The Truth About Sugar in Baby Food

Author Image Katie Thomson MS, RD | Cofounder

Did you know that many baby foods have more sugar than a bowl of Lucky Charms?

Whether it's natural or added sugar, too much sugar can be harmful to the growth and brain development of your little one.

We know from science and research that the effects of sugar on the development of children can be long-lasting, including:

  • An impact on baby and toddler palate development 

  • Developing a “sweet tooth”; craving sweet foods

  • Disruption in blood sugar

  • Promotion of tooth decay

  • Health complications later in life such as obesity or diabetes

Unfortunately, many baby and toddler foods contain a lot of sugar.

A 2015 study found that 74% of sampled infant formulas, breakfast cereals, packaged baked goods, and yogurts had 20% or more of their calories from added sugars.

These big food manufacturers know about their high-sugar, fruit-filled products -- but, products higher in sugar tend to be cheaper to make, making their profit margin stronger. And there’s no question that sugar sells in America.

Babies deserve better. And parents deserve a science-based brand they can trust.

That's why we created Square Baby. Where veggie-first, balanced meals are our promise -- and we have HALF THE SUGAR as most pouches.

Square Baby - Starting Solids - no added sugar

Square Baby was cofounded by a Registered Dietitian & Prenatal Genetic Counselor. Our company’s ethos is rooted in nutrition science -- and all about “Square”, balanced meals. We’re here to provide 100% Daily Nutrition. 100% Balance. 0% BS.

Why is there a need for change?

Many baby and toddler foods are packed with added sugar. And many baby food purees often contain primarily fruit, fruit concentrates, or even juices that are contributing to their high sugar content. The lack of veggies (especially green veggies), proteins, and healthy fats is so disappointing.

Baby & Toddler Pouches: What To Look For

The biggest sugar culprit tends to be baby and toddler pouches. Typically, these fruit-focused snacks and meals have the highest amount of fruit sugar per serving.

And we get why parents are drawn to them as well! These pouches are convenient for the on-the-go parent, shelf-stable (don’t require refrigeration), and can have more nutritional value from fruits and vegetables than many other sugary packaged snacks like puffs, gummies, crackers, and bars. ​​

Baby Food Pouches by the New York Times

(Source: New York Times, 2020)

“A study analyzed 703 pureed baby and toddler food products and found that pouched purees were often higher in sugar than baby food in other packages, like jars or plastic tubs. For example, among fruit and vegetable blend products, pouches had a median of 11 grams of sugar per serving, compared with 5 grams of sugar per serving in products with other packaging because the pouches both came in larger serving sizes and were more concentrated in sugar.”

-- The Truth About Baby Food PouchesNew York Times, 2020

Baby foods often have more sugar than many junk foods.

It’s true! Many baby foods have 10g of sugar (or more!) per serving. That’s equivalent to:

  • 1 Original Glazed Krispy Kreme Donut

  • 8 Jelly Belly jelly beans

  • 1 cup of Lucky Charms cereal

Yikes.

It’s not just junk food that shares a similar amount of sugar found in baby and toddler pouches -- it’s soda, juice, and flavored yogurt, too!

Let’s take a closer look at comparing these -- ounce for ounce.

  • Baby Foods with 10g of sugar per 3.2oz serving = 3.1g sugar/oz

  • Pepsi: 3.4g sugar/oz

  • Orange Juice: 2.8g sugar/oz

  • Trix Flavored Yogurt by Yoplait: 2.8g added sugar/oz; 3.5 total sugar/oz

Even if it’s all fruit. All organic fruit. You’re still training this tiny eater to crave sweets if these foods are provided over and over again -- and as a mainstay of their diet.

Our recommendation: "Everything in moderation."  

Fruit is absolutely a healthy part of a balanced diet. It's why we're proud to offer 100% of baby's daily recommended servings of fruit, veggies, whole grains, and protein through our "Square Meal System".

Above all, seek balance. It’s that simple. Balanced meals can provide a touch of sweetness from real fruit, but aren’t devoid of:

  • Protein

  • Healthy fats

  • Veggies 

  • Other key nutrients

Why Can "Hiding Veggies" Be A Problem?

