Recently I shared an IG lunch post where Jax dipped his grapes into his tomato soup. As an adult, I was repulsed. But as an inquisitive toddler, he wasn’t phased at all – in fact, it was the opposite – he LOVED it!
On the post I asked what was the weirdest combination that everyone’s toddlers had tried and loved- and the answers were both disgusting, hilarious, and awesome! It is so amazing how little ones are more open to trying new things when they have a familiar dipping sauce!
Dipping sauces can be an incredible way to “food chain” new (or less favorable) foods with something familar and comfortable to your little one. But the down side is that many store bought dipping sauces are full of added sugar and salt- which are both things we can to limit with little ones.
Luckily, there are many different dipping sauces that are both nutritious and delicious!
I am pretty realistic and understand that not everyone has time to cook every meal from scratch- which is absolutely okay! There is a great way to find balance with using convinence (store bought) foods and fresh, whole foods. Check out all of these dipping sauces – both store bought and homemade – because there is nothing wrong with store bought! We just want to make the best, most informed decision when purchasing.
+ add protein, vitamins, and essential minerals
Chickpea (Garbonzo) Dips
Hummus is such a great source of a wider variety of nutrients such as healthy fat, calcium, protein, iron, manganese, folate, and potassium. It can be introduced as early as 6 months old– simply spread a small amount on cooked veggies or strips of toast!
Hummus is also great because there are so many varieties– eggplant hummus, roasted bell pepper hummus, garlic hummus, there is even dessert hummus if you are adventerous enough to try it! I did and I was truly surprised by how much I loved it. It is chocolatey and pairs so well with sweet strawberries or salty pretzels!
Many store bought hummus’ are slightly high in sodium, especially for a 6 month old, so if possible try to make it at home! It is actually much easier than you think. I have a quick and easy recipe for homemade hummus that even the most novice cook could make! Check out the recipe here.
Recipes for hummus variations:
- Roasted Sweet Potato Hummus
- Creamy Red Pepper Hummus
- Double Chocolate Hummus
- Purple Carrot Hummus
- Beet Hummus
- Cauliflower Hummus
- Black-Eyed Pea Hummus
Even though hummus is so simple to make, there are times when I just don’t feel like pulling out the food processor. (Like when we were moving and I left it in the box for almost a month.) But that is when I am so thankful to live in world where we can just purchase things we need! (Or even have them delieved- what a time to be alive). So if you find yourself in this post-moving situation or just need a recommendation for a great store bought hummus, my top favorite is:
Simple Truth Organic Hummus from Kroger
Black Bean Dips
Black beans are one of the foods we keep on hand at all times in our pantry. They are so versitile! Black beans are a source of protein, prebiotics, fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. Not to mention, they are cheap and come in shelf stable forms (canned and dried) that make them easy to keep in stock!
Edamame wasn’t something I, personally, ever tried until I was in my early teens. It wasn’t very common in the Southern United States unless you went to a Japanese resturant- but it was impossible to find in grocery stores.
Thankfully, now that isn’t an issue! I keep edamame in our freezer and pop it out for a quick steam before meals. However we are often left with some extra- so I use it to create a dip! Edamame dip spread thinly across toast would also be a great way to introduce soy to a baby 6m+. Read more about introducing top allergens to babies here. Edamame is a source of protein, riboflavin, copper, iron, manganese, thiamine, and vitamin K1.
Check out these recipes for edamame dip that your toddler will love! (And you will, too)
White/Navy Bean Dip
Navy beans are a source of protein, folate, zinc, magnesium, iron, and fiber.
Tomato-Based Sauce & Dips
+add vitamin C (for increased iron absorption)
Marinara sauce is one of my favorites. I would eat just about anything with marinara sauce and melted cheese on top. The only downside to marinara sauce is that many of them are full of added sugar– even many homemade recipes include it. This is to help balance out the acidity from the tomatoes however there is a way to do that without added sugar! Believe it or not, carrots are acutally an amazing way to sweeten marinara sauce and also add more nutreints. You can find my recipe for marinara sauce below. I usually make a large batch and then freeze it in smaller portions to use for quick meals.
Lentil marinara sauce is one of my favorite ways to add iron and protein to a dish! I will usually serve it to my toddler on the side for dipping or eating with a spoon. This would also be an easy food to “preload” on a spoon for a younger baby to practice with.
Thankfully, there are many companies now that are focusing on better ways to make their products. One of my FAVORITE prepackeaged marinara sauces is Newman’s Organic. It is made just like my sauce at home, with tomato and carrots as the main ingredients and no added sugar!
Other great options are:
Ketchup is a common culprit for “added sugar” in many children’s diets and many parents are not aware of just how much sugar is in normal Ketchup. In fact, Heinz (a popular ketchup brand in the USA) has a total of 4 grams of added sugar (high fructose corn syrup) PER TABLESPOON!! I recommend waiting as long as possible (at least until 12m+) to offer ketchup. When purchasing ketchup at the store try to look for options with no added sugar and low sodium content.
