In the busy-ness of our lives, we often rely on packaged food to feed ourselves and our tribe. But feeding good whole food that isn’t laden with added sugar like much of the processed and packaged stuff out there needn’t take as long (or as much brain power) as you’d think – at least not once you get into the swing of things!

It is recommended we only get 10% of our daily energy from added sugars; even less at 5% for health benefits. Remember, this does not include sugars naturally occurring in veg, fruit or dairy.1

For an average adult, 5% of kilojoules translates to about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, of added sugar a day.

For kids, it is recommended children over 2 years limit intake to 6 teaspoons a day. And those under 2, they shouldn’t really have any added sugar at all.

It is important our kids aren’t overloaded with the sweet stuff, nor the processed packaged food that it often comes in. Too much, and they risk nutritional insufficiencies, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, obesity (and its related health conditions), and heart disease.1

Here are some foods often high in added sugar you want to limit in your kids every day, with alternatives you can offer, to help nourish their brain and body in this time of critical development.

Sugar-laden and comprised of heavily refined, high GI carbohydrates, these do not set up your kids for success (despite what the advertisements tell you).

Swap with: whole oats, berries, chopped banana or other seasonal/favourite fruits, and a dollop of plain, unsweetened full-fat yoghurt. Or go savoury, with an egg frittata that includes some spinach, peas and tomato, or some pretty (yet super simple) scrambled Pink Eggs. The fibre, fat, protein and nutrients served up will keep them powering on!

Quick-fix breakfasts
Breakfast biscuits, bars, liquids and shakes are sugar hits in seemingly healthy foods. Not the best way to start the day, as a quick surge and crash in energy from foods like this make it far more difficult to concentrate at school and maintain a happy and stable mood.

Swap with: homemade smoothie, which can include, for example, unsweetened milk (dairy, nut, oat or otherwise), banana, berries, a dollop of full-fat unsweetened yoghurt, some baby spinach, and if your child can tolerate, a few almonds, cashews or oats.

Fruit snacks
Sticky and tacky, fruit snacks often have sugars or concentrates added, and when that stuff gets stuck to the teeth too often, we are set for a trip to the dentist.

Swap with: Real fruit. If having dried fruit, eat with some nuts too.

Sugary drinks
A quick delivery of free sugars will send your kids energy sky-rocketing, only to plummet a short time later. Long-term, there is a concern for dental caries, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, fatty liver and other issues.

This includes soft drinks, juices, fruit drinks, flavoured milk and water, and sports and energy drinks.

Swap with: water, water infused with whole pieces of fruit and herbs like berries, lemon, apple and mint, plain milk, and if having fruit juice choose 100% and water it down.

Refined, white flours
Pasta, bread, cakes, and pastries – there are better and worse options for these foods. And it is the white refined stuff that is not ideal.

Commonly the foundation for many meals in the Western diet, the heavily refined flour used in foods like white bread and pasta is comprised of simple, not complex, carbohydrate, quickly absorbed into the blood stream and lacking the goodness of its whole grain counterparts.

Active kids can burn through carbohydrates that eventually get broken down into simple sugars – but whole grains should be the source of this energy over the processed white stuff. Whole foods come packaged with fibre and other beneficial nutrients to lessen the impact on the on the body, slowing the absorption of naturally occurring sugars, and as a result, supply a longer lasting source of fuel.

Swap with: whole grains, vegetables, fruit. For example, a banana is super satisfying and a source of nutrient dense energy when wanting something sweet and filling. Or try an egg muffin for an easy-to-pack-into-a-lunchbox snack! Chuck in a heap of veggies, as these along with the protein in the eggs, provide longer lasting energy and help support growth.

170105_TSF_Kids Health Food Swaps

Other things to consider

  • Keep sugary drinks and packaged goods either out of the house, or to a minimum.
  • It is okay for your kids to have some sweet stuff! We aren’t saying to abstain altogether. The occasional serve of white pasta or a lolly/biccie/chocolate are fine – we just don’t need to have these all day every day.
  • Keep an eye out for the many names of sugar in the ingredients list, and remember the higher up the ingredients list, the more sugar is in that product. Sugar comes in many disguises, and it is in everyday foods where the added sugar sneakily creeps into our every day, rather than the more than the obviously sweet stuff like a Mars Bar or Fanta.

We’ve plenty of ideas and inspiration for whole food ideas in our books, e-books and recipes on our website. Enjoy getting creative in finding better whole food alternatives for you and your kids. It may be a little difficult at first, but tackle the changes one food item at a time – it will be worth it!

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. World Health Organisation 2015, WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children, viewed 26 July 2016, <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/>