If your baby can't taste the vegetables -- because they're drowned in fruit or other ingredients -- then they can't learn to enjoy the earthy, savory, and even bitter taste of so many delicious veggies!

It's hard to learn to love veggies if you can't taste them.

Balanced meals that are veggie-forward can help with palate development and training your baby to enjoy a variety of adventurous foods.

"We're proud to offer meals that ALWAYS have more veggies than any other food group.  In fact, our meals contain 40-90% veggies. Because balanced, science-based nutrition is one of our core values. And following the research and recommendations is what we stand for."

-- Katie Thomson MS, RD, Cofounder & CEO of Square Baby

Explore our balanced "Square Meals" here.

Square Baby - Baby Food Delivered - Order Online today - no added sugar

Why is early, repeated exposure to high-sugar products such a problem?

We know from PHA’s research and White Paper that it is common for children to have heightened preferences for sweet-tasting foods and a greater rejection of bitter-tasting foods.

“It has been suggested that infants’ innate ability to detect sweet tastes (and their preferences for high levels of sweet tastes) are present early in life to attract them to the predominant taste quality of [breast] milk. The inclination toward sweet tastes has also been hypothesized to be linked to the growing child’s need for calories, which are relatively abundant in sweet-tasting foods. Aversion to bitter tastes early in life may also occur as a survival mechanism, i.e., to help individuals avoid potentially toxic substances.”

If we continue to offer high-fruit, high-sugar meals, babies and toddlers will continue to prefer the sweet over savory taste. In other words, they can develop pickiness that is challenging to overturn. And these dietary habits formed early in life can carry into childhood and beyond.

Baby eating puree foods from a spoon in a highchair

But, don’t worry! While babies are predisposed to craving sweets, our biology is not necessarily our destiny. We CAN help train our little ones to become adventurous eaters that enjoy a variety of foods, textures, and flavors.

What is "Palate Development"?

Research shows that infancy is a critical period for developing taste preferences. And we know from our research with PHA that “between 4 and 7 months of age, infants appear to be highly receptive to variety in flavors and textures and generally require fewer exposures than older children to increase acceptance. Only a mouthful or two of food at each feeding attempt may be enough to acquire a liking."

Partnership for A Healthier America and Square Baby logo

Key Takeaways from Partnership for a Healthier America’s research. And the reason we co-developed the “Veggies Early & Often” campaign:

  • Many commercial baby and toddler food product lines lack sufficient variety to facilitate young children’s acceptance of veggies.

  • Commercial baby food products hide or mask the flavor of veggies even when veggies are on the ingredient list.

  • Parents cannot trust that products marketed as having vegetables actually have vegetables in significant amounts. 

  • Here is an opportunity to reformulate existing commercial baby food products and/or create new products with an optimal composition to facilitate increased acceptance of veggies.

Unfortunately, only 10% of children consume the recommended amount of vegetables. So, it’s more important than ever to offer veggies early and often -- starting at infancy -- to establish lifelong healthy habits.

That’s why we created Square Baby.

Square Baby Puree Baby Food Meals - opened jars - no added sugar

What is the Square Meal System?

Our dietitian-designed Square Meal System offers 100% of baby’s daily recommended:

  • Veggies

  • Fruit

  • Whole grains

  • Protein

And it guides babies (and parents + caregivers!) through a palate development journey - gradually introducing new flavors like beets, broccoli, spinach, sprouted lentils, and salmon as well as herbs/spices like fresh rosemary, curry, turmeric, ginger, and cardamom.


Square Baby currently offers 9 different meals with a variety of textures from thin and smooth to thick and chunky to encourage palate development and prepare your baby for table foods. More meals will be launched in the upcoming months.

We offer fully customizable meal plans that are delivered straight to your door. Mango Coconut Chicken, Beet Berry, Apple Curry ChickenHazelnut Pumpkin Pie are just a few of our most popular meals -- all nutritionally-balanced and rich in vital nutrients including protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients that babies and toddlers require for proper growth and brain development.

It’s Square Baby’s mission to help babies develop their palate -- and “inspire healthy eaters for life.”

