Instead of fighting your toddler's natural love of all things sweet, offer him healthy alternatives. Cookies made with fresh fruit purees and whole grains can make you feel good about giving your 1- to 3-year old a treat now and then. Always offer whole foods first, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and dairy, before letting him fill up on cookies, regardless of how healthy the recipe seems.
Making cookies from scratch is the surest way to control the ingredients and quality of the product. Not all homemade versions are healthy, however. A dough made with refined flour, shortening, sugar, baking chips and candy doesn't provide much nutrition -- just empty calories. Healthy cookies use 100 percent whole-wheat flour or other whole grains; include canola oil or coconut oil as the primary fat; may incorporate fruit purees, such as mashed bananas or applesauce, to replace some of the fat and sugar; and incorporate small bits of naturally sweet dried fruit, such as dates or chopped-up raisins, to add texture and sweetness. Nut or seed butters -- such as almond, peanut and sesame -- flax seed meal and chia seeds are other healthy additions that boost a cookie's fiber and protein content while adding flavors that toddlers don't mind.
It's Still a Cookie
Your toddler likes cookies because they're sweet, so don't lose all the sugar. You can cut the sugar called for in most traditional recipes by about one-third without negatively affecting the final product. You could also use less-refined alternatives to cane sugar, including Sucanat, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar or date sugar. Fruit purees also boost a cookie's sweetness while adding fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you do include chocolate chips, opt for dark chocolate, which has more antioxidants, and use one-third to one-half less than called for by the recipe. Chop large chips into smaller bits or purchase mini versions so they distribute throughout the cookie dough.
Ingredients to Avoid
Certain ingredients increase a toddler's chance of choking. Cookies with whole raisins, large chunks of candy, nuts and seeds can be hard for a young child to chew thoroughly. Provided your child isn't allergic, peanut or other nut butters can be a healthy addition to cookies because they provide heart-healthy fats, protein and B vitamins. At one time, experts discouraged parents from feeding toddlers peanut butter and other allergens; they claimed that it could increase the risk of developing food allergies. But the American Academy of Pediatrics has found no substantiation for this recommendation.
When you don't have time to make a homemade treat, opt for store-bought cookies made with only a few ingredients -- all of which you can pronounce and identify as whole foods. Avoid any cookies with artificial colors and an abundance of refined sugars. Instead, look for whole-grain flour as one of the first ingredients and for other healthy additions, such as flax meal, oatmeal and pureed fruit. Options that offer some nutrition and are likely to please your little one's palate include apple- or fig-filled whole-wheat bars, whole-grain ginger snaps and whole-wheat animal crackers.