My favorite store bought ketchup is:
Or take a go at making your own! Check out this easy recipe here.
Just like ketchup, barbecue sauce is usually full of added sugar! But luckily, if you have a “no added sugar ketchup” on hand, its fairly easy to mix up your own barbecue sauce. Check out the recipe below!
- 1/2 cup sugar-free ketchup I highly recommend Primal Kitchen
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tbsp liquid smoke , optional
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
- In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients together until the brown sugar substitute dissolves, about 2 minutes.
- That’s it. Simple, right?
My favorite store bought barbecue sauce is: Primal Kitchen Unsweetened BBQ Sauce
Many parents avoid offering salsa because it is typically spicy, however it can be served with limited spices for little ones! I love making salsa at home- it gives me the ability to control the ingredients and therefore the outcome. When I am making salsa for my little one, I will make a very mild batch, portion a small amount out for him, and then add the heat to the rest for the adults to enjoy!
If you wanted to make salsa at home for your little one this is a great recipe to start with. But if you are looking for a store bought option, a few are:
Plain Yogurt Dip + Adding Flavors to Yogurt (Savory & Naturally Sweet)
+ add healthy fat, calcium, vitamin D, and protein
Starting at 6 months old, given that a child does not have a cow milk protein allergy and/or is not lactose intolerant, it is okay to begin offering plain whole milk yougurt. This is because the whole milk yougurt has “full fat” which little ones need for brain development. It also needs to be plain because many “flavored yogurts” are also full of added sugars! But don’t worry, I will give you plenty of ideas for how to enhance your little one’s yogurt in both naturally sweet and savory ways!
My favorite store bought yogurts are:
- Stonyfield Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt
- Stonyfield Organic Plain Greek Whole Milk Yogurt (stronger/tangy flavor)
“Why can babies (under 12 months) have whole milk yogurt but not whole milk until they are 1 year old?”
Great question! I get this one often so I wanted to explain here just in case you, too, are wondering this.
Under the age of 12 months, babies should not drink cow’s milk as a main source of nutrition, because it lacks iron and other nutrients that are needed for growth and development in the first year of life. Breast milk or formula should be the main source of liquid nutrition for infants under 12 months as it contains the right ratio of fat, protein, and minerals for growth and development. (1)
In addition, “cow’s milk isn’t as easily digestible for babies under 1, and has too much protein and certain minerals for a baby’s immature kidneys to handle” (1). But yogurt is different because of the “live, active cultures (ie. L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, etc). that break down the lactose and protein making it much easier for babies to digest” (2).
And finally, drinking cow’s milk in infancy (birth – 12 months) can irritate the lining of a baby’s stomach and intestines which will cause nutrient loss/reduced absorbstion and result in anemia (1).(1) BabyCenter, T. A. (2018, September 15). Why yogurt but not milk for babies? Retrieved from https://www.babycenter.com/609_why-yogurt-but-not-milk-for-babies_20004590.bc (2) Kuzemchak, S. (2018, January 08). When Can Babies Eat Yogurt? Retrieved from https://www.stonyfield.com/blog/when-can-babies-eat-yogurt
If your child has a CMPA, is lactose intolerant, or your family prefers to use plant foods, my favorite dairy-free yogurt with no added sugar is:
- So Delicious Coconut Unsweetened Plain (per cup: 7g Fat, >1g Protein, 10g Carbs, 45mg Sodium, 50% DV Calcium, 50%, DV Vitamin B12, 45% DV Vitamin D)
I would like to note that dairy-free yogurts do not offer the same nutrients as whole milk yogurt. It is not a bad thing- but just something to be aware of when feeding little ones! For example, coconut yogurt does not have as much protein as cows milk yogurt.
Nut Butter in Yogurt Dips
Adding nut butter to yogurt can be a great and easy way to enhance the flavor and add more protein & healthy fat to each bite your litte one eats! In fact, after introducing yogurt to your litte one first (from 6m+), you can then use yogurt to help introduce nut butter (read more about introducing top allergens here) to your little one. Personally, I like to add either peanut butter or almond butter to yogurt! *nut-free recommendation below*
Nut butter, on its own, in large quantities is considered to be a choking hazard for children under 4 years old. Mixing it with yogurt makes it both safer and easier to use for dipping!
Some fun nut butters you should consider adding to your child’s yogurt (with exclusion of chidlren with nut allergies) are :
- Peanut Butter
- Almond Butter
- Sunflower Butter *nut-free*
- Pistacchio Butter
- Granola Butter *nut-free*
- Cashew Butter
- Hazelnut Butter
Just like almost everything else, watch out for nut butter with added sugar!
Savory Herb Yogurt Dips
One of the easiest ways (and most cost efficient) to add variety to plain yogurt is by adding seasonings and spices!
- Diced Tomatoes
- Lemon Juice
- Lime Juice
Ranch dressing is a staple from my childhood- but like so many other prepackaged things I have previously mentioned- it, too, is usually full of added sugar! A quick an easy way to make ranch dressing at home is with Greek yougrt and a few spices. You can find a full recipe here at Ambitious Kitchen.
