Minimizing Added Sugars in your Child’s Diet

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 4 minutes

What should I know about added sugars in my child’s diet?

  • Your baby is born with a sweet tooth, but it’s possible to help them enjoy and eat many different foods

  • Learn how to spot added sugars in the foods your little one eats

  • Tips on helping minimize added sugar in your baby and toddler’s diet

It’s true, your baby was born with a sweet tooth!1 Our children naturally prefer sweet tasting foods, including breastmilk.2 And while these preference are innate, we actually have the ability to influence our children’s taste preferences during babyhood and toddlerhood to include a wider variety of foods.3

Natural sugars in foods, such as those in fruit, come with lots of other vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. However, it’s important to pay close attention to how much added sugar is in our child’s diet since these usually do not come with added nutrition. While your little one may love these foods, minimizing them will help your little one get the nutrition they need to grow and develop well.

Read on to learn about how to spot and minimize added sugar in your child’s diet.

Babyhood: Breaking through the sweet tooth

Upon introducing solids and throughout the first year of life, it’s important to offer a wide variety of textures and flavors.4 Studies have found that even though babies prefer sweet tastes, they’ll begin to accept more bitter flavors (like vegetables) after tasting them multiple times. So to help breakthrough your baby’s natural preference for sweet foods and open their palate up to many different tastes, be sure to offer other ‘disliked’ or new foods at least 10 or more times.3

When it comes to food choices, quality matters most!5 After all, your little one has a tiny tummy that can only hold so much at one time. Because of this, it’s especially important to offer foods that are rich in nutrients, without any undesirable extras, like added sugar or salt.6,15

Read more: How Can I Get My Baby to Love Veggies?

What foods have added sugar?

Some foods naturally contain sugar, such as fruit, some vegetables, and dairy products.7 These foods are healthy additions to the diet as they also contain many other nutrients.

Added sugar can be in obvious sources like desserts and sugary beverages.8 But added sugar can also sneak into less obvious sources including flavored yogurts, breakfast foods like cereals and waffles, and even condiments like spaghetti sauce and ketchup.9

While we want to include good-for-you sources of natural sugars in our baby or toddler’s diet, we do want to keep out the not-so-good-for you added sugars.

In fact, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends avoiding added sugar for any child under the age of 2 years.15

Read more: Nutrient Needs and Feeding Tips for 6 to 12 Month Old

Why should added sugars be avoided and minimized?

Keeping added sugars in your child’s diet to a minimum is important as it may help to reduce the risk of various health conditions. Unhealthy weight gain, tooth decay, and attention/behavioral issues have all been associated with excessive intake of added sugars.10

Additionally, too many added sugars leave less room in your little one’s belly for the nutritious foods that help them grow and develop.15

To help us achieve this goal of minimizing added sugars, we can look to food labels to help guide us. Food manufacturers are now required to include the amount (in grams) of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel.11 This gives us a much better idea of what is actually in our foods, in terms of naturally occurring sugar versus added sugar.

Read more: Feeding Tips for Healthy Weight Gain in Babies and Toddlers

Need help navigating the do’s and don’ts of added sugars? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

How can I limit added sugars in my child’s diet?

Offer mostly whole foods and home-cooked meals

Serving foods in their natural state, such as fruits and veggies, allows you to know exactly what you are feeding your baby or tot.

Processed foods like crackers, cereals, baby and toddler packaged snacks, and other packaged goods can be hidden sources of added sugar.9 Check labels and offer no-added-sugar versions.

Prepare most meals and snacks at home from whole foods, in the texture your baby or toddler is able to handle: pureed, mashed, soft solids, etc. This will help make sure your little one is getting plenty of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods to help expand their taste preferences as well as get the nutrition needed for growth and development.13

Read more:

Meal Plan for 6 to 9 Month Old Baby

Meal Plan for 12 Month Old Toddler

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Months Old Toddlers

Be mindful of “kid-friendly” foods

Specific foods aimed towards kids, like yogurts and cereal/granola bars, can still contain too much added sugar. Look for and choose products that don’t include any of these sugars.

Read more: Healthy Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

Be a food label decoder

In addition to seeing the word “sugar” on food labels and ingredients lists, other words can indicate the presence of a sugar that is not naturally occurring in the product. Examples of these include: honey, agave, fructose, dextrose, malt syrup, sucrose, corn syrup, glucose, and molasses.12

Becoming familiar with the many names of sugar will help you better understand what is in specific products.

Avoid sugary drinks

Avoid offering your baby or toddler beverages that are high in sugar like fruit beverages, sodas, and sweetened iced teas.

Even though 100% fruit juices do not contain any added sugar, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no fruit juices for infants younger than 12 months.14 For toddlers 1 to 3 years of age the intake for fruit juice should be limited to 4 ounces (half a cup) per day.14

Read More: Alternatives to Sweetened Beverages and Juices

Limiting your child’s exposure to added sugars will help contribute to a healthy start!

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Minimizing Added Sugar

Avoid Giving Your Baby Too Much Sugar and Salt

The Division of Responsibility: Avoiding Picky Eating