How to Avoid Giving Your Child Too Much Sugar and Salt

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 5 minutes

What should I know about salt and sugar in my little one’s diet?

  • Introducing foods with their natural tastes, without added sugar and salt, will help your baby be more open to these flavors in the future.

  • Many products geared towards toddlers contain added salt and/or sugar.

  • Using fresh or dried herbs and spices is a great way to enhance the flavor of your little one’s food.

Is added sugar and salt in your child’s diet a big deal? As it turns out, too much of either may influence their health as well as food preferences down the line.10

While babies do need a bit of salt in their diet, it’s easily met through breast milk or formula.1 So if your little one is eating solids, no need to sprinkle their food with salt! To enhance the flavor of foods, try using fresh or dried herbs and spices that add flavor without sodium.

Added sugar does not provide any nutritional value to your little one’s diet. Instead, it may just take up space in their tummy, leaving less room for nutritious foods that help them grow and develop.2 To help strengthen your little one’s preference for healthy wholesome foods, aim to rely on foods’ natural flavors rather than adding sugar to entice them to eat. For example, roasting root vegetables helps bring out their natural sweetness.

As your little one gets older, it may become a little more difficult to keep salt and sugar to a minimum as more convenience foods begin to play a role in their diet. Read on to learn how to feed your little one with plenty of flavor without having to add salt or sugar.

Salt in your child’s diet

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend children age 1-3 get no more than 1200 mg per day of sodium.3 And for babies between 6 and 11 months, the recommended Adequate Intake (AI) is 370 mg sodium.2

During this time when solid foods are being introduced, no added salt is needed; your little one will get all of the sodium they need from breastmilk, formula, and the naturally occurring sodium in fresh foods.1

Most pre-made foods that are marketed for infants (up to 12 months old) are low in sodium.3 However, this is not always the case for foods aimed at toddlers (12-36 months old). Foods such as pasta with sauce, dips and dressings for veggies; crackers and pretzels, as well as processed meats and cheese often have added salt.3

Read more: Choosing Store Bought Baby Food

How to reduce salt in your child’s diet

How can parents reduce the amount of sodium in their child’s diet? When feeding babies, select foods that are designed for infants since they have lower sodium levels, or prepare homemade foods that are made with no added salt.4

Be cautious of “convenience foods” marketed to toddlers as they may contain a high amount of sodium.3 Compare Nutrition Fact Panels to find products lower in sodium.  And whenever possible, provide fresh, whole foods for meals and snacks, enhancing the flavor of foods using herbs, spices, and different cooking techniques.

Read more: How Can I Get My Baby to Love Veggies?

Need more ideas for reducing sodium? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Sugar in your child’s diet

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that no added sugars be given to children under the age of 2 years.2

Unfortunately, many packaged foods aimed at babies and toddlers contain added sugar – that is, sugar that has been added to the product and is not naturally occurring.5 While babies naturally gravitate towards sweet tasting foods, that does not mean their meals and snacks need to be enhanced with added sources of sugar.2

Look at the ingredient list of kid-friendly foods such as cereals, bars, juices, or fruit snacks and you’ll likely see sugar has been added. Added sugars to be aware of include: cane sugar, malt or corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, honey, and high fructose corn syrup – to name a few.7

When shopping, look for products with minimal or no added sugars in the ingredient list.

How to reduce sugar in your child’s diet

Much like with sodium, the best way to minimize added sugar in your child’s diet is to rely on whole, fresh foods as much as possible. Provide foods that are naturally sweet, for example, fruits have naturally occurring sugars as well as many nutrients to help both provide a sweet flavor as well as vitamins and minerals for healthy growth and development.

Enhancing the natural sweetness of foods can be as easy as mashing a ripe banana to mix into yogurt or oatmeal, or roasting sweet potatoes with a dash of cinnamon.

While it’s difficult to cut out convenience foods such as jarred sauces and canned beans, added sugar and salt in your child’s diet can be minimized by using fresh, whole foods as much as possible. This will not only expose your little one to a variety of delicious foods, flavors, and textures, but also help develop your child’s taste preferences and help set them up to make healthy food choices for life.8

Read more: Healthy Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

A note about giving juice to your baby or toddler

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no fruit juice for infants under 1 year old. For toddlers aged 1 to 3 years, the recommendation is only 4 oz (half a cup) of 100% fruit juice per day.9

Read More: Can My Baby Drink Juice? How Much Juice Should My Family Drink?

Summary: How Can I Limit Salt and Sugar in My Baby’s Diet?

  • Use fresh or dried herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of foods. Try cinnamon on roasted root vegetables, dill on baked fish, or a dried herb blend on poultry or other veggies.

  • Use fresh fruit or purees to enhance the sweetness of foods. Try mashed banana in yogurt; applesauce mixed with oatmeal; or even pureed berries as a topping for pancakes.

  • Read food labels and ingredient lists so you’re aware of which foods contain added salt or sugar and how much. Whenever possible, choose products that have no added sugar and minimal added salt.

  • Opt for whole, fresh foods for your child’s snacks over “toddler friendly” foods that contain added salt and sugar. Fresh cut fruit, veggie sticks dipped in hummus, hard boiled eggs, or yogurt make great snacks for little ones.

  • Babies and toddlers can eat what the family eats as long as the food is safe in size and texture. Cook without using salt and add it to the adult portions only, as needed, so your baby can share in the family food.

  • Avoid providing sugary drinks such as soda, iced tea, lemonade, and juice drinks. After 1 year, you can offer 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day. If you mix 1 to 2 oz of 100% juice with water or bubbly water, this can make a fun drink for your toddler that is lower in added sugar.

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Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Minimizing Added Sugars

Meal Plan for 6-9 Month Old Baby

Meal Plan for 12 Month Old Toddler

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