Sugar is a sticky topic when it comes to children. As a nation, we generally know that we shouldn’t consume too much of it but just how much is okay for our bodies? Or should our children not be consuming it altogether? Let’s tuck in to find out, honey!
Developing healthy tastes for life
Encouraging children to develop good food habits early on in life is vital to lay the foundation for the future of our children’s health. The first 1000 days of a child’s life are when the brain begins to grow and develop at a rapid rate. It’s also when the foundation for their lifelong health is built and when general eating habits and patterns are formed.
The early years therefore provides the optimum time to expose children to a wide range of healthy and nutritious foods, so that they can develop healthy tastes for life. So, can sugary foods ever be nutritious? It all depends on whether the sugar is naturally occurring or not.
Are naturally occurring sugars good for us?
Sugar that is found naturally in foods such as fruit, vegetables, and milk, does not need to concern us. There is no need to reduce these types of food in our diet, as they provide additional health benefits such as vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
When do we need to be concerned about sugar?
We do need to be aware of sugar which is added to our food and ‘free’ sugars:
There are a multitude of words used to describe the sugars added to food and drinks, e.g., cane sugar, sucrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, date syrup, brown rice syrup, and molasses.
Are free sugars harmful to health?
According to the British Nutrition Foundation: “Having a diet high in free sugars (more than 5-10% of total energy intake) can be harmful to health as it is associated with dental decay and may lead to excess consumption of energy (calories)”. A diet containing many foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt is unlikely to provide the balance of energy and nutrients that young children need and may contribute to them becoming overweight and having a poor nutrient intake.
There’s no guideline limit for free sugar for children under the age of 4, but the NHS recommends that this age group should avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it. It’s debatable whether this is realistic based on the current climate and food environment we live in, due to exposure to clever marketing techniques and the many food options which are high in fat, sugar, and salt available to buy so readily and cheaply.
Low sugar tastes so sweet!
At Nursery Kitchen, we recognise the importance of limiting the amount of added and free sugars children have in their diet. We understand that a high intake of sugar may lead to tooth decay (and potentially tooth extractions), but it can also lead to obesity and poor heath in later life. So, we believe it’s important to avoid sugary foods and snacks as much as possible.
We want to empower children to love the taste of good foods that do not contain added or free sugars, so that they can develop a healthy taste palate. To support this, we encourage the consumption of milk and water as main drinks, and we do not offer squash, fruit juice or fizzy drinks on our menus.
We’ve also recently switched to serving only full-fat, plain yoghurt on our nursery menu. This is because when infants and toddlers are offered sweeter yoghurts, they’re less likely to accept heathier, plain varieties going forward.
Dessert doesn’t need to be sugary!
At Nursery Kitchen we offer a range of delicious desserts on our menu that do not contain added sugar. Our popular ‘fruit oaty crunch’, which is available with a variety of different fruits, always goes down a treat with children (and adults, too!)! Comprising of antioxidant rich and naturally sweet fruit, high fibre oats, topical coconut, and exciting spices, it makes a tasty and nutritious dessert, snack or even breakfast for children.
We have also just launched our brand-new rice puddings. They are bursting with comforting flavours from ginger, vanilla, and raisins in one rice pudding, and sweet apricots, coconut, and vanilla in the other. Both are low in saturated fat and contain no added sugar. Providing healthy and yummy food to children sets them up in the best possible way to learn, play and develop!
Learn more about what’s on our menu, here.
Early oral health education paves the way for good oral health habits and routines that can last a lifetime. Children develop quickly in the early years and a child’s early experiences between birth and age 5 have a major impact on their future. This means it’s a very good time to help children understand good oral health.
Current statistics from Public Health England reveal that almost 1 in 4 five-year-olds have dental decay, that’s 25% of under 5’s despite dental decay being almost entirely preventable! So, how can parents and childcare practitioners best support children in good oral health? First and foremost, toothbrushing!
Brushing teeth removes plaque, which is the clear sticky film that adheres to the teeth. If plaque is left on the gum/tooth surface, it can lead to gum disease and eventually tooth loss. Essentially, brushing teeth removes plaque before it can interact with any acid.
