The Impact of Sugar: Understanding the effects of sugar on toddlers and how to manage it

Is sugar harming your toddler's health? Learn how to protect them with our guide to reducing sugar intake.

Toddler girl eating pink yoghurt with a doddl toddler spoon in a garden

Is your toddler a sugar monster, always craving sweet treats? When looking after a little one, it's tricky to know how much is too much when it comes to sugar. You want your little one to enjoy the occasional cookie or juice box, but you also care about their health and want to build good habits.

We get it. It's a tightrope walk trying to find the right balance. But with some know-how, you can help your toddler develop a taste for healthier options while still allowing some sweet indulgences. Read on for tips, tricks, and empathy from all of us at doddl, walking the toddler sugar tightrope together! 


Why We Worry About Toddler Sugar

white sugar lumps on a white background, a teaspoon holds one sugar lump

Sugar can be like a frenemy when you’re looking after a toddler’s diet. We know sugary treats make kids happy in the moment, but too much can lead to cavities, weight gain and other health issues over time.

The NHS recommends toddlers have no more than 5 cubes (19 grams) of sugar a day. It may surprise you to learn how easily toddlers can go overboard. Just an 8oz glass of apple juice and  small biscuits can have up to 8.7g in just one portion, almost half the daily maximum. And the sugar can really add up in common snacks like yoghurt, cereal bars and flavoured milks.

Our tip? Don't panic! With a few simple swaps and targeted  toddler recipes, you can limit added sugar without turning snack time into a battle zone…


7 Sneaky Ways to Limit Sugar

Toddler girl seen in profile eats colourful cut up fruit with a doddl toddler spoon

Helping toddlers eat less sugar doesn't mean depriving them of all sweets. With a few tricks, you can create a balanced diet with room for occasional treats. Here are ideas that have worked for our households:

  1. Flavour milk or yoghurt with pureed fruit instead of sugary syrups. Bananas, strawberries, mangoes - get creative with your toddler's favourite fruits!
  2. Upgrade crackers by topping with mashed avocado, hummus and a sprinkle of hemp seeds. The healthy fats and protein help them stay full and focused.
  3. Let them help prep fruit kebabs or homemade frozen fruit pops using their doddl toddler cutlery set. Kids love to get their hands messy picking fruits and making their treats. It also makes them more likely to enjoy eating them!
  4. Mix juicy diced fruit into plain Greek yoghurt for a sweet parfait. Berries and cherries add a nice pop of colour and flavour.
  5. Bake up energy bites using dates, oats, almond butter, and dark chocolate chips. These sweet doughy treats make a great on-the-go snack too.
  6. For an occasional sweet drink, dilute 100% fruit juice with sparkling water. This cuts the sugar and makes it feel like a fun fizzy treat.
  7. Get veggie nutrition without the sugar by baking up a batch of Carrot Cake Porridge Fingers. This carrot-inspired recipe sneaks an extra serving of vegetables into tiny tummies.
  8. Develop a comforting pre-bedtime routine focused on snuggly stories rather than biscuits or hot cocoa. Quality bonding time can lead to better sleep all around.

These tips should mean you can make space for sweet treats here and there without going overboard on added sugars.


Detecting Hidden Sugars

selection of food ingredient and nutrition labels showing quantities of sugar

Lurking within many toddler favourites are sneaky added sugars going by other names. Watch out for:

  • Syrups - corn syrup, rice syrup, golden syrup, agave nectar. These sweeteners might sound healthy but break down just like plain sugar.
  • Sugars - cane sugar, coconut palm sugar, fruit juice concentrate. Don't let the fancy names fool you, these all count as added sweeteners.
  • -ose words - dextrose, maltose, sucrose, fructose. These scientific names on labels basically mean sugar too.

Reading nutrition labels helps uncover hidden sugars that can quickly add up. But honestly, who has time to analyse every product? An easier option is to download the FoodSwitch app. Just scan barcodes of packaged foods to get a simple stoplight system - green for good choices low in sugar, and red for ones loaded with added sweeteners. Simple!

Tip! If you can get in the habit of scanning labels whenever you try a new packaged snack, over time you'll learn to spot sweet culprits even without the app.


How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

Toddler boy and toddler girl happily sitting at a garden table eating pink yoghurt

When it comes to toddlers and sugar, how much is too much? Most experts, including BBC Good Food, recommend limiting added sugar to less than 5% of daily calories for little ones. That works out to around 3-4 teaspoons (19 grams) per day.

Naturally occurring sugars in fibre-rich whole fruits and vegetables don't count toward the 19-gram daily limit because they come bundled with lots of beneficial nutrition like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and gut-friendly fibre. Experts suggest you go for whole produce over fruit juices to maximize nutrition and minimise free sugars.

It’s important to remember that finding balance with sugar is an ongoing journey full of ups and downs for every family. If you slip up and let your toddler overload on sweets one day, don’t freak out. We all have those moments, especially when out and about - maybe the only snack options at the play place are biscuits and juice. Or your toddler throws a massive meltdown without their beloved yoghurt drops. Take a deep breath and aim to reset the balance at the next snack or mealtime.

Tip! The goal isn't perfection - just progress toward building balanced, sustainable healthy eating habits.


Creating Long-Term Healthy Habits

toddler boy chops colourful fruit with a doddl toddler knife, watched by his dad

As we care for toddlers, we serve as role models in many ways for our mini-mes. So, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to your own sugar intake too! Other habits that can benefit the whole family:

  • Stock healthy (but easily prepared) snacks like chopped veg, hummus and cottage cheese within easy reach. Serve using the doddl toddler suction bowl to minimise stress and mess.
  • Involve toddlers in meal planning, prep and even gardening. They'll be more likely to eat foods they helped pick and create.
  • Focus on balancing occasional sweet treats with nutritious options at most meals/snacks.
  • Be patient as your toddler's preferences evolve. One week they may refuse broccoli, and the next it becomes their favourite superpower food.

When to Call in the Experts

close up of parent hand holding a toddler hand as they stand outside

If your best efforts to limit toddler sugar aren't working, we always recommend talking to your health visitor or GP. They can check for potential medical issues and refer you to a paediatric dietitian if needed.

Usually, your little one will just be figuring it out, but here are some signs your toddler might benefit from expert guidance:

  • Signs of nutrient deficiencies like dull hair or skin issues
  • Consistent weight gain
  • Regular tummy troubles or changes in bowel habits
  • Cavities or tooth decay
  • Long-term fussy eating or refusal of food.

Tip!  If your toddler is refusing meals, try allowing them to self-feed from their own toddler plate. This helps build confidence and independence around food.


Finding Balance on the Sugar Tightrope

Happy toddler boy sitting at kitchen table at mealtime

Figuring out the right balance between allowing some sweets and limiting excess sugar is tricky. Every tot has unique taste buds shaped by genetics and exposure, so the key is finding balance and moderation tailored to your toddler.

Be kind to yourself if things don't go perfectly. Looking after little ones is far from a cookie-cutter endeavour. Stay focused on progress, not perfection when building healthy lifelong habits around food and drink.

Shop our toddler feeding products designed to make preparing nutritious foods fun for little ones. From toddler cutlery to non-slip  suction bowls and plates, we have products to help you whip up sweet and savoury treats to delight those tiny tastebuds.

Limiting sugar doesn’t mean limiting joy at mealtimes. With doddl by your side, you’ve got this!

Two toddler boys sitting at a garden table with spoons and bowls, one is feeding the other for fun




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