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If your toddlers are like mine, they want to snack constantly yet getting them to eat something convenient and nutritious is a challenge. Rather than take the easy way out and feed my toddlers a steady diet of mac n’ cheese I asked MamaDoc Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician, mother to two, and Chief Medical Officer at SpoonfulONE for some advice.

Dr. Swanson shared some of her favorite, nutritious, high-protein toddler snacks that your little one will love. You can feel confident about as a parent because they are the same snacks Dr. Swanson fed her own toddlers.

In general, there’s a lack of diverse foods in baby and toddler foods on the market,  so finding a variety of healthy snacks is your toddler likes is important. When thinking about offering a snack, Dr. Swanson advises parents to do their best to keep the sugars low and the protein levels high. She suggests offering lots of diverse colors and textures. According to Dr. Swanson, offering a diverse diet doesn’t just ensure your toddler gets the nutrients they need, it also lowers the risk of developing a food allergy.

photo: Vitolda Klein via Unsplash

Here are Dr. Swanson’s top 10 snacks for toddlers:

  • Hummus and veggies are a great source of fiber and protein. Try carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and tomatoes for variety.
  • Make a smoothie packed with fruits and maybe even a handful of spinach for vitamin K. This is a great way to introduce foods with new colors and flavors that are easy to love.
  • Cube up some turkey meat and cheddar cheese. Turkey meat and cubed cheese are also known to be great snacks for toddlers’ oral health. This is a great alternative to cracker-like snacks (think Goldfish) that get stuck in toddlers’ teeth and can lead to tooth decay.
  • Peanut butter or any nut butter with apples is a great choice. We know that babies and toddlers need to be introduced to nuts early and often to reduce food allergy risk. This yummy option makes it easy.
  • Black bean quesadillas are easy to make and can be served warm or cold. What kid doesn’t love a quesadilla? Build on the food they already love and add black beans for protein and fiber.
  • Plain, full-fat yogurt with berries makes a great toddler snack. Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics and live cultures, which are friendly bacteria. Top with some berries and maybe even a bit of honey once Baby has reached 1 year. (Honey before age 1 is not recommended due to botulism risk.)
  • Protein-filled pancakes are a great way to sneak in an extra nutritional punch to this staple of toddler diets. Kodiak Cakes are a great choice because their mixes are packed with extra protein and can be combined with an egg and milk to add in even more, but you can also make protein-packed pancakes yourself by using ground-up oats in your mixture.
  • Banana slices with peanut butter on top is always a hit because it is a more sweet snack or treat. It also helps toddlers work on their pincer grasp skills.
  • Eggs are a safe go-to for a toddler snack. Kids definitely can have a preference when it comes to eggs. Try cooking them in a variety of ways: scrambled, hard-boiled, or poached until you find one they love. Eggs are a great protein source and most children love them.
  • Sweet potato fries are a great alternative to regular fries and the perfect finger food for kids of all ages. No salt needed!

Happy snacking!

—Jamie Davis Smith



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I was at the zoo with a baby strapped to my chest, another in a stroller, and one getting uncomfortably close to Ozzie, the zoo’s dominant silverback gorilla when she caught my eye. The zookeeper stood off to the side, patiently chopping fruit, meat, and veggies into bite-sized pieces. Just like I do. Every. Single. Meal. Standing at the zoo, I realized that feeding toddlers really boils down to this: make it easy for them to feed themselves, make it pretty, and keep the risky food to a minimum or you’ll end up tossing the whole shebang. Below are cliff notes from my zoo, er, kitchen.

