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We have so far not allowed our toddler (20-months) any foods that contain sugar (chocolate, cake, sweets, sweetened juice, etc.) on the premise that consuming sugar is not needed and only causes trouble for the parents, in terms of risks of making the child a picky eater, trouble at mealtime caused by sweets in between meals, and health concerns like tooth decay. This also means that we politely turn down any sweets offered to the child by third parties. (It's amazing how rudely insistent strangers (e.g. waitresses) can be!)

We do allow normal healthy foods that taste sweet, like fruits and teas, but no fruit juices and no deliberately sweetened foods.

Obviously we can't keep our son sugarless forever, and don't aim to anyway. So my question is this:
Until what age does it make sense to avoid sugar? Why?

Also, what strategies are effective to postpone the introduction of sugars?


Come to think of it, one could ask almost the exact same question about spices. They're not unhealthy of course, but they're only needed for taste and therefore carry the same potential of causing a picky eater.

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I guess it depends on your goal, I did this for the first couple years with my son more from a personal health standpoint. I realized how much bad stuff I was eating so I stopped to set a good example, eventually we let him have things like cookies and some candy. He never developed a taste for candy though, it's rare he finishes a candy bar or something like that he is given. Are you doing this just to avoid sugar as some bad thing or is there another rationale? –  MichaelF Jun 10 '11 at 11:41
    
I hoped the stated premise would answer that. We're not avoiding sugar simply "because it's sugar". Our goal is to avoid "junk" foods because we fear it results in pickiness. I know that I eat too much candy, and I'd like to avoid that my son picks up such a bad habit, at least while he's small. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 10 '11 at 12:14
    
I wouldn't consider sugar a junk food, all things in moderation, but I think I understand better what you are looking for now. Although I'd disagree that avoiding sugar is really a necessity, I let my son eat homemade chocolate chip cookies when he was younger and there is a whole lot of sugar in there. I stuck more with moderation, but I'm curious as to what others come up with on sugar avoidance and necessity. interesting question. –  MichaelF Jun 10 '11 at 13:22
    
Before someone else gets them hooked on junk food. Yes, it's smarmy, which is why I made it a comment. Cookies, ice cream, cake, chips, and other junk foods are staples of school-time snacks and parties. I think it'd be best to have your children at least acclimated to their existence and used to seeking out the healthy alternatives when provided a choice before someone else gets him used to seeking out the junk food whenever possible because you're providing zero availability. @MichaelF has the right idea: All things in moderation. –  afrazier Jun 10 '11 at 17:07
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@torbengb With regard to spices, it is my experience that not using them from an early age is what leads to pickiness. The kids I know who are adventurous eaters were all raised with a huge variety of flavors and spices in their diet, while the picky eaters were used to relatively bland foods and are easily overwhelmed by new or different flavors. –  HedgeMage Jun 10 '11 at 19:15

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I would say, when your child starts asking for something you deem sweet or junk. For example, if you are at a party, and everybody eats a cake and you son seems interested, give him a small piece. Not doing so might potentially create an opposite result to the one you are trying an achieve: forbidden fruit is much testier.

You might even find that your son will not be interested in all sweets and junk: my friend has a kid who does not like cakes and cupcakes. My son (he is four) does not like soda (coca-cola, etc), he did not like it when he tried it (at a party, we don't keep these drinks at home), and he does not crave junk foods even though he had a chance to taste some of them.

If your son starts asking for the stuff at home, introduce rules like one cookie after dinner, no snacks before meal, etc.

Also, keep in mind, that kids become more picky around age two. One of the reasons is that they don't need as much food.

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+1 for examples of sensible rules. I'm sure we would introduce rules along those lines, bur it's good to hear from others also. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 11 '11 at 17:52

When to let your child try junk food isn't nearly as important as how you eat in general and making sure that you not only limit junk food, but don't treat every other food as simply a way to get to dessert.

Frankly, if you've established good eating habits as the norm, you don't keep tons of sweets around the house, and in your and your child's mind junk food is an occasional treat, sweets will only ever become a big deal if you change your stance on any of those things, or if they are spending a lot of time with someone who eats very poorly.

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While we don't have tons of sweets lying around, we do have a sweets drawer in the kitchen (mostly chocolate for my wife, and liquorice for me). I'd love to be a good role model and cut things down to five bites a week, but that's not happening. I know my mother forbade anything sweet for my first several years, and my first taste of sugar got me seriously hooked. That's something I want to avoid for my son, but not sure how to go about achieving that. How can I teach my toddler that sweets are okay but only in moderation - that's perhaps better in a separate question? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 11 '11 at 17:54
    
@torbengb A separate question would be good, because my answer would be too long for a comment! :P –  HedgeMage Jun 11 '11 at 18:05
    
I'll put it on my todo list then :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 11 '11 at 18:07
    
Best way to look at it for moderation is just like you are doing, by keeping it limited and showing moderation. It's how we raised our kids, and the oldest doesn't mind candy once in awhile but doesn't show much interest in it. "Fruit - nature's candy" as he has picked up from me is the way to go. Also offer alternatives if the kids ask, they'll pick it up. –  MichaelF Jun 12 '11 at 11:43

From my experience as a proud mother of three, I believe "all things in moderation" is the best route; however, sugar should be avoided for babies 18-24 months then slowly introduced, starting out with small things with low fat, low sugar and not too much kj. My kids love fruit and all other healthy alternatives not because I kept them from sugar but because I didn't 'overdose' them with sugar. Kids are allowed to have sweet things, sugar, or junk food. It's part of growing up but it is definitely something that needs to be controlled. Healthy eating should always be encouraged.

On the spices front, these should be avoided until about 9 months then slowly introduced.

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I hope my edit wasn't too drastic. Can you please clarify what a KJ is. I looked it up and I could only find kilojoule. Is that what it stands for? –  ChristopherW Jun 2 at 12:22

Moderation is very good. Once they reach a higher age like 5-6 offer it in moderation. I guess a rule of thumb is if they are too young to ask for it, then no. They don't need sweets impacting their early development and at that age the probably won't care anyway. Perhaps the best age to start is the age where they can somewhat understand the risks associated with the junk food. Even still moderation is probably best until a certain age. When they grow up more and clearly understand the risks allow them to eat it as the please because you probably won't be able to stop them anyway.

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