All you have to do is walk down the aisle of any store that sells baby items to see boxes, containers, and pouches all proclaiming that their product is the snack that will set your baby up for life.
Puffs, teething crackers, yogurt melts, the list goes on and on of products that are specifically marketed to be used as snacks for babies. But do babies even really need snacks?
Before 1, Babies Don’t Need Snacks!
In a burst of the bubble for the millions of dollars spent on baby snacks each year, babies really do not need snacks in their first year of life. The baby snack industry is really the one pushing the need for snacks, and has created great demand for its products.
But before one, and many times for months after that, babies do not need snacks. Instead, they need to be focusing on their meals and breast milk or formula.
More: For help with baby led weaning and how to help your baby succeed with eating, be sure to check out this article with a comprehensive guide to baby led weaning and first baby foods!
Babies Have High Nutrient Demands
Your baby, as tiny as they may be, actually has very high nutrient needs! Especially before one, as they are growing exponentially. That means that every bite or drink that they have, we want it to be as nutrient dense as possible.
What does this mean practically? This means that they still need a good amount of breast milk and formula to help them meet their needs. It is going to be the primary provider of nutrients before one.
They also need lots of nutrient dense foods in their diets. Full of fats, calories, iron, zinc, and a lot of other important nutrients. Babies' appetites tend to vary. That means that even if they aren’t eating all the different foods you might offer at every meal, we still want to be thinking about nutrient density.
Think of it as bang for your buck. Every bite we offer needs to count.
Would Snacks Help Meet A Baby’s High Nutrient Demands?
This is where it gets tricky. You would think that if your baby has high nutrient demands, that snacks would help. But it usually doesn’t work that way.
By introducing snacks before the age of one, it usually means that the amount of breast milk or formula your baby takes will decrease. Breast milk or formula is one of the best ways to help your baby meet their needs!
Note that this also tends to happen if solids in general are introduced too fast, say with 3 meals right off the bat at 6 months. This is one of the main reasons I recommend starting solids with 1-2 meals a day.
What If I Give My Baby Nutrient Dense Snacks?
What We Usually Think Of as Snacks
When most people think snacks for babies, they think about what I was talking about above. Store bought puffs or teething crackers. Yogurt melts. That kind of thing.
Those kinds of snacks are generally not nutrient dense. One of the leading cans of puffs, for instance, has 0g of protein, 0g of fat, 0g of fiber and 1g of added sugars. There are only 25 calories in a half of a cup. It is pretty much the definition of not nutrient dense, unfortunately.
And it is not an anomaly. Take a look at some of the ingredient labels in the baby snack aisle. Most of them are pretty much air, with a bit of sugar thrown in for good measure.
What your baby is getting with them is chewing and moving their mouth. Not a bad thing from a developmental point of view.
But with chewing and eating, their body tends to think they are full or satisfied. Even when what they are eating is essentially air and not meeting their nutrient needs.
So they’re getting the snacks that aren’t nutrient dense, and in turn are decreasing the amount of nutrient dense breast milk or formula that they are taking. That is not what we are looking for.
What Snacks Would Work Better
Let’s set aside the general recommendation for no snacks to help protect consumption of breast milk or formula. If your baby is getting a good amount of breast milk or formula, and eats 3 meals a day, sometimes snacks might be called for.
But not your classic baby snacks!
Instead, treat the snack as literally just another meal. Give them the same types of foods that you would normally. This will still allow them to get more, but you can continue to focus on nutrient dense options like at meal times.
For help with what types of foods you might include in your meals to help them meet their needs, grab the Grow Baby Grow ebook. It will walk you through the important nutrients your baby needs at each age and how to meet them!
Baby Snacks Are Too Often Used as a Distraction
Now that we’ve got the nutritional side of things out of the way, let’s talk for a minute about the feeding relationship aspect of snacks. More often than not, baby snacks tend to be used as a way to distract babies.
Whether it’s when they’re out and about, in a stroller or car, getting fussy, or anything else, they tend to be used to help alter a baby’s behaviors.
When we do that, we are teaching them that if they fuss or are bored, food will solve the problem. We are also teaching ourselves to reach for snacks to calm our baby’s emotions, instead of accepting them.
And while I know that there are times where we just need anything at all that will work, I encourage you to do your best to avoid using food whenever possible.
We want to encourage our children to honor their hunger and fullness signals, and to not override that as they grow. And we want to teach them to learn how to deal with their emotions and being bored. Not to look to food whenever they feel those something.
Whether Babies Need Snacks Isn’t Black or White
Whether babies need snacks is never going to have a black or white answer. There will always be individual considerations to make. But at the end of the day, know that nutritionally, your baby most likely doesn’t need snacks.
If they seem hungry in between meals, lean more on breast milk or formula if they will let you. Focus on that for their snacks!
And keep in mind the goal of not training ourselves or our babies to reach for snacks to sooth their emotions.
Get the Grow Baby Grow Ebook!
The ebook designed to help you feed your child a nutrient-rich, varied diet! You'll learn all the nutrients that are important in the first two years of your child's life, what the best foods are to get those nutrients in, and how you can serve a varied diet to ensure you are meeting all of their needs!