Plaque + Sugar = Acid
Acid + Tooth = Decay
It’s important to remember that it is not only the amount of sugar that can affect the teeth, but the frequency that sugars are consumed (more on this later).
Use fluoride toothpaste - Children under 3 years should use a smear of toothpaste. Children over 3 years should use a small pea sized amount on their toothbrush, providing they can spit out. If unable to spit or has swallowing difficulties a smear is recommended.
Toothpaste for young children should contain no less than 1000 ppm of fluoride - the amount of fluoride in the toothpaste can be found on the side of the tube or on the packaging.
Do not rinse after brushing, rinsing washes away the fluoride that protects the teeth.
It is recommended that all children have a dental check by 1 year of age, followed by regular 6 monthly check-ups (or as often as recommended by the dentist). Ideally, parents should register their child at a dentist as soon as their first tooth comes through. NHS dental treatment for children is free.
Visiting early helps children get into the habit from a young age. They can get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of a dental practice and the dentist will check normal tooth development, can pick up any problems early and support parents in looking after their child’s teeth.
It can be beneficial to help children prepare for a trip to the dentist by reading books, together, such as, such as Topsy & Tim Go to The Dentist.
What children eat effects their oral health. Sugars in food and drink are one of the main contributing factors to tooth decay. Most sugars come from obvious sources i.e., chocolate, sweets, sugary drinks but some foods with high sugar content are less obvious, such as some yogurts, sauces, and breakfast cereals.
It’s always best to opt for sugar smart snacks and meals, such as those from Nursery Kitchen, while children are at nursery school. When children are at home, ideally parents should check the labels of the food they serve to ensure the food is low in sugar or does not contain free sugars. Fruit, veg and wholemeal snacks are typically a safe option.
Where possible, sugar free teething gels and temperature reducing medicines should be used.
Talk to children (age appropriate) about the importance of healthy eating and drinking as often as possible, discussing which foods help to grow strong teeth and which do not. Food tasting and cooking sessions are a great way to teach children where food comes from and promote healthy eating.
Young children should be given water or milk as these drinks do not contain free sugars and are therefore best for oral and overall health. Children should have six to eight 120ml-150ml drinks each day to ensure they are hydrated.
It is recommended to introduce a free flow cup from 6 months, with the aim to eliminate the use of a bottle by 1 year. Prolonged bottle use has been linked to tooth decay. Prolonged sucking on a teat/ dummy can also change the shape of the teeth and jaw which can affect speech development.
When a child drinks from an open top cup/ Doidy cup, the liquid is sipped (rather than sucked) so goes to the back of their mouth instead of pooling around the front teeth. Therefore, there is less risk of tooth decay.
Nursery Kitchen are the first early years food caterer to achieve Sugarwise Certification, and at platinum level, no less! This means that our menu has been certified as containing zero free sugars and low sugar overall.
There’s significant research to indicate that the first 1000 days (conception to age 2) is a critically important phase in a child’s life. Many claim that this is where the foundations of a child’s development lie. This means it’s the perfect time to build a healthier future.
There are many influences in this time that impact on the child’s future health but one of utmost importance is that of formative nutrition. We often refer to ‘building blocks’ in nutrition and we can certainly use that term in relation to the first 1000 days.
Good nutrition during this time is the foundation for early cognitive abilities, motor skills and emotional development. This is all largely due to the incredibly impressive rapid growth and development of the human brain.
During pregnancy, the brain grows at an astonishing speed. From around the fifth week of pregnancy, neurons begin to form and multiply. These grow at a staggering 250,000 neurons per minute by the middle of the second trimester.
Neurons are crucial for developing connections that help shape development. In terms of energy, half of the calories going into a developing a baby go towards building its brain.
There is a disproportionate amount of energy going into building the brain, as there is a disproportionate amount of activity going on up there! Consider the brain an extremely complicated central computer that’s growing and developing at a truly astonishing pace.
What the baby gets during the prenatal stage comes from their mother, so the prenatal diet is very important but especially when it comes to fats.
A lot of the energy going to build the baby’s brain needs to come from fats. In fact, 40% of our brain is made up of EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids). The mother needs to ensure that she has enough for her and her baby, as the baby will ‘pinch’ what it needs. This can often leave Mum feeling depleted or with ‘baby brain’.
