Sugar swaps for kids

Senior Specialist Dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital
24 May 2018

Worried that your child is eating too much sugar? Most of us consume too much sugar, so eating healthier as an adult can help your child to embrace eating healthy habits from a young age. It also helps to protect children's teeth from tooth decay, and sets up good habits for life.

A young girl eating cereal

Simply aim to eat freshly made food as much as possible. Start off like you really mean it, with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. You can do this by swapping foods high in sugar for healthier or even sugar-free options. Also, try and do this without your child even noticing, so they won’t think that they are being denied foods that they like.

Another tactic is to avoid processed foods, which often contain hidden sugars. Giving your child healthier snacks and homemade foods that are lower in sugar is easier than you might think, and it doesn’t take a lot of time.

If your child is used to foods with added sugar, they might resist at first. But they will adapt, so stick with it. It can take up to six months to make a change so try to be patient!

How to reduce your child’s sugar intake

If you’re looking for ways to reduce the amount of sugar in your child’s diet, try taking these tips on board.

  • A healthy breakfast. This will help children concentrate better at school. Choose wholemeal bread and cereals whenever possible, as these will provide your kids with energy, B-vitamins and some iron and fibre. Try to avoid cereals coated in sugar and pastries, as these are high in sugar and contain large amounts of saturated fats.
  • Fruit and vegetables. These are good sources of vitamins A and C, and it’s recommended that we aim for at least five portions per day. Try adding chopped up banana, strawberries or blueberries to your child’s cereal.
  • Milk and dairy foods. These provide your child’s body with protein, calcium and B vitamins.  Calcium plays an important role in keeping your child’s bones strong. Try and encourage your child to drink a glass of milk on its own or as a milkshake (but beware of those high in sugar!). Unsweetened, low-fat yogurt is also a great source of calcium and can be added to your child’s breakfast cereal or to fruit for a dessert. Aim to give your child three servings of calcium-rich food a day – for example, a 150ml glass of milk, a small pot of yoghurt and a small matchbox sized piece of cheese. Keep ice cream for every now and then.
  • Water and milk are the best drinks for children. Being well hydrated means that your child can concentrate better. Water, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk are the best options, as they won’t damage teeth. Fizzy drinks, pure fruit juice and smoothies contain quite a lot of sugar, so try and dilute any sweet drinks with water. If using squash, aim for one part squash to 10 parts water, or half pure juice/half water for children under five, and offer it at mealtimes only.
  • When to give children drinks. Offer children a drink with each meal, and one or two drinks in-between. It’s a good idea to offer extra drinks when it is hot and during sport.
  • Sugar-free snacks after school. Kids are often hungry when they come home, so opt for sugar-free snacks. Or how about healthier protein-rich snacks to keep them full until dinner time? Sometimes, it might be easier to simply offer dinner slightly earlier.  But if your child is very hungry after school, try out some of these healthy snack ideas.

    • Vegetable sticks with hummus.
    • Apple slices with cheese.
    • Peanut butter with bread.
    • Pitta bread with avocado dip.
    • A meat, tuna, grated cheese or marmite sandwich.
    • Cherry tomatoes, peppers and carrot sticks.
    • A hot cross bun.
    • Fruit.

Cook simple, homemade meals

Kids love being involved in the kitchen, so take advantage of this and cook from scratch whenever you can.

That way you will be in charge of what goes into their food, which can help children cut down their sugar intake. For example, a ready-made pasta sauce could be loaded with sugar, but it’s easy to make your own basic tomato sauce or pesto. Prepare these in large batches and pop them in the freezer – this can be a lifesaver for busy days when you need to cook in a hurry.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, why not try out our homemade tortilla pizza recipe. Or take a look at our videos providing five easy and fun ways to reduce your sugar intake

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when you need it.

Maya Aboukhater
Senior Specialist Dietitian at Bupa Cromwell Hospital

What would you like us to write about?


Health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care.