Safe Bets

  • Tacos with finely shredded chicken, cheese, and black beans, and a side of corn on the cob.
  • Whole grain English muffins with marinara and mozzarella (toasted in the oven), with orange slices.
  • Pancakes (add cinnamon to the mix) smeared with peanut butter and topped with thin slices of apple.
  • Boiled eggs, halved and salted, with broccoli, carrots, and snap peas (with ranch for dipping).
  • Broccoli, finely chopped, with shredded carrots, sauteed with ground turkey, soy sauce, and an optional spoonful of brown sugar.
  • Cereal and smoothies (I know, but it’s okay every once in a while, and the smoothies are packed with nutrients).
  • Scrambled egg and cheese burritos with cucumbers and tiny tomatoes on the side.
  • Pesto alphabet pasta with peas.
  • Mac & Cheese with sneaky veggies (tiny-sized pieces of broccoli, peas, or kale).
  • Toddler Charcuterie: Turkey Pepperoni, boiled, halved eggs, cubes of cheddar cheese, veggies, and a dipping sauce.
  • Cheese quesadillas (add beans or ground beef or rotisserie chicken for extra protein) with tomatoes and sour cream.
  • Avocado toasts on whole grain with kosher salt and diced shrimp.
  • “Choose your own adventure” burrito bowls with seasoned ground turkey, diced tomatoes, avocados, sour cream, and shredded lettuce options.
  • Alphabet pasta with jar tomato sauce, food processed with a handful of spinach or cooked carrots.
  • Baked chicken tenders and cooked carrot coins (dredge tenders in flour, dip in egg, and roll in Panko, then bake at 350-degrees for about 20 minutes or until done).
  • Baked, diced sweet potatoes with cinnamon and rotisserie chicken with sour cream and honey dipping sauce.

photo: iStock

If You’re Feeling Lucky

  • Couscous with peas, mint, and halved mini tomatoes.
  • Quinoa muffins (use 1 cup of cooked quinoa for every 1 egg, plus mix-ins like ham and cheese cubes or spinach and diced tomato, baked in muffin cups for 20 minutes at 350-degrees).
  • Deconstructed meatloaf (add salt and pepper to ground meat, bake until done, and serve with a side of ketchup, mashed potatoes, and green beans).
  • Curried chicken salad (baked chicken, cream cheese, and a spoonful of mayo, creamed) on cucumber slices and whole-grain toast.
  • Garbanzo beans with garlic, lemon and olive oil.

Don’t Forget to Sneak Nutrition into Dessert

  • Berries and sugar-free whipped cream.
  • Chocolate dipped (or chocolate chip studded, if you don’t want to wash an extra dish) bananas.
  • Frozen grapes, halved.
  • Canned pumpkin puree with cinnamon and whipped cream.

Sometimes you just need a few ideas so I hope my go-to’s after all my trial-and-error will help you find something they’ll eat without coaxing!

—Shelley Massey



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Mealtime with toddlers can sometimes feel like a game of chess, especially when vegetables are on the table. At times you may find yourself dodging carrots catapulted by knights, while other times an all-out stalemate leaves both players exhausted and unsure of the next move. And while walking away from the game might seem like the easiest way out, we assure you there are plenty of creative ways to feed your toddler greens that don’t involve a complicated strategy.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers should be consuming 3-5 servings of vegetables per day (roughly ¼ cup portions). But since the growth-rate slows and a need for independence starts around age 1, the AAP suggests approaching mealtime with flexibility and variety to give your child choices while they learn about different foods and avoid putting pressure on your child that could result in a negative relationship with food.

While flexibility is key, there are a few basic rules that parents should aim to enforce and model.

Stay Seated During Meals

When it comes to young children, safety during mealtime is imperative to prevent choking hazards, so the staying seated during meals rule should be followed whenever possible. It’s also a great way to help children focus on their meal, learn table manners and participate in quality family time.

Adhere to a Regular Meal and Snack Routine

Children thrive on routines that give them a sense of security while helping them learn what is expected from them each day. So just like a bedtime routine helps a child understand when it’s time to wind down for the day and prepare for a restful night’s sleep, meal and snack routines establish healthy eating habits that help children recognize hunger cues and the nutritional needs of their bodies.

photo: iStock

Eat from All Food Groups

Meals should be balanced and offer foods from all five food groups. And more importantly, toddlers should be encouraged to eat from all food groups at every meal. It might seem like you’re being flexible to let your child skip an entire food group at a meal, and sure, that may be okay here and there, but too often may risk your child not getting enough of an important set of nutrients.

Even equipped with these rules, it can be tough to put them into play when your child is refusing to eat their greens.

