You’ll find toddler snacks in the baby products aisle of the supermarket, beside the nappies and the formula powder. We’ve analysed the nutrition information panels of 14 packaged toddler foods. Despite the pictures of fruit, trees and assorted animals that make these snacks seem like a wholesome choice, half the products were high in sugar.
Heinz Little Kids wholegrain cereal bars have pictures of grains, fruit and a little girl peeking out from behind a tree on the front of the box. On the back, they claim to be the right portion size for little tummies, the right size and shape for little hands and the right texture to encourage chewing.
A parent rushing to get their grocery shop done might not notice these bars are also 40 percent sugar. They are marketed for toddlers who are just a year old, but they have more sugar per 100g than any of the adult snack bars we looked at in our last survey.
Little Kids cereal bars are 30 percent fruit filling. The filling is 13 percent apple paste and 1.8 percent blueberry puree. It also contains invert sugar (a mixture of glucose and fructose) and sugar. The rest of the bar has also been sweetened with glucose, sugar and apple juice concentrate.
It’s common for fruit pastes and concentrates to be a main ingredient in these types of product. Pastes and concentrates are made from the juice of the fruit but lack the fibre and nutrients of the whole fruit.
Heinz’s marketing of another of its Little Kids products – the New Zealand-made Fruit & Veg Shredz – landed it in court across the Tasman. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), equivalent to our Commerce Commission, filed proceedings in June over claims made on Shredz boxes. The snacks are marketed as 99 percent fruit and vege – but it’s all in paste, juice concentrate and puree form, resulting in them being 68.7 percent sugar. One 18g snack pack contains 12.4g of sugar (about three teaspoons worth).
Announcing the decision to take the company to court, ACCC chair Rod Sims said the sugar content of the Shredz was significantly higher than that of natural fruit and vegetables. For example, an apple has about 10 per cent sugar.
The ACCC also claims that “rather than encouraging children to develop a taste for nutritious food, these Heinz Shredz products are likely to inhibit the development of a child’s taste for natural fruit and vegetables and encourage a child to become accustomed to, and develop a preference for, sweet tastes”.
Among the other sugary toddler foods we found was Rafferty’s Garden Fruit Snack Bar, marketed as being “made with the goodness of fruit and oats” and “the next best thing to homemade food”. Its main ingredient is blueberry, banana, apple paste. It also contains added sugars, including caramelised sugar.
Only Organic Kindy Banana Breakfast Muesli was more than a third sugar. The muesli may sound like a healthy and convenient option: just mix it with milk and leave for a moment to soften. But it has 37g of sugar per 100g. In comparison, Sanitarium Weet-Bix has 2.8g per 100g. Some of the sugar in the muesli will be from the banana flakes but there’s also added sugar.
Another Only Organic product, its Yoghurt Kindy Rice Cakes, had 29.7g of sugar per 100g. Most of the sugar is in the yoghurt topping: cane sugar is the main ingredient in the topping. Per serve – the recommended serving on the pack is three rice cakes – the sugar load is 3.6g, just under a teaspoon.
Then there’s the salt
A high salt intake may predispose children to major health problems such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis, respiratory illnesses, stomach cancer and obesity. The recommended average daily nutrient intake of sodium for one- to three-year-olds according to the joint Australia and New Zealand guidelines is 200 to 400mg a day.
Several products weren’t low sodium options: Little Bellies Animal Biscuits had 320mg per 100g, Little Quackers Rice Biscuits had 319mg per 100g and Rafferty’s Garden bars had 209mg per 100g.
Some of the products we looked at carry organic certification from recognised schemes. But just because something is organic, doesn’t mean you can ignore the ingredient list: organic sugar is still sugar.
- Pictures of animals and fruit on the packaging may give products a wholesome image. Checking the nutrition information panel and the ingredients list is your best option to tell if a product is a low sugar choice.
- Toddler snacks are handy to have when you’re out and about with a toddler but look for ones with low sugar and sodium.
- Don’t be fooled by claims about processed snacks being the right “portion size” for little tummies or “shape” for little hands. Chopped up fruit and vegetables have been doing this job for a long time.
Report by Kate Harvey.