Allergen Introduction - Square Baby - Starting Solids

Fruits vs. Added Sugars

Fruits

It’s important to note that we have nothing against fruit. As a Registered Dietitian, it’s clear that whole fruit and purees from whole fruit can provide excellent nutrition. However, it’s the AMOUNT of fruit, the AMOUNT of sugar and sweetness that is a concern.

  • A fruit-focused meal lacks proper, balanced nutrition. It can lack many key nutrients including protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals that all babies and toddlers require for growth and brain development.
  • And an overly sweet diet can lead to craving more sweets and denying veggies. Every parent wants to help their child become an adventurous eater. Pickiness can be so tough to overcome when your little babe becomes a toddler or older child.

Added Sugar

Added sugar is used to enhance the property of food or beverages in taste, texture, shelf life -- or all three, and it doesn’t offer any nutritional benefit. Yet, toddlers are consuming more sugar than the recommended amount set for adult women! It’s easy for parents to miss.

Sugar is a master of disguise and can be listed in the ingredients using 56 different names. For example, brown rice syrup, agave, grape juice, high-fructose corn syrup, concentrates, cane juice crystals -- the list goes on.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires all food manufacturers to indicate the amount of added sugar found in food and beverages. Instead of memorizing all 56 names for sugar, check the nutrition facts label and look for “added sugars.”

It should always be zero for baby & toddler food.

That’s why the Dietary Guidelines for infants and toddlers make it super simple - no added sugar for children under age 2.

And while many baby and toddler foods are loaded with added sugar -- thankfully, you won’t find much added sugar in baby food purees. Unfortunately, you will find:

  • Mountains of applesauce

  • Overly processed fruits, juices

  • Concentrated purees

Square Baby has no added sugar and ½ the amount of natural sugar as most pouches.

Blood Sugar Regulation

A diet rich in sugar, whether from fruit or added sugar, can cause a build up of sugar in the blood, leading to chronic disease including obesity and later, diabetes. Too much sugar can also affect your child’s mood, activity, and hyperactivity levels.

Research shows a balanced diet, rich in various food groups including fruits, vegetables (and especially green, leafy vegetables), grains, proteins, and healthy fats can help prevent chronic disease and obesity later in life.

We make it easy for you. Square Baby meals are all nutrient-dense and balanced with a variety of foods to help manage blood sugar.

Our Square Baby Promise

Square Baby’s nutritional promise is simple. All of our Square Meals are:

  • Always nutritionally-balanced.

  • Always veggie-first. With more veggies than any other food group.

  • Provide 100% of your baby's daily recommended servings of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein.

  • Meets AAP and USDA nutrition recommendations.

  • Offers a variety of healthy fats, herbs and spices, and textures to encourage an adventurous palate and prevent picky eating down the road.

  • No added salt or sugar. 

  • Free of artificial preservatives, flavors, dyes, non-nutritive sweeteners, stimulants, and depressants.

  • Made fresh. Delivered frozen.

  • 100% certified organic ingredients (except for our sustainably-caught seafood, which cannot be certified organic as it doesn't fall under USDA).

Partnership for a Healthier America - Square Baby

And, as part of our collaboration with Partnership for a Healthier America, we’ve recently made the following commitments:

  • 100% of our menu will meet “Veggies Early & Often” Icon -- offering at least 40% veggies in every Square Meal.

  • Even though all of our Square Meals met the icon criteria, we are reformulating over 50% of our meals to offer even more veggies than before!

  • We’re introducing new veggie meals that will contain at least 75% veggies.

We Make Every Bite Count!

We keep it simple for our parents and caregivers. Our meals are never fruit-heavy, yet always nutritionally balanced. We have ½ the amount of sugar and twice the amount of protein and healthy fats compared to most pouches. Every meal is squared and balanced. That’s Square Baby.

Connect With Us!

Join our newsletter here. Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions by emailing us at hello(at)squarebaby.com or visiting Square Baby. For support or FAQ, please visit us here.

Square Baby Founders Katie and Kendall Standing in a Kitchen with her baby puree food

~Katie and Kendall, Cofounders and Chief Mamas

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