Having recently parented two toddlers, I know first-hand how confusing and frustrating the ups and downs of their dietary preferences can be. Some days toddlers may devour an entire head of broccoli, while on others, they look at it with total disgust. That leaves parents with two choices: Fight against it or join the game and get creative—and perhaps a little sneaky, too. I chose the latter and am sharing a few tried and tested recipes to help you incorporate greens into your toddler’s diet.

  • This 4 ingredient Spinach Mango Banana Green Smoothie may have leafy greens in it, but masked by bananas and sweet mangoes, your toddler won’t be the wiser.
  • These Fruit and Veggie Bug Snacks may not be hiding the veggies from your toddler, but your toddler will have a hard time resisting veggies that look this cute, especially when they get to help prepare them.
  • When you’re in a rush, getting as many food groups as possible into one bite can be a lifesaver, so it doesn’t get much easier than these Mini Broccoli Cheddar Bites that your toddler will love.
  • Sorry, potatoes don’t count as a “green,” but cauliflower most definitely does, and switching out the spuds in these Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes with Bacon and Cheese will trick any toddler into eating cruciferous veggies.
  • We don’t know one toddler who would turn down a popsicle, so feel good about offering these bright Fruit and Veggie Popsicles to your little one this summer
  • Kids will love dipping these familiar-shaped Carrot and Zucchini Fries into a side of ranch or hummus.
  • Pasta is almost always a hit with toddlers, so the next time you’re serving up spaghetti and meatballs, top it with this delicious Hidden Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce (use this sauce for pizza, too!).

I hope that these tips and recipes will get you on your way to successful eating habits with your toddler!

—Candace Nagy



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I’ve barely finished my dinner when my oldest child, apparently done with the untouched chicken in front of him, nonchalantly brings his plate to the sink (the universal sign of “I’m done” in our home), then WALKS STRAIGHT TO THE KITCHEN CABINETS to look for snacks.

Right. After. Dinner.

It’s not much better with my youngest, who, after putting on her PJs and brushing her teeth, almost always tells me, in a desperate and small voice that’s hard to ignore:

I’m hungry.

Because of course she is; she hardly ate her dinner.

So herein lies the question: To feed, or not to feed? Should you let your toddlers or older children skip their dinners, then fill up on snacks before bed?

Doctors say no.

“It is absolutely OK to go to bed without dinner,” said Elham Raker, a Los Angeles pediatrician and founder of, a site designed to give parents quick and personalized medical advice. “I think this is much harder for parents than kids. The kids will be OK.”

Of course, when we’re talking about toddlers, there’s some wiggle room. If a child is going through a growth spurt — or is asking for a snack long enough before lights-out that you know it’s not just a ruse to stay up — Elham says go ahead and feed. Similarly, if kids have eaten their dinner and are simply still hungry, it’s OK to offer healthy snacks before bed.

But the important thing is to make sure dinner isn’t denied. At least not every day.

photo: iStock

So how do you convert your serial snacker into a mealtime master? Here are some tips for changing the pattern:

When They’re Hungry After Skipping Dinner… Offer Their Dinner Again  

This one might seem a little on the “tough love” side—especially for very young kids—but it’s the message that counts. That being, if kids skip dinner then beg for snacks, they need to first eat their dinner. After all, dinner Is what matters, and as long as you’ve offered something nutritious to your child you know she will eat, she should eat it. So cover that plate with plastic wrap and be ready to whip it out of the fridge when your child comes begging for food.

Don’t Force Children to “Clean Their Plates”

Sometimes, refusing dinner can be a part of the mealtime power struggle. If parents push too hard, children may push back just because they can. Consequently, it’s important to help kids feel relaxed and in control of their mealtimes.

When your kids are done eating, Raker recommends asking them if they feel full. If the answer is yes, then say, ‘Great, stop eating.”

Enforce a “No Snacks” Rule 1-2 Hours Before Dinner

If your child has been snacking nonstop all afternoon, there’s a good chance she won’t be hungry when she plops down at the dinner table. So make a rule: The kitchen is closed starting one to two hours before dinner. For toddlers, a shorter time is recommended since their tummies are tiny and they’re growing so quickly; but for older kids, two hours is fine. Let them be hungry for dinner!

If you must give out pre-dinner snacks (pediatricians say toddlers should eat something small every two hours or so), make them suitable substitutes: carrot sticks, apple slices, garbanzo beans, frozen blueberries, peanut butter on celery sticks, etc. That way, if your child does refuse dinner, at least you know you’ve gotten good foods into her beforehand.

