While some toddlers are willing to eat anything, many are very particular about trying new foods. But put a colorful bowl of dip and some fun “dippers” in front of them, and watch what happens! Done right, dips are a healthy option to spark the interest of the pickiest toddler.
The Appeal of Dips
“Kids love finger foods and love to dip,” says Peggy O’Shea, a Boston-based registered dietitian and former president of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. “Toddlers and preschoolers are still exploring and learning with their hands and love to graze with foods of different colors, textures, shapes, and tastes.”
Finger foods are a real favorite—especially those that they can dip into something to create a new taste and texture, says O’Shea. “Although this can be messy for the parents, it sure is fun for the kids,” she says. “Dips can also add a nutritious punch and are a great way to help parents to get their child to eat more nutritious foods or try new foods by adding a little familiarity, pizzazz, and fun!”
Keep It Healthy
It’s important to select the healthiest ingredients for the dips. “In comparison to their infant days, toddlers actually have a proportionally lower caloric need,” says O’Shea. “Toddlers also tend to be quite picky in their eating habits while being full of energy. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all foods a toddler eats pack a solid nutrition punch. Make sure to pick dips that provide important nutrients and not a lot of empty calories from sugar.”
O’Shea says whole-milk yogurt is a tasty and delicious dip for toddlers and also can be used as a base for other creative dips. “Stir in fruit puree to make a perfect dip for finger fruits or any vegetable puree for some soft dipping vegetables,” she says. Other suggestions include cottage cheese, tofu, cream cheese, and peanut butter. “You can also try some ‘ready-made’ items that can serve as a quick and easy dip, like applesauce, hummus, guacamole, or tomato sauce,” she adds.
Taking the Plunge
Now what to dip in their dip? “Traditional finger foods that most people think of include soft fruits like banana slices (cut in half to avoid a choking hazard), mango, soft peaches, pears, etc., cheese, soft-cooked vegetables, and crackers,” says O’Shea. “But be adventurous with your child! Try dipping a sandwich—and make it fancy by cutting it up with a fun-shaped cookie cutter. Or try dipping different shapes of pasta into tomato sauce.”
Always remember to be careful when serving a toddler foods that could be a chokingrisk. “Be sure that crunchy fruits and vegetables are cooked and soft and that pieces are cut small enough not to pose a choking hazard,” says O’Shea. She says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers these foods to be dangerous for children younger than 3:
- Hard candy
- Hot dogs
- “Chunks” of meat
- Raw carrots
“It is also recommend by the AAP that all toddler food be cut into thin slices to prevent choking,” adds O’Shea. “Also, make sure your toddler is seated whenever he or she is eating, and never leave your toddler unattended when he or she is eating.”
Fun Dip Recipes
Toddlers are very inquisitive about most things, including the foods they eat. So get your toddler involved and make a healthy dip. “The more they feel a part of their own food choices and selections the more apt they are to eat the healthy and nutritious foods that are offered to them,” says O’Shea. Here are some fun dips to try!
Little Trees and Dip
3/4 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
Combine the cottage cheese, yogurt and parsley together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with the broccoli florets (trees) for a fun snack.
2 cups cooked broccoli florets, chilled
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream or yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Juice from 1 lemon
Dash of chili powder, optional
Salt, to taste, optional
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with baked tortilla chips, broccoli florets, or other favorite vegetables.
Crazy for Carrots Dip
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
Dash of chili powder, optional
Dash of ground cumin, optional
Place all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on high for 10 to 13 minutes or until carrots are very tender. Pour mixture into a blender and pulse until smooth. Serve warm or cold with baked tortilla chips or your child’s favorite raw vegetables.
Tofu Ranch Dip
1 package (12 ounces) silken tofu
1 package ranch dip mix
1/3 cup grated vegetables (carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, broccoli, etc.), optional
Put the tofu and dip mix in a blender. Pulse to combine, and then stir in grated vegetables, if using. Serve with vegetables, baked tortilla chips, or crackers.
Like a Cloud Peanut Butter Dip
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 container (8 ounces) vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup whipped cream (can use frozen, non-dairy whipped topping)
Dash of cinnamon, optional
Combine the peanut butter and vanilla yogurt. Mix well. Fold in the whipped cream and cinnamon. Serve with your child’s favorite fruits.
A Surprise Inside Peanut Butter and Applesauce Dip
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup applesauce
2 carrots, grated
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, adding a little more applesauce if needed to make a good dipping consistency. Serve with cut-up fruit, graham crackers, or with small pieces of toast.