Should I offer my toddler puddings?

A healthy balanced diet and regular physical activity are essential for children’s health and well being. We want to ensure all children get the right energy and nutrients, in the right amount, to help them to grow and develop. A healthy diet for children should include a variety of food and drink, provided as part of meals, puddings and snacks across the day.

Early years settings use the Eat Better Start Better voluntary food and drink guidelines to plan their food and drink provision across the day. It is a really helpful tool as it provides guidance on the types and amounts of food and drink to offer children. Remember, children need to have three meals (breakfast, lunch, tea) and two or three snacks daily. Of course their appetite may vary from day to day or week to week but having a meal routine in place will help children to eat regularly and achieve their requirements.

Why offer puddings?

Alongside lunch and tea there is a recommendation to also provide a dessert/pudding for toddlers. When we think about desserts and puddings the foods that come to mind are sugary treats such as chocolate cake, sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. However, desserts and puddings are a great way of providing young children with energy and essential nutrients such as calcium and iron.

Which desserts are suitable?

There are lots of suitable desserts that children can be offered which are cereal, fruit or milk based. At lunch time you can offer a variety of different desserts for example, fruit-based desserts such as apple crumble and dairy-based desserts such as rice pudding.  For light meals, typically tea, you can provide a lighter dessert such as a fruit salad and/or dairy-based desserts such as yoghurt. It is important to limit cakes and biscuits at lunch time, try not to offer them more than once per week. To protect children’s teeth and appetite it’s best to avoid sweet treats including cakes, biscuits, sweet muffins, cookies, flapjacks, pastries, chocolate and sweets, between meals and at tea time.

Examples of desserts to offer at lunch which are suitable for 1 to 4 year olds – There are lots of wonderful tasty and nutritious desserts that can be offered to toddlers at mealtime. Public Health England has produced example menus and useful guidance for early years settings to help meet the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements for food and drink. There are lots of ideas for recipes available on their website.

Here at Early Start Nutrition we have lots of dessert inspiration on our Early Start YouTube Channel as part of the #EatInWithEarlyStart series. The following are some of our favourites which are also great to make with children as part of your cooking activities.

Banana Custard

This is pudding is perfect for all ages and a tasty pudding for lunch time. The following are also perfect dairy based options:

Rice pudding


Frozen yoghurt

Healthy Fruity scones

Any baking activity is a great way for children to learn about food and develop their skills. Why not prepare these scones with toddlers in your early years setting or at home and you can then serve as a pudding with lunch! You could also try some of the following cereal based puddings:

Plain Sponge


Fruit cake such as carrot cake

Fruit loaf

Pineapple upside down pudding with custard

Gruffalo crumble

This recipe is a firm favourite at lunch time particularly in the winter months! We also love the following hot fruit based desserts:

Fruit crumble such as apple and rhubarb

Baked apples

Cinnamon spiced poached pears

Examples of desserts to offer at tea which are suitable for 1 to 4 year olds

Apple and raspberry stew

This recipe is quick and easy to make and can be enjoyed by the whole family. We also love the following ideas:

Strawberry frozen yoghurt

Seasonal fruit salad

Rice pudding with peach purée

What about desserts for infants?

Around 10-12 months lunches and teas can include a main course, and a fruit or dairy based dessert, to move eating patterns closer to those of children over one year, and to ensure meals are sufficiently varied and nutrient dense. Infants appetites can vary and they may not always want a pudding. If offering puddings good examples include stewed mangos and pears with custard or yoghurt. Avoid providing cakes and biscuits to infants under 12 months and swap the jelly for a fruit or dairy dessert for infants 10-12 months.

Examples of desserts to offer at lunch which are suitable for 10-12 month old infants

Banana sticks, Yoghurt and dried chopped apricots with melon strips, Seasonal fruit platter, Creamy apricot dessert, with sliced apricot, Seasonal berries and custard

Examples of desserts to offer at tea which are suitable for 10-12 month old infants

Plain yoghurt with strawberries, Slices of cheese and apple, Semolina and nectarine slices, Sliced grapes and melon slices with cottage cheese dip, Plain yoghurt and mango slices

Top Tips for preparing puddings/desserts

  • Limit confectionery such as chocolate chips and hundreds and thousands and use only  as part of cakes or desserts.
  • Fruit contains sugar and can be used to sweeten desserts, puddings and cakes.  Some sour fruits, such as stewed rhubarb  or gooseberries, may need a small amount  of sugar added to make them less sour. Desserts which include fruit should aim to include 40g of fresh fruit or 20g dried fruit  per portion.
  • If providing ice cream, choose dairy ice cream as it contains more calcium than non-dairy  ice cream, and limit to once a week with  fruit-based desserts at meal times. When baked items such as flapjack and sponge cake, use fruit, fruit puree or fruit juice to sweeten dishes rather than sugar
  • If using tinned fruit choose fruit in natural juice and not syrup.
  • Be cautious of the sugar content in flavoured yoghurts. Opt for natural, Greek or plain yoghurt and add fruit, such as berries, to naturally sweeten. In warmer months, try making your own frozen yoghurt, for a refreshing pudding.

Should children have dessert if they don’t eat their main course?

As we know children’s appetites will vary, young children should be encouraged to eat healthy food according to their appetite. They should not be expected to finish everything on their plate, and should be allowed to eat their dessert even if they have not finished their main course because it is an important source of energy and nutrients for them. By telling toddlers ‘you can’t have pudding until you’ve finished your main meal’, makes pudding seem more desirable than the foods offered at main courses. Forcing a child to finish what is on their plate may interfere with their ability to regulate their appetite and may cause the child to experience unnecessary stress and anxiety at mealtimes. If children do not finish their first course, remove the food without making any comment and move on to offering a healthy, nutritious pudding.

Our band new recipe Blueberry sponge cakes is now available to view!

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