Easy Ways to Limit Sugar in Your Toddler’s Diet

2-3 Years

By this age, your toddler has enjoyed many firsts, most likely including his first sweet treat or two. While a little dessert from time to time is OK, it’s important to limit your child’s sweets to reduce his risk of tooth decay. Don’t get us wrong, a treat every now and then is fine, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to get rid of it completely. The thing is, it’s not just the typical “treats” that are packing in the sugar. That’s why we’re uncovering the sneaky places sugar hides and how to reduce your child’s intake.

Surprisingly sugary snacks

Sugar can hide in foods, drinks and snacks where you’d least expect to find it. Since the American Heart Association recommends that kids ages 2 to 18 limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons (or 25 grams) per day, it’s important for parents to become “sugar savvy” and learn how to detect the secret spots where sugar likes to hide in toddler snacks.

One of the sneakiest sugar tricks is fruit snacks—which are neither fruit nor snacks. With one small pack containing half of a child’s recommended sugar intake for the day, they’re less snack and more dessert.

Other sneaky sugary foods include:

  • Canned spaghetti and ravioli
  • Yogurt melts
  • Smoothie pouches
  • Breakfast cookies
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cereal bars
  • Muffins
  • Fig cookies

For the best, easiest and cheapest healthy toddler snacks, look outside the baby food aisle. Things like fresh fruit and veggies, whole-grain crackers, or cereals with 6 grams of sugar or less per serving (look for the WIC label) are all great options.

Surprisingly sugary drinks

Like sugary snacks, drinks can also pack a surprising punch of added sugar. Sweet drinks, like fruit juice (even 100 percent fruit juice), flavored milk, soda, sweet tea and sports drinks are the number one source of sugar in kids’ diets. When you see a bottle of juice, you might as well think of it as soda, since our bodies process natural sugar the same way as they do added sugar.  

If your child isn’t already a fan of sweet drinks, that’s great news! But chances are, if she’s had it once, she’s going to ask for it again (and again). If that’s the case, here are some good habits to try to lower her intake:

  • Shoot for one serving of juice or soda every once in a while. If your child has three a day now, cut back to two for a few weeks, then one per day and then eventually just sometimes as a special treat.
  • Keep servings of juice to 4 ounces max; and once it’s all gone, refill her cup with water instead of more juice.
  • Avoid filling a sippy cup with juice and letting her sip on it over an extended period of time (the sippy cup causes sugar to stay on her teeth longer, which can lead to tooth decay).
  • Water down juice, fruit drinks and sports drinks, and use less sugar when making your own sweet tea or lemonade. 
  • If you’re making your own chocolate milk at home, gradually use less and less of the chocolate syrup.