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Snack Bar Strategy for Healthy Toddler Snacking

Is snack time a tug of war with your finicky toddler? Does he want cheesy crackers for snack while you offer up carrots and dip?

Two of the most common questions I’m asked as a child nutritionist is what do I serve for snack? and how do I do it so there is less strife? While it’s natural for the toddler to prefer sweet, salty and fatty foods due to their hard-wired preferences for these foods, it doesn’t help that they are telling and showing you how much they want and like these foods!

Striking a New Balance

Just because you serve a healthy snack doesn’t mean your toddler will eat it. One way to have more success in this area is to shift the balance of control, giving your toddler a little bit more say in the situation.

One way to do this is by using The Snack Bar. A spin-off of The Dinner Bar (, the Snack Bar concept is a way to serve the ingredient components of a snack while allowing your child to create the end product. This approach turns snack time into a learning experience– giving your child some say in food decisions, while maximizing nutritious (and delicious) foods.

Here’s the balance I’m talking about:

  • You: Decide what the snack theme will be. Place the snack ingredients in a dish or on a plate.
  • Your Child: Assembles the food into combinations of his preference.

Remember to have fun with this, and use your imagination!

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

Cracker Sandwich Palette


  • 4-6 whole grain crackers
  • A dollop (1-2 tsp.) of nut butter
  • A dollop of strawberry cream cheese
  • A dollop of fruit jam
  • 3 thin slices of apple
  • 3 slices of banana

Arrange the dollops and fruit on a paper plate, similar to a palette of paint. Let your toddler “paint” his crackers with the toppings using his finger (or if older, provide a plastic knife) and let him pile on the toppings.

Farm Stand Kabobs

Cheese cubes

Grape tomatoes

Yellow peppers (1” pieces)

Green grapes

Clementine sections

Arrange fruit, veggies and cheese in piles on a plate or in small bowls. Use toothpicks and let your child skewer them as desired. Supervise your child to make sure those toothpicks stab the food and not an eye!

An Arsenal of Strategies

Nearly every parent of a toddler has struggled at one time or another with picky eating. The Snack Bar is just one strategy to help parents and toddlers move through this stage with grace and sanity.

The key to the Snack Bar is to take charge of the food ingredients and let your child decide how to put it all together. Ignore the urge to tell your child how to do this! Step back and watch what happens. You may find he assembles snack as you expect, or does it his own way.

My bet is your toddler will enjoy the freedom to do what he wants with the ingredients, nibbling and assembling (or experimenting!) along the way.

Try it and let me know how it goes! Better yet, send in your pictures!!


Jill Castle, MS, RD is a child nutrition expert, blogger at Just the Right Byte ( and mom of four. She is co-creator of the Fearless Feeding Movement (, a community where parents can share their feeding questions and get answers.


2 Responses

  1. Kati Mora, MS, RD, Kellogg's FiberPlus(R) Wellness Advocate said on September 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

    The snack bar sounds like such a great idea! And what a great way to introduce your child to a variety of new good-for-you foods. I’m especially glad to see a few fiber-rich options included! Getting enough fiber is so important.

  2. SnoWhite @ Finding Joy in My Kitchen said on September 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    These are great tips — choice is such a powerful tool!

    One question I have … why do you serve blanched veggies? Just simply to make them easier (i.e., softer) to eat?