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How to sweeten baby desserts without using sugar

You really don’t want to wait until that first birthday cake to give a dessert to your baby. I mean, we don’t! Desserts or sweet snacks can totally be part of a healthy diet, especially if you know how to sweeten them naturally, without using sugar.

Young girl eating chocolate dessert

We could all do with less sugar in our lives. There’s no problem with sweetening a dessert with some sugar here and there, or putting a sugar in your tea. The problem lies with processed foods that are packed with sugar, like soft drinks, cookies and candy, even ketchup! If we would leave those out of our diet altogether, sugar would not be an issue. But for many of us, those foods are a part of our lives, and it’s unrealistic to think we would cut these out altogether. For our young children however, we can start fresh. Even though babies have a natural sweet tooth, they don’t even know how an artificially sweet soft drink tastes until they taste it. And what you don’t know, you can’t miss. Offering naturally sweet foods like sweet fruit or even sweet potatoes satisfies their cravings just fine!

Best alternatives to sugar in baby desserts:

1. Sweet fruits and vegetables

Using fresh fruit or vegetables as sweeteners should be the first option since it’s the healthiest, and sometimes most effective way of not only sweetening but also adding flavour to desserts for babies and children.

Banana is probably the first fruit you think about for sweet baby food, and for a good reason. Banana has a soft texture that works extremely well in purees but also in baked goods. It’s naturally sweet flavour will easily make desserts sweet enough for children who are not accustomed to added sugar. To top that off, bananas are a good source of potassium and fiber so it will leave your baby feeling full for a long time.

Using apple sauce is another typical way to sweeten dishes, especially in combination with cinnamon. Orange juice or zest can also be used in some dishes like a cake or pudding. You can use strawberries, pureed, which can be super sweet when they’re in season.

But there’s no reason to stick to just fruit. Vegetables are a great option as well. Sweet potato, for example, is so versatile and probably underused by most people. Just mixing sweet potato with some eggs can already make yummy little pancakes. Add some cinnamon and you’re golden. The same goes for pumpkin, using some typical Christmas time spices like nutmeg and cinnamon can turn that into a great dessert.

Beetroot brownies or carrot cake proves that even vegetables you don’t associate with desserts can be great ingredients. Experiment with flavours and textures or check out some of our recipes.

Sweet potato pancakes

2. Vanilla

Vanilla is a great flavuor to add to your baby's diet and it also has some antioxidant properties. Smelling vanilla has also been proven to have a calming effect on infants. It's important to know which type to buy though. If possible, always go for vanilla pods of which you can take the seeds out yourself. You can also use pure vanilla extract (without added colorants or preservatives) but use it in small quantities (a drop or two should suffice).

Chia pancakes

3. Dried fruit

Dried fruits like dates are also good options for sweetening foods. However, dates and other dried fruits are very high in sugar content, so this is definitely not something to give to your baby various times a week. Also, the chewy consistency makes it a bit difficult for little babies to eat, so wait with giving pieces of dates until your baby is at least 18 months old. However, they can definitely serve as a sweetener in desserts (replacing sugar, honey or other syrups).They're high in calories but also in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They're also rich in antioxidants so it makes them the best option as sweeteners in baked goods. But as stated before, try to avoid high amounts of sugar, and extremely sweet tastes as much as you can.
In some stores you can also find date syrup. You can safely use this but don’t overdo it. If you use too much of it too frequently, your baby will get accustomed to super sweet flavours, and will want nothing less in the future.

4. Coconut milk

Coconut milk is incredibly rich and creamy and works really well in both sweet and savoury dishes. You could make a coconut rice pudding and add some tropical fruit to it or use it as a sweeter replacement of milk in baked goods. That way, you can leave out the sugar most of the time.

Mango rice pudding

5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a spice that packs a punch when it comes to flavour. You can use it in savoury dishes but it’s typically also used to add some extra flavour to sweet dishes. Especially in combination with apples, cinnamon shines. Try to always buy ceylon cinnamon and don’t use too much of it. A little goes a long way.

6. Nut butter

Nut butters, like peanut or hazelnut, are an excellent addition to your baby’s diet in general. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, fiber and protein. For babies who are growing at such a fast rate, but still have little stomachs, energy rich foods like nuts are a great choice. They are also often used in sweet dishes to add some extra flavour. Hazelnut butter is actually quite sweet and is great for desserts. Peanut butter is not as sweet but has a flavour that’s pretty popular with little ones. You can use nut butters in baked goods, pancakes, stirred into some yoghurt, as a spread on bread, a rice cracker or on a slice of steamed apple. The options are endless.

Things you should avoid:

Commonly used sweeteners like stevia but also maple and agave syrup should also be avoided for many of the same reasons you should avoid sugar. We don’t want our kids to get accustomed to the super sweet taste of these syrups or powders. We recommend waiting until the age of 1 year to serve these. The best options for sweeteners after the age of 1 are maple syrup, date syrup and honey (never give honey in the first year). Since the long-term effects of sugar substitutes like stevia have not been researched yet, we take the side of caution and advice to wait at least until your baby is 2 years old.

Honey is a no go in the first year because it may contain the clostridium botulinum spores that can cause botulism. Infection is rare but if a baby gets infected the consequences can be very severe. The spores are heat resistant which means you can't give honey in baked goods or cereals either. After your baby has turned 1 you can safely serve honey, however, our recommendation here follows the one above for maple and agave syrup.

Everything is possible in moderation

Of course, you can’t shield your children from processed foods like soft drinks and cookies forever, and that’s ok. Let them know that once in a while they can have it but set a limit and let them choose the occasion themselves. Don’t use it as a reward for good behaviour because that attaches special meaning to it and makes them want it even more. So for example, tell your child they can have 2 cookies this week, and you let them choose when they can have them. In this way, you’re giving your child some autonomy but you’re still setting the limits.

Father feeding child landscape

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