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12-18 Months: Toddlers on the Move - A Sweet Tooth?

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Some little ones seem to be born with a sweet tooth, no matter how scrupulously savory their weaning menu has been! Sweets and treats do have a place in your toddler’s healthy, balanced diet, but it’s important to get the balance right.

Q: My toddler has a sweet tooth. How can I satisfy her with healthier alternatives?
A: Many toddlers instinctively prefer sweet foods to savory alternatives, and if they become used to foods that contain added sugar, they’ll find the natural sweetness of healthy options, such as fruit, bland and boring.

If you have added sugar to your toddler’s food in the past, cut down rather than remove it completely. If she’s used to sweetness, she may resist anything without sugar. Try sweetening your child’s food with fruit juice or fruit purée instead. While this is still sugar in another form, it is healthier because unlike refined sugar it contains vitamins and minerals. Similarly, maple syrup, molasses, and honey offer nutrients while they sweeten, making them a much healthier option. Work toward providing plenty of fresh, natural foods that are sweet in their own right, and present less risk of tooth decay and health problems.

Q: My toddler seems to be quite hyperactive after eating anything sweet. What can I offer instead?
A: Many children are sensitive to sugar, and get a burst of uncontrollable energy after eating anything sweet, particularly if it contains refined white sugar. The down side is that soon after they have eaten it, they “crash” as their blood sugar levels fall, and can become tearful, tired, and grumpy. However, sweet does not necessarily mean unhealthy. Fresh fruit is high in naturally occurring sugars, but because of the fiber content of the fruit, it tends to be digested more slowly than other sugary foods, which prevents that surge of wild energy. Similarly, dried fruit is sweet, but also healthy.

Adding a little protein alongside (a yogurt dip for fruit, for example, or a few chunks of cheese, or even a little ham) can slow down the transit of sweeter foods, and prevent the hyperactive effect. Try to get your toddler used to eating a better balance of savory and sweet. Healthy never has to mean boring, and if you keep on presenting some interesting and delicious meals, your toddler will quickly forget all about the sweets that were once a bigger part of his diet.

Q: Are there any sweets that are appropriate for this age group?
A: Children under the age of two don’t need sweets as such, and they are unlikely to object to not being given them. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have sweet “treats” from time to time, such as delicious fruit tarts or puddings (see Blueberry-lime cheesecakes), or even fresh fruit popsicles and fruit spreads. The longer you can resist giving in to packaged sweets, the better the chance that your toddler will develop good eating habits, and a healthy diet. One exception is a little good-quality chocolate (if your child likes it). It may do nothing for your child’s teeth, but it does have some health benefits that most other sweets do not.
Q: Are there any “healthy” foods that might damage my toddler’s teeth?
A: Many healthy foods contain high levels of natural sugar, such as lactose (in milk) and fructose (in fruit). Milk, fruit juice, fruit, and dried fruit can all cause problems with teeth if they are consumed between meals. Dried fruit in particular is quite sticky, and can stay on the teeth for longer periods of time, creating the conditions that cause decay, and fruit juice can be very damaging. For this reason, it’s a good idea to offer these foods with meals, rather than as snacks, and offer a cube of cheese or a few spoonfuls of yogurt alongside, as these serve to neutralize the acid that can lead to problems. Offer sweet snacks such as raisins in a short time space, thereby limiting the damage they might cause if your child spends the afternoon grazing on them. If your toddler is still on a night-time bottle, don’t allow him to go to bed with it.
Q: Should I brush my toddler’s teeth after sweet snacks?
A: Interestingly, it’s not a good idea to brush teeth immediately after sweet snacks, as the acid they contain damages the enamel, and brushing immediately can cause bits of enamel to be brushed away. Dentists recommend waiting at least an hour before brushing teeth after eating. This allows your toddler’s saliva to get to work. Saliva is saturated with calcium and phosphate, which promotes the remineralization of teeth. It also neutralizes the acids produced by bacteria and acts as a reservoir for fluoride, which also works to ensure that teeth are remineralized, and bacterial acid is inhibited. It is, however, a good idea to give your little one some water to “rinse” her mouth after eating.

Ditch the fizz

A typical 12fl oz (330ml) can of soda contains about 5 teaspoons of sugar. Diet drinks aren’t much better because, like most sodas, they contain acids that have been linked to drawing the calcium from our bones. The acids in fruit juices and smoothies are also bad for children’s teeth. It’s best to give fruit juice and smoothies at mealtimes and only give water between meals.

Blueberry-lime Cheesecakes

This dessert is ideal for little ones since it makes small, individual cheesecakes. They are fun to make with your child—he can help crush the crackers, mix the filling, and put the fruit on top. A gingersnap base and raspberries are nice alternatives.

15 minutes

NOTE

4

  • 3oz graham crackers, or 1 cup unpacked crumbs

  • 3 tbsp butter, melted

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1/4 cup thick (Greek-style) plain yogurt

  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • For serving

    • 1/2–1 cup blueberries

    • Powdered sugar

  1. Put the graham crackers in a heavy-duty plastic bag and crush to fine crumbs with a rolling pin. Stir the crumbs into the melted butter. Divide among four 3in-diameter loose-bottomed tart molds. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom.

  2. Put the cream cheese in a bowl and beat to soften slightly. Add the yogurt, lime zest and juice, and sugar and beat to combine. Whip the cream in a separate bowl until it makes soft peaks, then fold into the cream-cheese mixture.

  3. Spoon the filling into the molds over the crumb bases. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight, to set. Or freeze the cheesecakes; when needed, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

  4. Remove the side from each mold, then use a metal spatula to carefully lift the cheesecake from the bottom of the mold and place on a plate. Top each cheesecake with blueberries and dust with sifted powdered sugar before serving.

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