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photo: iStock

If Your Kids Seem Starving Just Before Dinner—Have Dinner Earlier

In my experience, kids always raid the cabinets just before dinnertime. This gives us two options: Guard the cabinets like a prison warden—or move dinnertime to match the kids’ hunger patterns. When I manage to get dinner made earlier, my kids eat better. Simple.

Of course, this can be hard when one (or both) parents don’t get home from work until late, but Raker says it’s better to make an early dinner for the kids; then let them join their parents for a snack later in the evening. That way, they’ve filled their bellies with nutritious foods, and you still get to sit with them while you eat (this also makes your dinnertime a little less stressful).

When It Comes to Bedtime Snacks, Not All Foods Are Created Equal

While snacking before bed isn’t ideal, sometimes it’s OK—especially if kids have had an early dinner and are still awake a few hours after that. But be sensible about what you offer. Nighttime snacks should come from the fridge, not the pantry, Raker says. So choose snacks like cheese, yogurt or fruit—not chips, pretzels or cookies.

And, always make sure your children brush their teeth after eating, even if they’ve already done it pre-snack attack.

Resist Bedtime Pleas

 If your kids are all tucked in and suddenly declaring that they’re starving—resist! Those are the times that kids can wait until morning (They’ll be OK).

“Honestly, a lot of times I think it’s more of an ‘I don’t want to go to bed thing,'” Raker says. “Of course, as a mom, you’re worried, ‘What if they don’t eat?’ But I think you have to be lovingly strict, or you’re going be too taken advantage of.”

Set Up a Food Schedule

According to Jill Castle, a pediatric dietitian and author of The Smart Mom’s Guide to Healthy Snacking: How to Raise a Smart Snacker from Tot to Teen (available here) parents should set up a schedule for meals and snacks, starting when kids are toddlers. A good rule of thumb, she says, is to give three meals and two to three snacks per day.

This is for a couple of reasons, Castle says. For one, toddlers still have “high nutrient needs, but little tummies” — so every bite counts for growth and development! Secondly, eating every two to three hours helps little ones recognize the signs of hunger and fullness, which can promote self-regulation of eating.

“And yes, too many snacks throughout the day may interfere with an appetite for dinner,” Castle said.



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With the beach, playgrounds, kid shops, restaurants, and outdoor activities all within 1.4 square miles (doable with a stroller and/or little legs), Hermosa Beach is perfect for the whole family. Ideal as a day destination from anywhere in LA, the fresh ocean air of one of California’s most beautiful beach communities is waiting for you. Here are our tips for finding all the pint-sized fun in Hermosa Beach.

hermosa beachphoto: Mimi L. via Yelp


The Beach, The Pier & The Strand
In Hermosa Beach life centers around the beach (duh), and that’s a great place to start exploring. If you park near the Pier, you are perfectly situated to relax at the beach, stroll down the pier or bike (scooter, rollerblade or use any other wheels your family prefers) on the Strand.  In the summer, the beach beckons for lazy days of splashing and castle building, while in the winter sand berms stretch out from both sides of the Hermosa Pier providing plenty of ocean-front real estate for your little sand bunnies to try some SoCal beach sledding.  Wherever you wander from here (and we’ve got loads of suggestions below) be sure to come back to catch a breathtaking sunset over the ocean from the end of the pier, which is blissfully free of anything to do but gaze at the views.

The closest places to park are the two public metered lots on Hermosa Avenue at 11th and 13th Street. Public restrooms are available on the pier.

Where: 1 Pier Ave.

south-park-pathways1-e1457932908248photo: South Park Playground by Melissa Heckscher

South Park Playground
This newly renovated, environmentally sensitive, natural and universally accessible playground is one of our favorites in town. And while you appreciate all those buzzwords, kids adore the giant cement slide, several climbing structures and grass tee-pees. There’s also a massive lawn to run around on, or play an impromptu game of soccer. Basically, it’s kid paradise.

