Oh, the delight of finding healthy food to hold a hangry toddler over between meals on the go. Snack bars are at the top of my list because I can throw them in a diaper bag or backpack. And with no prep work involved, they are an effortless treat at home or out and about. Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best, Gerber, Plum Organics, HappyTot, and Cerebelly Smart Bars are all big-name companies with snack bar options. But, are they healthy?
Toddlers are frequently hungry and may not always eat a lot in one sitting.
In other words, the time in between meals can be tricky without a filling and nutritious snack. And your toddler needs fuel in the form of food to keep up with all their activities. Overall, it can be especially challenging to find healthy options on the go between meals.
There are hundreds of snack bars on the market sold to adults. Then there are a lot explicitly marketed to toddlers and young children. And what do many toddler snack bars have in common? TERRIBLE INGREDIENTS and ADDED SUGAR. A large number of these bars contain added sugar. Even if it’s a small amount in each serving, it can quickly add up throughout the day or week.
I evaluated the top snack bar options for toddlers and young children and was shocked at what I found in the ingredient list. Keep reading to find out which is the best option for your child!
According to the American Heart Association, children younger than two years old should consume no added sugar per day. And children older than two years old should consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day.
Did you know that ADDED SUGAR is hidden in everyday foods such as slices of bread and sauces?
For example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich may contain around 17g of added sugar: two pieces of bread (6g) + a serving of peanut butter (2g) + jelly (9g) = 17g. As you can notice, a toddler can effortlessly consume 24 grams quickly throughout the day. It’s challenging to avoid added sugar entirely in today’s world, but we can be smart about it. Plus a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be made without the added sugar, but you have to pay attention to labels and choose products without the sugar!
Why is too much added sugar unhealthy for toddlers?
- The nutrient requirement for this age group is high compared to their size. Therefore, foods eaten should be nutrient-dense. Nutrient-dense foods have vitamins and minerals. Eating added sugar means toddlers may be replacing healthy nutrients with empty calories.
- Taste preferences are formed early. Because of this, a diet high in sugar can lead to a lifetime of sugar preferences.
- Sugar can wreak havoc on toddlers’ teeth, leading to cavities and toothaches.
With so many options for toddler snack bars, what are the best options?
Taking the time to read each label one by one is time-consuming. Plus, one always has to look at the bar’s flavor as many brands can have different flavors with very different nutritional profiles.
Let’s take a look at popular toddler snack bars and see which ones rate the best.
I evaluated these popular brands: Beech-Nut, Cerebelly, Earth’s Best Organic, Gerber, HappyTot, and Plum Organics.
And here’s what I found:
All snack bars contain a similar number of calories per serving (70-90 calories), making them great to fill up a little one’s tummy for a snack. Most toddlers in the 2-3 age range need to eat around 1,000 -1,400 calories per day. That breaks down to approximately 300-450 calories per meal and about 100-200 calories per snack if you aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. Of course, every child is different, and the range and preference can vary widely.
Vitamin D and Calcium
None of the snack bars provide a lot of vitamin d or calcium, which are nutrients essential to bone health. However, adding a glass of milk (cow’s or fortified soy) can easily add these critical nutrients.
Iron is an essential nutrient that toddlers need for growth, especially in the brain. At birth, full-term babies are born with iron storage, but after 6 months, iron stores in the body start to decline, and infants need to get iron from foods. All Cerebelly bars have 3 mg of iron, almost half the amount of what toddlers need every day. Iron deficiency in babies and toddlers can cause a condition called anemia. They may have slow weight gain, pale skin, and irritability.
Fiber is essential for toddlers because it prevents constipation and helps protect against high blood pressure and diabetes. The recommended daily fiber intake for toddlers aged 1-3 is 19g. Cerebelly comes in 1st place for fiber because there are 3g in each bar. The HappyTots Fiber & Protein bars contain a gram more of fiber compared to Cerebelly bars, but the amount of added sugar in each bar eliminates it as a healthy option.
Now let’s break down Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best, Cerebelly, Gerber, HappyTot, and Plum Organics a little further…
I love that Beech-Nut bars contain whole ingredients, no added sugar, and there are a variety of flavors available.
Earth’s Best bars contains A LOT of ingredients. Check out how much is in 1 bar : (ORGANIC ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (ORGANIC WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), ORGANIC STRAWBERRY FILLING (ORGANIC CANE SYRUP, ORGANIC BROWN RICE SYRUP, ORGANIC APPLE POWDER, ORGANIC RICE STARCH, ORGANIC STRAWBERRIES, ORGANIC CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC STRAWBERRY TYPE FLAVOR, ORGANIC GLYCERIN, PECTIN, WATER, CITRIC ACID, RED CABBAGE EXTRACT FOR COLOR), ORGANIC INVERT CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC EVAPORATED CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC SUNFLOWER AND/OR ORGANIC CANOLA OIL, WATER, ORGANIC WHEAT BRAN, ORGANIC OAT FLOUR, ORGANIC CORN FLOUR, ORGANIC BUTTER FLAVOR (MILK), ORGANIC FLAVORS, BAKING SODA, CREAM OF TARTAR, ORGANIC ACACIA GUM, SEA SALT. CONTAINS WHEAT, MILK. MANUFACTURED IN A FACILITY THAT PROCESSES PEANUTS, TREE NUTS, AND SOY.
Plus, there are 5g of sugar in each bar.
Gerber snack bars are a great example of why you need to really evaluate each different bar flavor. The Gerber Organic Date & Carrot Fruit & Veggie Bars have straightforward and clean ingredients and no added sugar. However, the Strawberry Banana and the Apple Cinnamon Soft Baked Grain bars each have 7 g of added sugar, less than 1 g of fiber, and protein (the lowest of all the bars evaluated).
The only thing I like about Plum organic bars is that they are organic. However, they each have 3g of added sugar and contain a laundry list of ingredients.
Organic and 4 grams of fiber per bar sounds excellent, right? Unfortunately, this is ruined by the 4 grams of added sugar in each bar.
There is so much to love about Cerebelly and all the bars. Whole ingredients. And the common theme of three: all contain 3mg of iron (45% of the daily recommended amount), 3g of dietary fiber, and 3 grams of protein. Oh, and they are organic too.
My Top Choices for Toddler Snack Bars are the following by brands Cerebelly Smart Bars, Beech-Nut and Gerber
- Apple Kale Smart Bars
- Blueberry Banana Sweet Potato Smart Bars
- Carrot Raisin Smart Bars
- Strawberry Beet Smart Bars
- Fruity Oat Bars – Banana
- Fruity Oat Bars – Strawberry
- Fruit & Veggie Bars – Apple & Spinach
- Fruit & Veggie Bars – Banana & Pumpkin
- Organic Date & Carrot Fruit & Veggie Bar
For a complete list of the critical nutrients and brands evaluated, look at the chart below and decide what’s best for your family.
For more toddler and baby product breakdowns, check to my article on the Surprise Sugar Hidden in Yogurt Melts!