Can toddlers have sweets?

It’s a classic first birthday photo, filling a page in most baby books: a sweet little face with an even sweeter, frosting-covered grin.

While everyone enjoys a good dessert from time to time, experts recommend holding off on sweet treats for tiny tots for as long as possible – preferably until at least age 2. A little taste here and another nibble there may seem harmless in the moment, but given that toddlers are naturally drawn to food that tastes sweet, continued exposure to sugary food can lead to trouble down the road.  

What’s the harm?

The food Baby eats today can affect their health as they grow. At this young age, eating habits and preferences for taste are just beginning to develop, and it can cause trouble in the future if children learn the appeal of sweets too early. Not only do candy and other baked goods not offer much nutritional value, but they can also be harmful to children’s health.

Sweets that don’t have any other nutritional value are sometimes called empty calories. Children who consume too many empty calories may get less of the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy. Empty calories and sugar can both contribute to obesity, as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Obesity can increase the risk of health problems like type 2 diabetes as children grow. Sugar can also lead to tooth decay, which the CDC says is on the rise in young children.

Certain types of candy also pose safety concerns. Small, hard candy like jellybeans or peppermints can get stuck in a child’s throat, which is a choking hazard. This is also true for chewy candy like taffy or caramel.

What are some alternatives? 

Sweets are called treats because they’re often treated as a type of reward. However, candy as a reward can cause problems, since children can begin to connect sweets with comfort. Rewards that aren’t edible, like small toys or big hugs, are ways to offer praise to children that don’t set up associations with food that can cause trouble later on.

If you can’t or choose not to hold off on letting Baby try sweets entirely, you can also choose to offer sweet treats that have some nutritional value. There’s a good chance your little one will appreciate the sweetness of a fruit smoothie, which is both tasty and healthy. For chocolate lovers, a cup of pudding is a more nutritional choice than a candy bar, as pudding offers some extra calcium, maybe some iron, and even a little protein.

The only thing sweeter than a piece of candy is the delicious grin your little one might flash when they take a bite, but snacking strategically in these early years can set up healthy eating patterns that will benefit Baby for the rest of their life. Isn’t that worth sacrificing a little sugary sweetness for?

  • “Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences.” Centers for Diease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 19 2015. Web.
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