This post originally appeared on happyfamilybrands.com and is written by Andie Schwartz, M.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC

With your baby growing fast, snack time is an opportunity to introduce your child to more varied and healthy foods, increase the amount of vitamins and nutrients in his diet, and keep up his energy so he can play, explore and learn. Beginning at approximately nine months, your baby should eat two to three nutritious snacks (in addition to three well-balanced meals) each day.

Eating healthy snacks will help ensure that your baby is:

  • Gaining exposure to a highly varied diet. The more opportunities you have to offer new and different healthy foods, the more likely it is he will develop a taste (and desire) for a varied and healthy diet.
  • Getting nutrients. Eating sufficient amounts of protein, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, calcium, iron, vitamin D and other vitamins and minerals he needs to fuel the rapid development occurring in the first two years of life.
  • Consuming enough calories. Because babies have small stomachs that fill up quickly, they need to eat multiple times throughout the day in order to ingest enough of the energy needed to support their rapid growth. The average well-nourished baby increases his body weight 200% in the first 12 months and quadruples it in the first 24 months!
  • Learning appropriate eating behavior. Just like mealtime, snack time is an important opportunity both for socialization and for modeling healthy eating habits.

Remember that when it comes to snacks, quality matters. Just because a packaged food item claims to be for kids or has your child’s favorite character on the box, doesn’t mean that it’s nutritious. So-called “toddler foods” are often loaded with excess salt and sugar as well as highly refined carbohydrates. Consuming such highly processed snacks or beverages can set up a preference for these types of foods.

WHAT TO DO

1. Choose snacks that are high quality wholesome foods.

Rather than falling for the trend that snacks are an invitation to eat junk (highly processed food), use snack time to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein he needs. Focus on providing snacks to be chewed, rather than sipped (unless, of course, your child is not feeling well and not able to eat as he normally would), because calories from drinks are often void of nutrients and fiber and loaded with sugar, additives and caffeine. The exception would be whole fruit and vegetable smoothies because they do contain fiber, vitamins and minerals.

For packaged convenience/on the go snacks, look for foods that have no added sugar.

2. Keep it safe.

Perishable foods should be refrigerated or kept on ice in a cooler. And supervise your little one while he eats, making sure to offer foods that are appropriate in terms of texture, size and shape for your child’s abilities. Avoid having your child eat while crawling, walking, running, or sitting in a moving stroller or car-seat, which could pose as a choking hazard.  Instead, sit down to enjoy a snack together!

3. Cultivate healthy snacking habits.

To encourage healthy snacking, avoid eating in front of a screen or while distracted by other activities. And develop an eating schedule (with flexibility) to manage your child’s expectations about when food will be available rather than creating an environment in which eating is an all-the-time activity. Remember that kids should eat roughly every three hours (or five to six times each day) and while parents should determine the what, when, and where of feeding, in order to have a healthy relationship with food, children should be the ones to decide whether and how much to eat.

4. Gather snack ideas.

To ensure you have healthy snack choices at your disposal, keep your child’s favorite healthy foods stocked at home, and always pack snacks while out and about as well as, if necessary, for daycare.

Favorite snack ideas include:

  • Soft, fresh fruit like bananas, apples, pears, peaches, oranges, clementines, mango, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and grapes
  • Plain or no sugar added whole milk fruited yogurt
  • Cottage cheese with berries
  • Nut butter on whole grain crackers, rice cakes or a banana
  • Steamed carrots, string beans, sugar snap peas, peppers, zucchini, green beans, broccoli or cauliflower. If you feel like letting your little one get messy, let him dip the vegetables into hummus or homemade black bean dip (puree equal parts canned black beans and plain yogurt)!
  • Sliced cherry tomatoes
  • Peeled cucumber spears
  • Green peas (preferably frozen and defrosted, rather than canned)
  • Avocado
  • Applesauce
  • Rinsed, canned beans like chickpeas, cannellini, kidney or black beans (look for varieties without any salt added)
  • Dried Seaweed, especially plain, toasted sheets of nori (toasting makes the nori brittle and easy for a new eater to handle) or arame, which cooks in minutes and is a great finger food
  • No sugar added  whole grain cereal
  • String cheese or small cubes of cheese
  • Small cubes of tofu
  • Chia pudding
  • Raisins
  • Vegetable soup (low sodium)
  • 100% Whole grain crackers with sliced cheese
  • 100% Whole grain bread with smeared avocado and hummus
  • 100% Whole grain PB&J (or other nut or seed butter. Look for 100% fruit spread)
  • Quesadilla: whole grain tortilla with black beans, sautéed chopped mushrooms and melted cheese
  • Kale chips: toss kale leaves with olive oil, spread on a single layer on a sheet and bake at 275*F until crispy
  • Oat pancakes: mix 1 egg, ¼ cup oats, ½ mashed banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg and cook on a skillet until golden brown
  • Nut butter pancakes: mix 1 cup smooth almond butter, 4 eggs, ¼ cup Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons of 100% fruit jelly, 1.5 Tablespoons vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon and cook on a skillet until golden brown
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Vegetable omelets
  • Egg sticks: chop 1 cup of spinach, sauté, add 2 beaten eggs, cook well-done and cut into finger-size sticks
  • Egg Muffins: beat eggs and add in your favorite chopped veggies, pour into a greased muffin tin and bake 10-12 minutes at 350*F
  • No added sugar granola bar