The Appeal of Dips
"Kids love finger foods and love to dip," says Peggy O'Shea, a Boston-based registered dietitian and former president of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. "Toddlers and preschoolers are still exploring and learning with their hands and love to graze with foods of different colors, textures, shapes, and tastes."
Finger foods are a real favorite—especially those that they can dip into something to create a new taste and texture, says O'Shea. "Although this can be messy for the parents, it sure is fun for the kids," she says. "Dips can also add a nutritious punch and are a great way to help parents to get their child to eat more nutritious foods or try new foods by adding a little familiarity, pizzazz, and fun!"
Keep It Healthy
It's important to select the healthiest ingredients for the dips. "In comparison to their infant days, toddlers actually have a proportionally lower caloric need," says O'Shea. "Toddlers also tend to be quite picky in their eating habits while being full of energy. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all foods a toddler eats pack a solid nutrition punch. Make sure to pick dips that provide important nutrients and not a lot of empty calories from sugar."
O'Shea says whole-milk yogurt is a tasty and delicious dip for toddlers and also can be used as a base for other creative dips. "Stir in fruit puree to make a perfect dip for finger fruits or any vegetable puree for some soft dipping vegetables," she says. Other suggestions include cottage cheese, tofu, cream cheese, and peanut butter. "You can also try some 'ready-made' items that can serve as a quick and easy dip, like applesauce, hummus, guacamole, or tomato sauce," she adds.
Taking the Plunge
Now what to dip in their dip? "Traditional finger foods that most people think of include soft fruits like banana slices (cut in half to avoid a choking hazard), mango, soft peaches, pears, etc., cheese, soft-cooked vegetables, and crackers," says O'Shea. "But be adventurous with your child! Try dipping a sandwich—and make it fancy by cutting it up with a fun-shaped cookie cutter. Or try dipping different shapes of pasta into tomato sauce."
Always remember to be careful when serving a toddler foods that could be a choking risk. "Be sure that crunchy fruits and vegetables are cooked and soft and that pieces are cut small enough not to pose a choking hazard," says O'Shea. She says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers these foods to be dangerous for children younger than 3:
- Hard candy
- Hot dogs
- "Chunks" of meat
- Raw carrots
"It is also recommend by the AAP that all toddler food be cut into thin slices to prevent choking," adds O'Shea. "Also, make sure your toddler is seated whenever he or she is eating, and never leave your toddler unattended when he or she is eating."
Fun Dip Recipes
Toddlers are very inquisitive about most things, including the foods they eat. So get your toddler involved and make a healthy dip. "The more they feel a part of their own food choices and selections the more apt they are to eat the healthy and nutritious foods that are offered to them," says O'Shea. Here are some fun dips to try!