Toddlers desserts and puddings – should I offer them?

Why offer desserts?

To support toddlers to meet their energy and nutrient requirements they need regular meals, puddings and snacks across the day.

Toddlers can be offered three meals (breakfast, lunch, tea), desserts and two or three snacks each day to get the balance of nutrients they need.

Alongside lunch and tea, there is a recommendation to provide toddlers with a nutritious dessert/pudding.

When we think about toddlers desserts and puddings, the foods that often come to mind are sugary treats, such as chocolate cake, sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.

However, nutritious desserts and puddings are a great way of providing young children with energy and essential nutrients such as calcium and iron.

Semolina made with milk, prune purée and pineapple slices. Custard with pear and sliced grapes. Yoghurt with mashed raspberries and mango fingers.

Which toddlers desserts and puddings are suitable?

There are lots of suitable toddlers desserts / puddings that can be offered which are cereal, fruit or milk based.

For example:

  • fruit crumbles.
  • homemade fruity flapjack.
  • Fresh and tinned fruit.
  • Fruit salad.
  • Plain yoghurt with fruit.
  • Rice Pudding.
  • Custard (unsweetened).

It is important to limit cakes and biscuits, 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.

What are the guidelines for early years settings?

Early years settings should use the Eat Better Start Better guidelines to support them in planning nutritious meals, snacks and puddings for the children in their care.

In relation to the desserts and puddings, the EBSB guidelines state:

  • A dessert should be provided as part of lunch and tea each day.
  • Vary the desserts offered with lunch and tea each week.
  • For main meals (typically lunch), provide a variety of different desserts each week- e.g. fruit-based such as apple crumble, dairy-based desserts such as rice pudding and limit provision of cakes and biscuits.
  • For light meals (typically tea) provide fruit (such as seasonal fruit salad) and/or dairy-based desserts such as yoghurt, and avoid cakes and biscuits.
  • Desserts which include fruit should aim to include 40g of fresh fruit or 20g dried fruit per portion.

Public Health England have also 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.

Early years chefs and practitioners can also book on our Menu Planning course which will give you the knowledge to plan your puddings to meet the Eat Better Start Better guidelines.

Top Tips for preparing toddler desserts/puddings

  • 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.

Families can access our FREE e-guide Good Nutrition for Your Toddler for more guidance on planning meals and snacks for your little one (for free access use code earlystartnutrition).

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

As we know, children’s appetites will vary, so they should be encouraged to eat nutritious foods according to their appetite. Children 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’s an important source of energy and nutrients for them. By telling toddlers ‘you can’t have pudding until you’ve finished your main meal’, this 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 could cause them 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.

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!

Here at Early Start Nutrition we have lots of dessert inspo 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 your little ones:

Banana Custard

This is pudding is perfect for all ages. Other dairy based desserts include: rice pudding, yoghurt, 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, flapjack, fruit cake such as carrot cake, fruit loaf, pineapple upside down pudding with custard, Blueberry sponge cakes

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.

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: Halloween Pumpkin Cake, fruit crumble such as apple and rhubarb, baked apples, cinnamon spiced poached pears

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. However, 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 choose 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.

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