •             Top crackers with cashew butter
  •             Let your little one dip pretzels into almond butter
  •             Add a dollop of nut butter to oatmeal or a smoothie
  •             Make homemade hummus with tahini (sesame butter)

2. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds offer healthy fats, zinc, iron, and vitamin E.

  •             A handful of cashews (make sure your toddler can eat these without choking; chop them up if your toddler is new to eating nuts)
  •             A seed-based granola or granola bar (my favorite is made by 88 Acres)
  •             A homemade trail mix with nuts or pumpkin seeds
  •             A smoothie with added chia seeds or flax meal
  •             Chia pudding
  •             Try roasted pumpkin seeds

3. Dried Fruits

A good source of iron. Chop them or serve them straight up.

  •             Raisins are great by themselves, added to cereal, or mixed into a trail mix
  •             Plums (also known as dried prunes)
  •             Apricots

4. Eggs

Protein, iron, and choline wrapped into one food. Bonus: Grab the DHA-fortified eggs for more brain-focused nutrition.

            Chop or quarter a hard-boiled egg and serve with toast.

            Baked egg cups with chopped veggies are a quick nutrient-rich snack.

            Make homemade pancakes or muffins with an additional egg added to the batter. (check out my 23 muffin ideas for kids)

toddler snacks that focus on brain health

5. Dairy Foods

Always an excellent source of protein. But did you know choline is naturally in there too? You’ll find vitamin D in fortified milk and some versions offer added DHA, too.

  •             Whole milk: Doctors tend to switch to 2% milk after age 2; check with your doctor.
  •             Add fresh fruit, frozen fruit or low-sugar jam to plain yogurt
  •             Layer Greek yogurt with granola or low sugar cereal
  •             Cottage cheese with fruit or granola is one of my favorite snacks.
  •             Cheese is a great snack for toddlers. From cheese sticks to squares, add them to crackers, fresh vegetables, or melt atop a slice of toast.

Honorable mention: Brainiac yogurt has a blend of nutrients called the “brain pack” for young children.

6. Beans

A great finger food! And they are full of iron, zinc and protein.

  •             Baby bean bites recipe
  •             Black bean dip is great with crackers, pretzels or pita bread.
  •             Refried beans can be swiped across a tortilla and rolled into a tube. A great hand-held snack for toddlers.
  •             Serve rinsed canned beans by themselves.

 7. Avocado

Full of healthy fat, vitamin E, and omega-3 nutrients.

  • Serve alone in slices or cubes, or spread on toast or crackers.

8. Breakfast Cereals

Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with nutrients, some of which are key for the brain. You’ll find iron, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, for example.

  •             Serve unsweetened versions of breakfast cereal to the toddler. Check out my list of 27 high fiber, low sugar cereals for some ideas.
  •             Offer dry cereal instead of crackers for a more nutritious on-the-go snack.
  •             Mix dry cereal with nuts, dried fruit, and other munchies for a nutritious snack. You might like my Gorp recipe.

9. Tuna

Canned tuna is readily available and full of omega-3 fats and protein. You’ll also find some iron and zinc there too. If you’re worried about mercury, stick with the recommendations of 2 servings per week in 1-2 ounce portions (or 2- 4 ounces, which is about 1 can of tuna per week for young children) and opt for “light” versions.

  •             Serve tuna on crackers or by itself with fresh chopped veggies like tomatoes or cucumber slices.
What the 2020 Dietary Guidelines say about Infants and Toddlers

Toddler Snacks Should Enhance the Diet

Every bite counts for nutrition with the toddler!

(Check out my video above to hear what the new dietary guidelines say about infants and toddlers!)

Don’t fall into the trap of giving your toddler the same snacks every day or relying on processed snacks. Focus on nutritious snacks that add nutritious value to the overall diet.

Need more Ideas for Toddler Snacks?

Check out my book, The Smart Mom’s Guide to Healthy Snacking: Raise a Smart Snacker from Tot to Teen!

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