Two-year-olds and sweets

Why is it that toddlers look the cutest when their faces are covered in cake or hidden by giant lollipops? Sweets are a quick way to the heart of many children (and adults), but it’s important to be aware of your toddler’s sugar intake and how it can affect their in the long-term. 

Giving Baby a piece of candy or chocolate every now and then likely isn’t going to cause any harm, but if they eat sweets frequently, it could have a negative impact on their health. That’s because the main ingredient in most sweet things is sugar, which doesn’t contribute any nutrients to the body – just extra calories (calories that taste really good).

Those extra calories can lead to extra pounds, which could eventually lead to obesity, diabetes, or poor heart health. These potential side effects aren’t going to pop up as soon as Baby takes a bite of a chocolate cupcake, but they can occur if they consistently have too much sugar in their diet.

How much is okay? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that added sugar make up less than 10 percent of a child’s daily calories intake. Added sugar is sugar that isn’t naturally found in whatever you’re eating, so fruits and milk don’t count, but crackers with sugar as an ingredient do. The recommended number of calories for a 2-year-old will be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,400 per day depending on their size and activity level, which would mean the sugar intake should make up less than 100 to 140 calories per day. For reference, one 12-ounce soda contains 130 calories of sugar, and a bag of M&Ms contains about 120 calories of sugar (and 240 calories overall).

That was a lot of numbers all at once, but fixating on exact amounts and calorie counting for your child isn’t quite the solution here. What you can do is familiarize yourself with what 100 calories of sugar looks like in your child’s life and portion out food and treats as it feels right. It can also help to look at packaged snacks and meals you’re used to eating to see what their added sugar content is. Of course, candy and chocolate have added sugar, but so do frozen dinners, pretzels, granola bars, condiments, and other foods you might not think of.

So, what’s for dessert?

Everybody deserves a treat every now and then! Baby can definitely enjoy traditional sweets on special occasions (yes, a fun Tuesday afternoon can sometimes be a special occasion!). The trick is to make sure that they isn&;t getting more sweets or sugar than their body can handle, which is where the 100- to 140-calorie guidelines come in.

Don’t be afraid of candy, cake, chocolate, etc., but do try to make sure Baby isn’t eating these things frequently and that when they do, it’s in small portions. That way, Baby gets a taste of the deliciousness without taking in too much sugar.

If you’re looking for treats to eat on a more regular basis, the natural sugar found in fruit makes for an absolutely scrumptious treat! A little whipped cream will finish the dessert off without adding too much sugar.  

  • “Added Sugars.” American Heart Association. American Heart Association. February 1, 2017.
  • “Feeding & Nutrition Tips: Your 2-Year-Old.” American Academy of Pediatrics. March 16, 2017.
  • Dreyer, Benard. “AAP Statement on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. January 7, 2016.
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