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How-Tos, Kids, Nutrition

How to Tame Your Child’s Sweet Tooth

When it comes to your children and sugar, it can often seem like they’re constantly craving and asking for sweets. Your child’s sweet tooth starts forming when they’re a baby: They’re predisposed to favor sweet tastes because breast milk or formula, their vital sources of nutrition, are naturally sweet. As your baby progresses into a toddler, they’re introduced to more complex foods with added sugars, which can increase their cravings for sugar.

Parents can work to curb their child’s sweet tooth by recognizing added sugars on food labels, focusing on foods with vital nutrients and helping their child establish a healthy, balanced relationship with sweets. Whether your kid is notorious for their sugar cravings or your little one is just starting to develop them, we’re sharing a few simple pieces of advice on how to tame your child’s sweet tooth.

My kid always wants a sweet snack rather than a savory one

Your child can still have a sweet snack—just opt for natural sugars rather than added ones. Naturally sweet vegetables and fruits offer fiber and important vitamins and minerals. (The presence of fiber in produce plays a role in regulating the amount of sugar that is actually absorbed.) Start with sweet bell peppers, sugar snap peas, apple and blueberries.

Many parents struggle with the fact that their children only prefer sweeter foods with added sugars, which is not uncommon. Research shows that it takes at least 6-15 times of introducing a new food before your little one may start to enjoy it. If your child responds negatively to a food at first, do not give up. Repeatedly introduce healthy snack options over the course of a few weeks. Gradually, your child will become accustomed to the new flavors, and they won’t crave the added sugars as intensely.

My kid always asks for sweet beverages and sugary foods

Let’s face it, sweets make us feel good. However, sweet beverages and treats generally don’t contain important nutrients that aid kids’ healthy development.

When it comes to beverages for your child, stick with milk and water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no fruit juice for children under one years old. While 100% fruit juice is an acceptable part of a healthy diet, drinking sweet juices regularly may make your child crave sugar more frequently. Offer alternatives such as fruit-infused water instead of juice.

Keep desserts and sugar-rich snacks in the house to a minimum, and if your kids are accustomed to having something sweet after dinner, consider naturally sweetened options such as fruit and oat combinations or yogurt with honey.

Is your kid craving pancakes with chocolate syrup and whipped cream? Sweet breakfasts and treats are great for special occasions, but try to limit them to just that. Your kid should have a healthy jump-start to their day, so keep their breakfasts nutritious and hearty.

My kid always wants their favorite foods, but I want to find healthier alternatives

Making the decision to avoid added sugars is one matter, but knowing where the sugars are hiding in your food is another. Scan ingredients and nutrition labels for common forms of sugar including cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup and fruit juice concentrate. While brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and agave may sound a bit more natural, they are still forms of sweeteners and should be limited.

Many beverages (including fruit juice from concentrate), cereals and yogurts often contain added sugars. Everyday foods such as applesauce, dried and canned fruit, pasta sauce and other condiments can have added sugars as well. Make sure to compare products and select ones with the least amount of added sugar.

To make these sneaky added sugars more visible, all packaged food will soon be required to list the amount of added sugars on their nutrition label. This will help you distinguish natural sugars from added ones when choosing food and snacks for your family.

My kid eats way too many sweets at parties and special occasions

Because we often celebrate milestones, holidays and special occasions with sweets, kids begin to associate celebrations with sugar. But they don’t have to: Downplay the party-equals-sweets mindset by transitioning from traditional sugar-laden cakes and candies to healthier options with natural sugars. Dried fruit, fruit-based smoothies and baked goods with fruit-based sugars are great go-tos for naturally sweet options. Don’t want to give up that first birthday cake moment? Try one of these cakes for a healthier, more nutritious option.

When sweets are present, set your child’s expectations beforehand on how much they should indulge. Stick to the one-treat-a-day rule whenever possible. Remind your child that you can always bring a treat home to enjoy later!

At these events, it’s important to model healthy behaviors yourself. Eat only one treat at a party and be sure to enjoy healthier options as well. When you model healthy behaviors, your children will be able to see that the occasional dessert or sweet treat can have a place in a healthy diet.

Sugar and treats shouldn’t be eliminated from your kid’s diet but should be moderated. Offering sweets or food with added sugars too frequently can reinforce your child’s sweet tooth. Filling up on sweets can also prevent your child from getting important vitamins and minerals. By paying attention to their sugar intake and food labels, as well as modeling healthy eating habits yourself, you can help curb your child’s development of a sweet tooth.

Lara Field at Nurture Life

Lara Field

Lara has been working with Nurture Life since its inception, collaborating with the culinary team on the creation of all menus and recipes to ensure they are nutritionally appropriate and correctly proportioned for every age and stage of a child’s development and providing pediatric nutrition expertise to Nurture Life customers. Lara is the owner/founder of FEED—Forming Early Eating Decisions, a nutrition consulting practice specializing in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases. Lara has over a decade of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Lurie Children’s Hospital and University of Chicago Medical Center. Lara received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and M.S. and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Lara truly enjoys the process of eating (and feeding!), from procuring the ingredients at various grocery stores and farmers markets, to organizing her pantry/refrigerator at home to make it easy to select healthy options, to preparing balanced meals with her children. Whether it be a decadent treat to a hearty, home-cooked meal, there is no greater satisfaction for Lara than enjoying food with her family.