Where: Valley Dr. & 4th St
Learn More:

Valley Park
This park has a little something for everyone: a playground for the littles, picnic tables, a soccer field and basketball court. It’s also immaculately maintained, with restrooms on site and 6-hour free parking. Valley Park also hosts special summer events like “Movie in the Park” and “Shakespeare By the Sea,” so check the schedules to see if you can cap your day by the beach with a little culture.

Where: Valley Dr. & Gould

photo: Play Hive via Facebook

Play Hive
If you’ve exhausted the great outdoors and are looking for some indoor fun, check out Play Hive. It’s a clean, super fun indoor play space that entertains babies and toddlers alike. Open weekdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., it’s $10 per kid, siblings $8. They also offer special weekend activities for kids, like “Super Hero Training.”

Where: 307 Pacific Coast Hwy

photo: Art Zone via Facebook

Art Zone
The Art Zone is a great way to spend quality time with your little ones. Check out the drop-in Studio Art class, for kids aged 18 months and up ($15 per ticket). Paint, finger paint, clay-play, printmaking, drawing materials and an exciting variety of collage and assemblage materials are available for kids to explore. Your tyke will be guided by an instructor who provides support and several project choices. Little ones will love expressing their creativity not only via art, but through imaginative play in the mud kitchen and water wonder room.

But the real reason it’s on our list is the Parents Night Out every Friday.  After a day at the beach catering to kids, parents can drop off the kiddos and enjoy a night out in Hermosa Beach as grownups, knowing the kids are having just as much fun as you. Each Friday night is centered around an art theme & activity, and pizza and pasta are also provided. $29 for the first child, $20 per additional sibling.

Where: 1102 Aviation Blvd.

ophoto: Hermosa Beach Cyclery

Hermosa Cyclery
The Hermosa Beach Strand is the perfect place for a bike ride, with a smooth cement path that connects the beach cities for miles; you can even bike to Santa Monica if you have the pedal power.  But if you don’t live nearby and you don’t want to load a zillion bikes onto the car, renting for a few hours is a great option. Rent tandem bikes (kids love to feel grown up on the back of an “adult” bike), or individual ones (training wheels available), strap on those helmets and get pedaling. In about a mile you can arrive at the Manhattan Beach Aquarium, or you can simply enjoy the wind in your hair and ride around until your quads get tired.  Then you’ve really worked up an appetite for something tasty…

Where: 20 13th St.

photo: La Playita’s Facebook page


La Playita
Offering the very best view in town (and great margaritas), you may never want to leave. It’s super casual, hasn’t changed in at least 25 years and offers both indoor and outdoor patio seating. There’s a public park between the restaurant and The Strand, so it’s an ideal spot to let your kids run off energy pre-or post meal. La Playita is right next to The Beach House Hotel (a gorgeous place to stay if you decide not to rush back home).

Where: 37 14th St.

The Green Store
Beach provision packing: this is the spot to stop at if on the way to the beach you realize you didn’t pack food and you don’t want to drag wet and sandy bottoms to a restaurant.  22nd Street boasts a swing set and public bathrooms where kids can stretch legs and use facilities while you stock up on sammys and snacks at this great little deli.

Where: 2151 Hermosa Ave.

Martha’s 22nd Street Grill
This breakfast will fuel your whole day. Sip your espresso at one of the groovy outdoor tables and enjoy the palm trees and beach view (only a half a block away). Kids adore their buttermilk pancakes, and you’ll dig into of the fresh California-style omelettes. If you can wait until you’ve soaked up your sun and need a treat for the ride home, swing by for one of their Oreo shakes.  They’re beloved for a reason.

Where: 25 22nd St.

photo: American Junkie via Facebook

American Junkie
With extended happy hour on Fridays, and drink specials on weekends too, American Junkie is a great place to grab an outdoor booth, hang out and enjoy the fresh sea air. The $6 kid’s meals (including a drink), not to mention grown-up happy hour food specials, make it a wallet friendly option. Generous portions, freshly made, good prices and an atmosphere that welcomes kids: it might be your new neighborhood joint, whether or not this is your neighborhood.

Where: 68 Pier Ave.

Good Stuff
Good Stuff boasts one of the best kid’s menus on the Strand (or frankly, anywhere in town), so it’s a perfect choice when you’re in the middle of a beach day.  Or at the beginning (Mickey pancakes!).  Or end (mac & cheese, steak bowls and more for the kids, beer and tacos for you!).  You get the picture.

