18-36 Months: Eating with the Family - Snacks and Treats - Sandwiches for Toddlers & Mini-jam Tarts

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Snacks and treats don’t have to be unhealthy to be tempting and delicious, and with the right ingredients, they can form a nutritious and integral part of your child’s well-balanced diet. Used judiciously, too, they add important variety to your child’s diet, and encourage little ones to experiment with a wider range of flavors.
Q: How important are snacks? My child simply can’t make it between meals without something to eat.
A: Snacks can be very important for some toddlers who will struggle to make it between main meals without something to eat. The reason is that their tummies are small, and they can’t get adequate calories in one sitting to see them through long periods without something to eat. They all need some refueling, and it is healthy to encourage them to eat when they are hungry, so that they learn to understand and respond to “hunger cues.” Many children with weight problems never experience the feeling of being hungry, and are encouraged to eat constantly, and to clean their plates. You’ll be doing your toddler a favor by allowing her to pick and choose from a snack plate, and to eat according to her own needs.

The secret is to schedule your snacks so that they don’t run too close to mealtimes (which can be counterproductive, as your toddler won’t be hungry enough to eat properly, and will demand more snacks afterward), to offer healthy food that doesn’t detract from the nutritional value of her overall diet (see More snack ideas), and to avoid “grazing” (a constant succession of snacks between meals).

Q: Should I allow my child to help himself to snacks when he is hungry?
A: Yes, and no. Most certainly allow him to choose from a selection of snacks at the appropriate time, but make sure you give a choice of things that you actually want him to eat.

Helping himself whenever he is hungry, however, is not a good idea. First of all, it can lead to unhealthy grazing, which means that he won’t have an appetite for meals, and it can also lead to overeating—choosing food for comfort, or eating when he’s actually thirsty rather than hungry.

It’s good practice to allow older kids to choose one or two snacks from a “healthy” snack drawer or shelf in the fridge, during pre-arranged times, as it encourages them to make healthy choices and to eat only when they are hungry. Toddlers, however, do not have the maturity to make sensible choices, and won’t understand that a little might be enough to satisfy them.

Q: Does excess sugar make it harder for my child to sleep?
A: Most definitely. First of all, sugar causes a “blood sugar” rush, which means that she will experience a burst of energy (appearing hyperactive, even), followed by a slump, which leaves her tearful, tired, and even withdrawn. So sugary foods eaten near to bedtime will discourage settling down to sleep; however, if she’s had them a couple of hours in advance, she may collapse into bed in exhaustion. But that doesn’t mean that offering sugary foods is a good way to ensure sleep later on. High sugar intake can cause restless sleep, as your child’s body struggles to adjust the insulin required to deal with what she’s eaten.
Q: At what age can I offer sweets?
A: The longer you leave it, the better, as you will put off the inevitable demands that occur from the minute your toddler has her first taste! It’s important to remember that toddlers have small tummies, and even a tiny packet of sweets can fill them up with empty calories, and prevent them from eating a healthy meal or snack. Sweets also cause tooth decay, which can affect even milk teeth.

There is no real reason why sweets of any nature need to be introduced before the age of two. However, once your toddler starts nursery school or playgroup, or spends time with other children on play dates or in day care, he may not agree! Peer pressure occurs in even the tiniest tots, and most kids want to eat what their friends are eating.

There is no reason why you have to give in, and you can most certainly explain why you don’t want your toddler to eat certain foods, but the day of reckoning is on the horizon and he’ll undoubtedly have his first tastes soon. For this reason, it’s a good idea to introduce them yourself, first, and to establish your family view on sweets. Some families have a “sweet” jar, and allow one after dinner on the weekend, perhaps, which gives a little one something to look forward to, and also makes it clear that they aren’t “everyday’” foods. Similarly, bake a treat together, such as jam tarts, and impress the idea that this is a special treat. You can also offer some healthier alternatives to sweets, such as yogurt-covered raisins or dried fruit pieces in child-friendly packets.

Make treats occasional. Diets high in sugar are also often high in fat and low in fiber. If your child fills up on sugary and fatty foods, he is likely to be at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies and at risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in later life.

More snack ideas

  • Breadsticks with cream cheese

  • Rice cakes or a little dried cereal

  • Fromage frais

  • Chunks of cheese

  • Dried fruit

  • Toasted pita bread with hummus

  • Smoothies

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables with dips

  • Fruit popsicles

  • Fresh muffins

  • Mini-sandwiches (see Sandwiches for Toddlers

  • Bread with a little butter

Sandwiches for Toddlers

You can add more texture for this age group, but not too many chunks. Flatten the slices of bread with a rolling pin before buttering them lightly—thinner sandwiches are easier for toddlers to hold and eat.

Egg and Chive Sandwich

Lower 1 egg into a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 12 minutes. Immediately rinse with plenty of cold water, then peel off the shell. Mash the egg with 2 tsp mayonnaise, 2–3 snipped fresh chives, and a little seasoning. Use to fill one or more sandwiches.

Double Cheese Sandwich

Spread cream cheese over one slice of bread and scatter 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese over the top. Top with the second slice of bread.

Peanut Butter-banana Sandwich

Spread 1 tbsp peanut butter (smooth or crunchy) over one slice of bread, then top with 1/2 small mashed banana. Add the second slice of bread.

Salmon and Tomato Sandwich

Mash some drained canned salmon over one slice of bread (be sure to remove any bones) and spread with 1–2 tsp ketchup. Top with the second slice of bread.

Cottage Cheese-pineapple Sandwich

Scoop this from a tub and use to fill a sandwich.

Mini-jam Tarts

It’s fun for children to make mini-treats like jam tarts since they can be involved in the whole process: making the pastry, rolling it out, cutting the circles and pushing them into tins, and spooning in the jam. For a richer pastry, add an egg yolk and use less water.

30 minutes plus 1 hour resting

12–15 minutes



  • 12/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

  • 1/2 cup butter, diced

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2–3 tbsp ice water

  • 1/2 cup high-fruit strawberry spread with no added sugar

  1. Put the flour and salt in a bowl, add the butter, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine bread crumbs. Add 2 tbsp water and stir with a metal spatula, adding more water a little at a time until the mixture will just hold together without crumbling when squeezed lightly. Flatten the dough into a disk. If possible, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until thin (about 1/8 inch) and cut out about 24 circles with a 21/2-inch fluted round cutter. Gather up the trimmings and reroll as necessary. Carefully press the dough circles into a 24-hole mini-cupcake or mini-muffin tin.

  3. Put scant 1 tsp of strawberry spread in each pastry shell. Bake until the pastry is golden, 12–15 minutes. Let cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then transfer the tarts to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

  4. To freeze, put the cooled tarts in a single layer in a resealable box and freeze; when needed, thaw at room temperature for 1–2 hours.

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