Once the child is born, they will grow and develop at a rapid pace, which means EFA deficiencies can present in the day-to-day functioning of a child. For example, how well can they grasp new things? Consider a child must learn everything, absolutely everything! They need their frontal lobe to be rich in EFAs particularly DHA, to enable them to problem solve, concentrate, and focus.
“When a baby’s development falls behind the norm during the first year of life, for instance, it is much more likely that they will fall even further behind in subsequent years than catch up with those who have had a better start.” Barnardo’s quote from the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee – First 1000 days of life 13th report of session 2017-19
There are many elements to nutrition for brain development. Fats such as the EFAs (AA, DHA, EPA and DGLA) are key, as is ALA or Omega 3 and Phospholipids. As with many other elements of nutrition, it is often the vitamins and minerals present or lacking in the diet that tell the bigger picture. Many nutrients are involved in maintaining and developing our brain, including Zinc, Iodine, Vitamin C, B vitamins, Vitamin D and Magnesium.
When it comes to taste development, you may be surprised to know that some elements of this may be taking shape before the child is even conceived! This is all to do with epigenetics.
As we get half our genes from each parent, we also inherit aspects of their genome. This forms part of the transgenerational epigenetic inheritance or ‘epigenome’. Put simply, these are the nutrition and lifestyle factors that can potentially imprint onto your epigenome. Unlike DNA which we can’t change or influence, our nutrition and lifestyle does influence our epigenome, potentially resulting in your eating habits being passed on to your children.
It isn’t just our habits and preferences that get passed on via the transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, many studies show how experiences and trauma can also be passed on between generations.
However, these epigenetic traits are not set in stone in the same way as our DNA. So, we can change our lifestyle and nutrition to ensure that we are passing on ‘healthy heritable traits’ via out epigenome. It’s also worth noting that a child born having inherited ‘unhealthy heritable traits’ is by no means set to become unhealthy. The way they live their life can change their own gene expression to be healthier. They may be more likely to get certain things or more predisposed to be obese, but they don’t have to be.
Whilst epigenetics is fascinating, it’s a fairly new area of study and the influence of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance is still being discovered.
It’s worth mentioning that mum’s taste preferences may become the babies taste preferences. (Linked to the epigenetic inheritance above). This is particularly relevant in the third trimester so if mum likes sweet foods. The third trimester is certainly not the time to over-indulge, as this would very likely influence a sweet tooth in the baby.
It’s advisable not to introduce free sugars too early into a child’s diet, for example, via cakes, biscuits, chocolates or often even some yogurts and savoury foods such as pasta sauces.
Sugar offers zero nutritional benefit, and it affects taste development. This means it may be considerably more difficult to get a baby/child to eat vegetables if they develop a likening for sweet foods, as the savoury foods will simply not be as appealing!
Crucially, sugar is addictive due to the dopamine response when it is consumed. So, the more you have the more you need, as the satisfaction response is weakened (you need more and more to feel the response, hence why it is addictive, and you can eat a lot of it!).
But that’s not all:
Nursery Kitchen is the first early years caterer to achieve Sugarwise Platinum Certification! This means that our menu has been expertly assessed and certified as being low in free sugars. In fact, many of our dishes are contain zero free sugars!
Food does more than simply fill up a child. When we feed a child, we also are shaping their future relationship with food. For example, many adults with emotional eating issues can link this back to childhood.
We can help babies and children shape healthier food habits and a lifelong healthy relationship with food, but to do this we need to appreciate the true significance of the foods we feed them.
At Nursery Kitchen, we create exciting, nutritionally balanced nursery meals made with the best and freshest ingredients. With wholesome menus packed with flavours from around the world, encourage are children to be more adventurous with food. This means they’ll be more likely to develop a varied palate which relishes the taste of healthy food!
There’s more to feeding a child than simply filling a child. We aim to show all the reasons why a healthy balanced diet is crucial for the formative years. This is why our menu has our special menu key to highlight the foods that support the different aspects of a child’s development, brain health, oral health, bones etc. But one big question we often get asked is:
Children, like adults come in all shapes and sizes and with varied appetites and energy outputs. No two children will eat the same each week, some will always finish and seem to want more whereas others will rarely finish a plate. This is, as you know perfectly normal, but we would like to give you the assurance that our menu has taken into account the general guidance for feeding the different age-groups within your settings.