Where: 1286 The Strand

Hot’s Kitchen
Loud and crazy means kids don’t have to sit quietly at this dinner place. With a delicious selection of 50 tacos, ranging from the most traditional “Mom’s Taco” to the exotic “Duck Confit Taco,” Hot’s serves up a casual-cool menu that ignites the taste buds and surprises the senses. The kid’s menu includes chicken fingers and hamburgers (in addition to kid-sized tacos). It’s a great spot to hang out and not worry about the noise your little ones create—it’s all a part of the “surfer meets sophisticate” buzz.

Where: 844 Hermosa Ave.

photo: The Source Café via Facebook

Sweets & Treats

The Source
Eating at the beach doesn’t have to mean burgers and tacos. Sometimes being in your bathing suit makes you yearn for something extra healthy. The Source specializes in handcrafted salads, smoothies, juices and other delicious health conscious fare. With a wide selection of gluten-free, paleo, and vegan baked goods (that actually taste amazing!), your kids will be delighted, and not even know they’re eating what’s good for them.

Where: 509 Pier Ave.

Paradise Bowls
So how about a sweet treat you can feel good about? Check out Paradise Bowls and order up a sinfully delicious (yet incredibly healthy) acai bowl. Kids will love the fun names like “Chocolate Tide” and “Electric Pink”, and will happily go for the mini sizes. With fresh ingredients like goji berries, bee pollen, cacao nibs and hemp seeds, your sweet tooth will be filled with good-for-you energy.

Where: 1246 Hermosa Ave.

Or maybe you just want ice cream, because a day by the sea demands it.  Our favorite local scoop shop is the mini-chain (there are 7 SoCal locations) Paradis, which serves Danish style ice cream. Many, many tasting scoops later, we’re not really sure what makes it Danish (other than the 43 shops in Denmark) but it sure is delicious.  Kids particularly like the Rocky Road and Stracciatella (chocolate chip), while parents flip for the fresh sorbets that change with the season.  The sorbets are vegan and light, so you don’t have to feel guilty indulging alongside the kids.

Where: 1246 Hermosa Ave.

photo: Lori Ford


Gum Tree Kids
This shop feels like you wandered into the Hamptons with adorable, unique clothing and darling gift options for kids. Everything in the store is pretty to look at, whether it’s hand-made knitted dollies or humorous kitsch. (Where else can you buy a tub of beautifully sparkly “Unicorn Snot”?) Lots of charming retro items in cool packaging, like Cat’s Cradle and natural beeswax crayons. If you’re looking for a darling memento for your little darling, you’ve come to the right place—let your little one choose something charming to take home.  You can also eat (deliciously) at the next door Gum Tree Cafe with open air seating, healthy, largely organic fare with an Australian twist (yep, you can get Vegemite here) and friendly staff.

Where: 323 Pier Ave.

Interested in some odd-ball shopping? Curious (and the next door shop, Still Curious) offers one-of-a-kind finds. A home décor and novelty store, older kids will have fun browsing through the unusual items. Curiouser and curiouser.

Where: 128 Pier Ave.

photo: Hermosa Beach Farmers Market


Hermosa Beach Farmers Market
You just can’t beat a farmers market with a stunning view of the beach. Stroll through the market and check out the nearby shops too while you pick up your grocery list of fresh fruits and veggies. With train rides for the kiddos, balloon art and free samples, this is a must-do if you happen to be in town on Wednesdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Where: Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza

Stars Antique Market
Do a little antique shopping and buy a unique vintage item from Stars Antique Market, which has over 7,000 square feet packed to the brim with gorgeous items from various antique sellers. While you browse with an eye on making your home Pintrest worthy, kids will  the unique nick-knacks and huge range of new-to-them stuff to discover.

Where: 526 Pier Ave.

Hermosa Beach flickr parker knightphoto: Parker Knight via Flickr

Have a blast exploring Hermosa Beach, and be sure to let us know what activities are favorites for your family in the comment section!

—Elena Wurlitzer Fenegan

additional image by Foodie K. via Yelp

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