Sweet Snack Suggestions
"There are plenty of sweet treats that you can give toddlers, and also feel better about giving them!" says Peggy O'Shea, a Boston-based nutritionist and president of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. "If you're looking for something festive for the holiday, think of all of the beautiful red fruits that not only will entice your toddlers' taste buds, but also provide a healthy dose of nutrients as well!"
O'Shea suggests raspberries, red grapes, or strawberries. "Cut in half, they even resemble the shape of a heart!" she says. "Or for smaller toddlers, cut in small pieces and form them into the shape of a heart on a plate. Top it off with a dollop of strawberry yogurt in the center for dipping."
You can also try some healthier baked options. "Low-fat banana bread or pumpkin bread, perhaps made in a heart-shaped pan, is a delicious treat and provides some great nutrient value as well," O'Shea says. "Even try some angel food cake topped with some strawberries and raspberries for a vibrant red color, and top off with just a little bit of whipped cream. Some other ideas are fruit-flavored gelatin with added fruit, or frozen fruit popsicles, or cubes made from pureed fruit and/or yogurt."
A Little Too Sweet?
Should sugary sweet snacks be completely off of a toddler's menu? "There's nothing wrong with offering sweet treats once in a while—just be sure to reinforce that they are 'special occasion' foods, and that they are enjoyed because of a particular occasion or for something significant, not on an everyday basis," O'Shea says. "And remember, too, that you can make even what may seem like a traditionally 'unhealthy' treat just a little bit better by watching your serving size and also pairing it with a more nutritious food."
For example, if you're serving ice cream, rather than topping with candies or syrups, offer toppings that are fun but provide some added nutrients, like strawberries, pineapple, or blueberries, suggests O'Shea. "Or once they've gotten a little bit older and if appropriate for your child's age (generally over 3, not during the toddler years) and there aren't any allergy concerns, nuts," she says. "Kids will think it's great to have colorful fun things to top their sundae with and you can feel just a little better about what they're eating."
Be Sweet on Safety
And no matter if the food is sweet, salty, bitter, or sour, always keep safety in the forefront. "The most important things to never offer a toddler are things that would pose a choking hazard," says O'Shea. "Some of the most common are anything that is small and round—like a grape or cherry tomato. Always cut these into several pieces that are not round prior to eating. Also stay away from hard candies, jelly beans, any hard fruits, or vegetables, nuts, seeds, popcorn, and any large chunks of food, especially those that are hard to chew or sticky."
Food Allergy Cautions
Food allergies are another issue to keep in mind when serving toddlers any new foods. "Some common ones are milk, nuts, eggs, citrus fruits, and juices, soy, fish, and even strawberries and chocolate, but food allergies are on the rise and can take many different forms," O'Shea says. And she reminds parents that honey should also never be given to a child under the age of 1.
"Toddlers should also stay away from juice, and most especially from any sweetened beverages like punch or soda," O'Shea says. "Also stay away from anything that is too sweet and sticky as these will stick to a child's teeth and can cause problems even from a very young age."