There are general guidelines for calculating both daily calorie needs, and the macronutrient needs for different age groups – macronutrients are the energy-giving foods, Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates.
We have shown some examples here: -
DCN (Daily Calorie Needs)
|< 2 years old||1077 kcal|
|5 years old (active girl)||1250 kcal|
|10 years old (bit active boy)||2180 kcal|
|15 years old (very active girl)||2431 kcal|
One of the most important elements is to ensure that children are naturally full (this goes some way to avoid the constant desire for snacks!). Of all the macronutrients (foods with calories – Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins). Protein is the one that helps us to feel naturally full and satisfied from the foods we eat.
We’ve shown below how ‘Molly’ could meet her protein requirements using items from the Nursery Kitchen menu: -
Molly is between 1-3 years old, so the protein (grams per day) = 1.05 x weight in kg
Molly aged 2 weighs 13kg – she would need 1.05 x 13 = 13.65 – Molly would need a minimum of 14g protein each day.
Using Molly as an example and looking at a typical day on the Nursery Kitchen menu, Molly would easily meet her protein requirements having breakfast and lunch in a setting: -
If Molly had tea at home such as an egg (approx. 6g) or a peanut butter sandwich (8g) this can easily add up.
When it comes to calculating carbohydrate and fat intake it’s slightly more complicated as we work out DCN (Daily Calorie Need) and PAL (Physical Activity Level) – the amount of carbohydrates required are then a percentage of the DCN.
The carbohydrate intake range will depend on how active or inactive the child is. An active child will require more carbohydrates, while a very active child will need a higher percentage of protein additionally.
All children require a high percentage of dietary fats in their diet (but it is essential that the dietary fats are from the right sources).
These calculations are approximate as there is no such thing an average child! Gender, height, weight, body composition and activity levels all fluctuate but they are a good general guide.
DCN (Daily Calorie Needs)
|< 2 years old||1077 kcal|
|5 years old (active girl)||1250 kcal|
|10 years old (bit active boy)||2180 kcal|
|15 years old (very active girl)||2431 kcal|
Calories from Carbohydrates (range)
|< 2 years old||50% of DCN = 538 kcal/134g carbohydrates|
|5 years old (active girl)||55% of DCN = 688- 737 kcal/172-184g carbohydrates|
|10 years old (bit active boy)||50%-54% of DCN – 1090-1177 kcal 272-294g carbohydrates|
|15 years old (very active girl)||60%-65% of DCN – 1459-1580 kcal 364-395g carbohydrates|
Calories from fats
|1-3 years old||Minimum of 30-40g fats|
270 – 360 kcal from DCN should be from fat (good fats)
|4-16 years old||Minimum of 25-35g fats|
225-315 kcal from DCN should be from fat (good fat)
As we mentioned earlier, children’s appetites vary, some seem to never be full, and others can’t manage much. As long as we monitor any real concerns about over or under eating this is all perfectly natural. One thing that children are naturally very good at though (much better than us grown-ups!) is knowing when they are actually full. Sometimes however, it is in our nature to get the child to clear the plate, perhaps we were trained to do so and it’s natural to not like food waste but, children don’t need to clear their plate!
By instilling the notion of a clean plate each time, we can inadvertently encourage over-eating and remove the child’s natural ability of feeling full. The same applies for the language we use around food, particularly over pudding. Pudding should not be an incentive to complete the main, this can create an unhealthy relationship with food. Ideally try not to bribe with phrases like “eat it all up and you can have pudding” or “you have to eat your Broccoli before you can have pudding”. These both make the main food (the meal, the veg) the most nutritious part of the diet, something to endure to reach the goal of the ‘nice part’, the pudding. We want the child to enjoy the main part and if, only if there’s room to then enjoy a portion of pudding too.
When we reward a clean plate with pudding, unfortunately this can create over-eating and emotional eating tendencies as grown-ups – a grown up rewarding themselves with food. When it comes to feeding children, we are not just feeding them to fill them up, but we are creating and shaping the food patterns, habits and even addictions that children can have as adults.