How to reduce sugar in your child's diet

children eating vegetables

Research shows that children in the UK are eating nearly three times more sugar than recommended – and this is damaging their immediate and long-term health. With a few simple swaps, children can be encouraged to eat healthily and so consume less sugar, which will set them on the path to good health in adulthood

What's the problem?

Government research shows that, on average, children in the UK are consuming at least three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, with around a third consuming four or more. The overall result of this is that children are having nearly three times more sugar than they should.

Half of the sugar children consumes comes from sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks, like cakes and biscuits. Each year every child consumes an average of 400 biscuits; more than 120 cakes, buns and pastries; around 100 portions of sweets; nearly 70 of both chocolate bars and ice creams and over 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink – which adds up to a lot of sugar.

Why can sugar be bad?

Too much sugar can lead to the build-up of harmful fat around our organs. This fat, which we can't see because of its position around our organs, can cause weight gain and serious diseases in the future like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Having too much sugar can also cause tooth decay.

How much sugar can my child have?

The maximum daily amounts of added sugar are:

  • Four to six years: five cubes (19 grams)
  • Seven to 10 years: six cubes (24 grams)
  • 11 years and older: seven cubes (30 grams)

Click on the pictures below to find out how much sugar is in popular snacks:

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How can my family cut down on sugar?

Choosing fruit and vegetables instead of sugary snacks is a great way to reduce your family's sugar intake.

100 calorie snacks

If you're shopping for packaged snacks for your children, use this helpful tip: look for 100 calorie snacks (two a day max).

These are some examples of 100 calorie snacks:

  • Malt loaf slice
  • Lower-fat, lower-sugar fromage frais (some flavours include strawberry, raspberry, banana, apricot)
  • Fresh or tinned fruit salad
  • Chopped vegetables and lower-fat hummus
  • Plain rice cakes or crackers with lower-fat cheese
  • Sugar-free jelly
  • One crumpet
  • One scotch pancake

How do I know what snacks to buy when I’m shopping?

Many products have traffic light labels on the front of the pack, with the calories included on the far left-hand side of the label. Aim to choose snacks with more greens and ambers on the label, and cut down on snacks that show any reds.

Not all packaged food has traffic light labels, but you can find out what you need to know about your snacks with the free Change4Life 'Food Scanner' app which shows you what's inside popular snacks.

Fruit and vegetables

Fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, are a good source of fibre and count towards your 5-a-day. They are also easy to eat when you're on the go.

Try these top tips for encouraging your children to snack on fruit and vegetables

  • Keep it in easy reach – have a fruit bowl in the house so fruit is nearby when your children get hungry.
  • Fill the fridge – have ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables, like carrot, cucumber, celery and peppers, pre-prepared for an easy snack that children can eat with their fingers.
  • Pack a snack – save money, and time, when you're out and about by taking bananas, apples or chopped up vegetables with you.
  • Get the children involved – try making snack time exciting and more hands-on. Get your child involved by getting them to chop up the fruit and vegetables they're going to eat, they'll love chopping it up themselves.

For more tips and ideas for reducing your family's sugar intake, as well as discount vouchers for healthier snacks, sign up to the Change4Life website.