Some of my favorite store bought ranch dressings are:
- Simple Truth Organic Ranch Dressing
- Primal Kitchen Ranch Dressing
- Primal Kitchen Vegan Ranch Dressing
- Marzetti Simply Dressing Avocado Ranch Salad Dressing
I went back and forth on if this one should be included, but honestly, honey mustard was one of my FAVORITE dips for chicken as a kid- so it HAD to include it. However, this recipe does include *honey which should NOT be offered to babies under 12 months old but, of course, you can’t have honey mustard without honey so in this special case I am including it. After 12 months, you want to keep this sauce to a minimum 2-3 times per week. Check out this recipe for honey mustard using Greek yogurt as the base.
Honestly, I just love everything about Greek food but especially tzatziki sauce! The cucumber, dill and lemon in it adds this level of freshness to the dip that is truly unparalleled. For myself, I will basically slather this sauce on anything and everything available but for toddler that doens’t always work out so well. I have found that offering it on the side for dipping is much more easily accpeted by little ones! (Check out more about “Deconstructed Meals” for picky eaters).
Here is our recipe for Tzatziki sauce (plus that marinade for chicken is TO DIE FOR)!
Naturally Sweetened Yogurt Dips
Yogurt is can be such an amazing food for little ones- but store bought flavored yogurts are not always so great. In fact, many of them have added sugar, artifical sweeteners, and artifical coloring(s) to make them “more appealing” to consumers. All of these are things we want to limit/reduce for young children (and honestly for everyone else too).
So how do we enjoy sweet, flavored yogurt without all the additives? We add flavor naturally!
My favorite ways to add flavor to yogurt at home are:
- add unsweetened applesauce (and cinnamon too)
- add mashed or pureed foods (banana, berries, sweet potatoes, mango, pumpkin, dates, prunes)
- add unsweetened dried or freeze dried fruits
- add unsweetened extracts (vanilla, peppermint, orange, almond)
- add spices (cinnamon, pumpkin spice)
There are some store bought yogurts that use only fruit puree to flavor yogurts however, personally, I think it is best to do it at home. First of all, you are able to have more control over the ingredients and amounts of ingredients offered. Secondly, you can include more texture! Using real fruits for flavoring allows you to change the texture- starting with smooth and slowly progressing to a “chunkier” version.
Other fun things to add to yogurt to add more nutrients are:
- Chia Seeds
- Ground Flaxseed
- Shredded Coconut (toasted or untoasted)
- Mini Chocolate Chips (does count as “added sugar”)
+ add healthy fat, vitamins, and potassium
Avocado gets so much hype in the food word- but for babies and toddlers, that hype is really, real. On its own it is an excellent source of heathly fat, vitamins, & minerals; but it can also be incorporated with so many other foods to increase their nutrient density. Avocado spread across a piece of toast takes it from simply being a piece of whole wheat bread (offering your child complex carbohydrates, thaimin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium & selenium) but now, even the smallest amount of avocado spread adds potassium, healthy fat, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vtamin B5! Making every single bite – no matter how small – MORE nutreint dense than it would have been if it was just the bread.
Avocado can be mashed on its own for a spread or mixed with other things to make a dipping sauce! Here are a few avocado based dipping sauces you can try with your little ones.
- Plain mashed avocado (you can add a small amount of lime/lemon juice to prevent browning)
- Avocado Hummus
- Creamy Avocado Dip
A store bought guacamole dip to consider is:
How to Offer Dips
Many parents are interested in the idea of offering dipping sauces but are unsure of how to teach their little one “to dip”. Similarly to how we teach spoon feed, the best way to start is by “preloading” the dip onto the desired food! With a baby who is 6-8 months old they will instictively stick the food item into their mouth, as this is how they explore the world around them developmentally. When they do don’t be alarmed if they don’t instantly seem thrilled by it- they are just starting to learn this new texture! Make sure to smile, clap, and make happy noises to show them they are doing something that makes you happy! This will encourage them to continue trying. If you look concerned, they will pick up and mirror your emotions. So stay postive and happy during feedings!
As your baby gets older they might try to dip the foods themselves after watching you do it- let them! This is a great step towards independence while feeding. Even if your child is older than 6 months, it is okay to start by “preloading a bite”. For Jax, I will stick a few pieces of the “new food” into the “familiar dip” to help encourage him to try it!
Even if your little one just uses the new food as a vessel to get the dip to their mouth, it is okay! They will still be interacting with this new food, plaicng it in their mouth, experiencing the flavor (even if they don’t swallow), and learning the texture – all of which are steps towards accepting a new food!
By serving a healthier dipping sauce, you can feel better about this! Even if they JUST eat the hummus, they are still eating a nutrient rich food that can be part of a balanced daily diet!
So stay calm and offer a dipping sauce- you might be surprised how the smallest change can make the biggest difference with a picky eater!
Check out my top tips for Parenting a Picky Eater here!
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