Toddler Eating and Snacks On-the-Go

It is so much fun raising a toddler! My daughter, C., is having conversations with me now. She'll look down at a sweater I just put on her and say something like, “Cute!” Her vocabulary increases each day and it’s our joy watching her grow.

And preparing her meals and snacks has turned me into quite the expert on feeding little ones. I’ve increased my stockpile of cookie cutters, food molds and more, to keep C. interested in healthy, nutritious foods. What’s cooler is that I see my friends do really fun things with food, too. Like Caroline Tran, who makes her little one Babybel cheese faces. Super cute and creative!

Our family recently took a long trip, and I had to be prepared. I’m not one to think, "Oh, we’ll find food somewhere." Because you just never know where you’ll be—and what if your kid refuses to eat the food when you end up at that "somewhere"?

You’ll especially need to be prepared on a plane or long car trip. For trips longer than three to four hours, I would suggest packing three different snacks. This might seem excessive, but trust me: You’re better safe than sorry!

never leave home without some ice water and a small snack. I do this even on short trips to the grocery store, because when my little one starts asking, she doesn’t stop! Keep in mind that most 2- to 3-year-olds require about 1,000-1,200 calories a day. This is about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of veggies, 1 cup of fruit, 2 to 3 ounces of protein (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, peanut butter or tofu), 3 to 4 ounces of grains (make half of these grains whole grains, like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or whole-wheat bread), 3 teaspoons of added oils, and about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of milk or other dairy (like low-fat string cheese or yogurt). If they’re younger than 2, your pediatrician will likely advise you to stick with whole milk; for kids older than 2, they may advise you to start lowering to skim, 1% or 2% milk.

I typically use snack time as a way to fill-in-the-blanks, and envision what C. eats throughout the day. I try to give her all the colors of the rainbow with her meals and snacks—green spinach, orange squash, brown rice, white milk, red strawberries, etc. For example, C. will eat 1/2 cup of watermelon cubes at one snack and a tablespoon of raisins with multigrain cereal at another snack to make up for her low fruit intake during her main meals. I try to limit her intake of processed foods, and when she goes to daycare a couple days a week, I glance through their menu and pack foods that I would rather her have. It’s worth the extra effort.

Remember—don’t give up! Just because a toddler won’t eat a food prepared one way, doesn’t mean he or she won’t eat it in another form. Maybe your kid won’t eat raw apples or pears, but he may if you give him applesauce or pear sauce. He might shake his head "no" to mashed sweet potatoes, but will gobble them up when you roast them. C. refuses to eat fresh strawberries, but I found freeze-dried strawberries with no added sugar that I have to buy every week, because she love them!

From now until preschool, you’re setting the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating. It’s okay to have fast food, convenience foods, and sweets occasionally, but don’t make it a habit. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your kids.

There’s a wealth of snack ideas out there. Some moms get uber-creative, making cute bento boxes to go and fun characters for their kids. It’s good to invest in a couple little BPA-free plastic storage containers, a small reusable lunch sack, and a couple of ice packs. I use these ALL THE TIME. Better to use these storage containers than risk a younger child putting plastic bags in their mouths (shudder). Here are just a few ideas on what to feed your kids when you’re on-the-go. This list is by no means exhaustive—just a few things that I normally do for my child…plus some things that I wish she would eat!

All of the snacks in the picture above are great for traveling. Don’t just limit yourself to crackers and cereal—these are great, but think outside the box! You just need to bring an ice pack for some of these, or place them in sturdy plastic containers to prevent smushing and bruising. One final note: Beware that some of these snacks are great for slightly older kids, but can be choking hazards, especially for kids under four.

Fruits & Veggies

  • Apple slices (squirt with a tiny bit of lemon juice to prevent browning)
  • Avocado slices (in my experience, they don’t turn brown because C eats them in a couple of hours!)
  • Watermelon (or other melon) cubes
  • Berries
  • Clementines (Try drawing jack-o-lantern faces on the skin!)
  • Mini bananas
  • Raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit
  • Freeze-dried fruits (strawberries, mango and bananas are all good)
  • Roasted nori (a.k.a. seaweed…It has fiber and protein!)
  • Roasted peas or corn (make great finger foods)
  • Edamame without the pods
  • Zucchini slices

 Whole Grains

  • Multigrain dry cereal
  • Peanut butter sandwiches made with whole-wheat bread
  • Whole-grain crackers with hummus to dip
  • Granola with pecan pieces or other nuts
  • Rice cakes or graham crackers spread with almond butter
  • Whole-wheat tortillas spread with banana slices and peanut butter, rolled up into pinwheels
  • Air-popped popcorn

 Dairy

  • Yogurt (freeze them if you don’t have an ice pack, then eat them while they defrost and are still cold)
  • Lowfat string cheese
  • Yogurt pellets…

Yogurt snacks

This is not portable or good for on-the-go, but I love this idea I got from Pinterest! Scoop yogurt into a plastic zip bag, cut off one end, and pipe little yogurt pellets onto a baking sheet. Freeze, then eat! Your kid will love it!

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Tram Le
Tram Le, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian living in Annapolis. Read her blog, This Veg Life, and follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.