How to Feed Sugar to Kids

Feeding kids is tricky these days, what with all of the access to junk foods high in sugar, school celebrations, family parties and holidays throughout the year. Foods high in added sugar, as well as foods that didn’t contain added sugars traditionally but now DO (like ketchup, salad dressings, sauces, kid’s yogurt, pasta sauce, breakfast cereals, etc.), all contribute to your child’s added sugar intake. How do you as a parent navigate this food environment to provide a diet high in fiber, nutrients and adequate calories while limiting the intake of added sugars? Moreover, how do you do so in a way that your child does not become “obsessed” with sugar?

Here are some key guidelines to consider:

  • The American Heart Association recommends children over the age of 2 consume no more than 6 teaspoons of “added sugar” a day. This is a general target, and not a rule. (Toddlers don’t really have enough room in their diet for sweet treats.)
  • Added sugar is any product added to another food. This may be shown on the label as cane sugar, honey, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses, brown rice syrup, maltose, dextrose, etc.
  • Not included in the definition of added sugar is sugar occurring naturally in foods, like lactose in dairy products, fructose in fruits and vegetables and glucose in breads.
  • 6 teaspoons of added sugar equals about 25 g or 100 calories.
  • Food labels are changing (by 2020 for large food companies) and will show total sugars and added sugars so that you will more easily see the amount of added sugars a serving contains. More info here.
  • Teach your child how to eat sugar, enjoying it in moderation. One sugary snack per day on average, over the course of a week, is a good goal to set.

Sugar-sweetened beverages like “juice drinks”, lemonade, sodas, sports drinks and fruit punch are the biggest sources of added sugar in children’s diets. Behind that come grain-based desserts like cookies, cakes and bars. These are the foods of which to be conscious when planning meals and snacks each week.

Since sugars that are naturally occurring in foods are not included in the 6 tsp recommendation, parents do not and should not restrict fruit and vegetable intake in kids, including unsweetened dried fruits and purees. Dried fruit and purees still contain the beneficial properties of whole foods.

Making sure that, on average, your child is able to eat and really enjoy (without any guilt) about 1 appropriately sized sweet treat per day is a good place to start. Children who are severely restricted with sugar tend to crave it more than other foods, and can cause conflict between them and their parents.

Sarah Pruett Soufl, MS, RD is a non-diet Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is passionate about helping families develop feeding and eating habits that help children cultivate life-giving relationships with food long-term. Learn more: souflnutrition.com 

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