While it is considered safe to add sugar to baby’s food after 12 months of age, it can be beneficial to wait until closer to the 2nd birthday to introduce sugar and sweeteners (even natural ones like agave, date syrup, honey, maple syrup, and stevia). In excess, sugar and sweeteners can reduce the diversity of foods a child is interested in eating, may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, dental caries, and potentially even impact cardiovascular health.
Sweetness is a basic and inherent component of many natural foods, but humans first started extracting and concentrating that sweetness in India thousands of years ago. What we now know as refined or table sugar is typically made from sugar cane, a species of grass particularly high in sucrose, or sugar beets. Cooking with table sugar—pure sucrose—is to witness magic in the kitchen: it can exist in crystals, powder, or syrups; it can be molded and sculpted; it can form fine threads or glass-like panes; and it can be molten to create caramel. But that magic has, historically, come at a cost: refined sugar has traditionally been a labor-intensive good to produce, which meant that the industry was a powerful driver in the global slave trade. Today, the sugar industry has expanded due to the invention of high-fructose corn syrup and other products, which are all considered unhealthy in excess.
Adie, 12 months, is not sure what to do about her first cupcake
Malden, 13 months, tries a little bit of granulated sugar
Amelia, 2.5 years, dips strawberries in granulated sugar
No. Sugar lacks protein, fat, and nutrient density—which babies need—and in excess can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, dental caries, and other problems. Furthermore, babies have an innate preference for sweetness, so it’s important to give them ample time to develop a palate for healthy foods that do not contain added sugar. Avoiding added sugar and sweeteners in the early years may help babies and toddlers to learn to love savory flavors as well as naturally sweet whole foods like fruit and vegetables. If you want to sweeten baby’s food, consider using fresh fiber-containing fruits, such as bananas, figs, or strawberries.
★Tip: Beverages often have a lot of added sugar. Skip sweet beverages for now and serve toddlers water and unsweetened milk instead. And remember, babies younger than 12 months of age should only have breast milk, formula, or very small amounts of water to drink.
In the US, added sugar amounts are specified on the food label under “added sugars.” Also, if a form of added sugar (see below) is one of the first few ingredients listed, know that that food likely contains significant amounts of sugar.
Common added sugar ingredients include:
Barley malt syrup
Brown rice syrup
Cane juice crystals
Fruit juice concentrate
High fructose corn syrup
No. It is our strong opinion that it’s best to hold off on any sweetener until closer to age 2. Furthermore, information regarding sugar alternatives like stevia for children—especially infants and toddlers—is quite limited. For this reason, avoid sugar substitutes when possible.
No. Sugar itself is not a common choking hazard, though the foods it is in certainly can be. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.
No. Sugar allergies are rare. As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first couple of servings.
Every baby develops on their own timeline, and the suggestions on how to cut or prepare particular foods are generalizations for a broad audience.
Consider waiting. Early and frequent exposure to sugar can reduce the diversity of foods a child is interested in eating and even increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and negatively impact cardiovascular health. For more information, please refer to Nutrition & Tips section Is sugar healthy for babies?
Go time! When you are ready to introduce foods with added sugar, don’t make it a big deal. Avoid offering dessert as a special occasion or reward and never require the child to finish their meal in order to get a sweet food or dessert. Lastly, keep in mind that children will naturally appreciate the taste of sweetness—humans are programmed this way. The goal is to have a healthy and guilt-free relationship with food while eating a nutritious diet.
2 cups (480 milliliters)
1 cup (240 milliliters) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (17 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
5 large strawberries
This recipe contains common allergens: dairy. Only serve after dairy has been introduced safely.
Add the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract to a large bowl and using a large whisk or (ideally!) an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk until stiff peaks form. Do not over whip or it will become lumpy and start to turn into butter!
Serve: Allow the child to dip their strawberries straight into a small bowl of whipped cream. Or, cut their berries up and top with whipped cream.
To Store: Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
The particular tastes of sugar range from the mellow buttery flavor of caramelized sugar to the simpler sweetness of granulated sugar. Sugar offers a versatile sweetness to a limitless number of desserts, but it can also help to balance spicy ingredients (like jalapeño) or bitter ones (as in cocoa), as well as enhance flavor in dishes.
Pediatrician & pediatric gastroenterologist
Pediatrician & pediatric allergist/immunologist
Pediatric occupational therapist, feeding & swallowing specialist, international board-certified lactation consultant
Speech-language pathologist, feeding & swallowing specialist
Speech-language pathologist & feeding therapist
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