If you’ve tried endlessly to get your child to eat veggies or simply embrace a variety of textures and flavours, you’re not alone. Many parents complain that their children are picky eaters. A study, published in the journal Eating Behaviours confirmed it’s a common problem that can last for two years or more.
So, why do most kids love sweet foods? According to a BBC report, babies have an innate preference for sweet tastes, starting with the slightly sweet taste of breast milk. They also have more sensitive taste buds, so new foods can offer an intense explosion of flavours, which might not always be welcome.
However, as the American Academy of Paediatrics points out, a child’s desire for “junk food” is often learned. In addition, they point out that healthy foods are advertised less than 3% of the time in comparison to their counterparts. This has a direct impact on children’s food preferences – considering food and beverage companies spend billions each year on food marketing campaigns directed at children.
Baby and toddler snacks and meals
The American Academy of Paediatrics suggests reducing sodium and sugar intake early on as this can help set taste preferences and help children make healthy food choices later in life. However, a report from the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found only four out of 80 baby and toddler snacks met nutrition standards. In addition, 50% of baby food snacks and 83% of toddler food snacks contained added sweeteners.
Therefore, it’s important to read food labels before you buy snacks and meals, even if they claim to be healthy, or the packaging looks good.
Another suggestion is to tame your child’s sweet tooth from early on. This can be done by avoiding rewards with sugar and slowly, but surely, offering your child less and less sweet foods.
Healthy alternatives to snacks and traditional comfort foods
Another option, says clinical nutritionist, speaker and wellness expert Desi Horsman, is to get clever in the kitchen and with your shopping trolley. Replace traditional snacks and comfort foods with healthier alternatives. This way, your kids might not even notice that they’re enjoying a healthier food and you can end the fight over fussy eating right now.
Try Desi’s healthy snacks and comfort food swaps:
Swap traditional ice cream for…
Vegan ice cream made with coconut cream and xylitol instead of sugar. You can also make ice lollies with real fruit puree and encourage your kids to pick fruit sorbets, rather than full cream, flavoured ice cream that’s packed with sugar.
Swap macaroni cheese for…
A healthier, heartier version. Use gluten-free macaroni or a veggie pasta such as chickpea pasta and serve it with a little grated cheese and a tomato-based sauce.
Swap thick base pizza for…
Cauliflower or grain-free bases and make your own at home with the kids. Use less cheese and a variety of fresh ingredients such as olives, spinach, bell peppers, pineapple etc. Also steer clear of too much processed meat such as bacon which is high in sodium and saturated fat.
Swap sugary chocolate for …
Pure cocoa nibs with raisins or cranberries. Carob slabs also come in a variety of different flavours and are a healthier alternative than traditional chocolate. Also remember, the darker the chocolate, the better!
Swap fried chips for…
Oven baked chips with a little olive oil or coconut oil. Sweet potato chips are also a delicious alternative.
Desi’s healthy snack ideas for kids include:
- Vegetable strips like sweet peppers, cucumbers etc. with a dip (mashed avocado, hummus or tahina dip).
- Fruit with nut butters like almond – and seed butters like Tahina. These are generally better options than peanut butter.
- Rice cakes with nut butter or olive paste or avocado.
- Homemade savoury muffins. There are many grain free flour options and you can add any grated veggies of your choice or eggs. A sweet alternative can be made by adding blueberries or other fruit and xylitol.
- Homemade oat or seed bars are easy to make.
- Carob dipped dried fruit is delicious and helps to ease sweet cravings
Steer clear of these so-called healthy snacks:
- Commercial frozen yoghurts. They are high in added sugar and rarely contain real fruit.
- Some fruit bars and cereal bars are also loaded with sugar and inflammatory oils, salt and preservatives which make them no different to chocolate bars. Check the ingredients.
- Muffins are often marketed as “health” foods, when in fact they contain high amounts of sugars – plus colourants and preservatives. Always make sure that the first three ingredients are not sugar or other sweeteners.
- Packaged juices are nothing more than flavoured sugar water, with very little actual fruit in them and they’re packed with flavourants and artificial sweeteners.
- Flavoured water should be sugar and artificial sweetener free. Flavour your children’s water with pieces of fresh fruit, cucumber and sprigs of mint or fresh lemon.
Next time you’re stuck for healthy snack ideas, try these 5 dietitian-approved, convenience baby and toddler snacks:
These gluten-free oat bars are also preservative free and made with no added sugar. They’re packed with healthy ingredients like dates, oats, organic dried banana and coconut oil for a healthy snack.
These nutritious puffs melt in the mouth for little ones and are made with organic strawberry and beetroot, plus they’re gluten free and packed with essential vitamins.
Also available in Sweet Potato and Carrot, as well as Blueberry and Purple Carrot varieties.
Made with real tomato, basil and cheddar cheese, these savoury snacks are ideal for toddlers lunchboxes. They also contain ancient grains like amaranth and quinoa and flavoured with real herbs and veggie extracts.
This on-the-go snack is ideal for babies and makes a nutritious meal or snack. It’s made with low-fat cow’s milk, oats and pear and banana concentrate, plus a dash of vanilla essence.
Wriggles are made with fruit juice concentrate and contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. They make a great morning snack and are a great substitute for sweets.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.