Most kids get more than their fair share of sweets, so it's not surprising that a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that, on average, preschoolers eat 15 teaspoons of added sweeteners (such as sugar, honey, or fructose) a day -- that's 9 teaspoons more than they should.
The main sources of these sweeteners in their diets: soda, fruit drinks, cookies, and candy, says Joanne Guthrie, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
Nutritionists warn that too much sugar can lead to cavities and obesity, and possibly increase the risk of heart disease. Plus, sweets usually contain few vitamins or minerals -- and may diminish a child's appetite for more nutritious foods. Some ways to cut back on them:
SHOP SMART Added sweeteners come in a variety of forms -- sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, honey, maltose, dextrose, and fructose. If any of these is one of the top three ingredients on a food label, pass up the item or serve it sparingly.
OPT FOR FRUIT JUICE Fruit and sports drinks often pack in more added sugars and have fewer nutrients than 100-percent juices. Save soda as a special treat, and encourage your kids to drink milk or water with their meals.
DON'T BE FOOLED BY LOW-FAT FOODS Some contain more sugar to fill in for the fat. While you may still want to offer fat-reduced cookies, cakes, and granola bars, alternate them with healthier snacks like fruit, pretzels, and string cheese. Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin or aspartame, also aren't necessarily a better bet. Although low in calories, they're usually found in nutritionally empty desserts and can help foster a sweet tooth.
SWEETEN TREATS YOURSELF Rather than buying a fruit yogurt, add a mashed banana and a teaspoon of table sugar to plain yogurt; instead of cookies or breakfast bars, toast a slice of whole-wheat bread and top it with a little honey or jam, or a pat of butter and cinnamon and sugar.