You may find yourself surrounded by desserts this holiday season and may be wondering if it’s ok to give your baby a taste of some of them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no added sugar until age 2. This can be really hard to achieve, especially if you have older kids. Is it bad to give your baby a taste of chocolate? Probably not, as long as it’s not a regular occurrence.
No Added Sugar
There are 2 main reasons for the recommendation for no added sugar for kids under 2: development of taste preference and high nutrient needs.
First off, they are still developing their taste preferences. While most kids do have a preference for sweet foods, they are used to naturally sweet foods like fruits. Introducing them to foods with added sugars will get them used to foods that are ultra-sweet. They will get used to higher levels of sugar at baseline.
The second reason is that young children have very high nutrient needs and very small stomachs. This means that their food needs to be nutrient dense to meet their needs. Most foods with added sugars aren’t going to be able to meet their needs. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the information about starting solids, check out my Starting Solids Made Easy Course.
Chocolate Allergy – Is It a Concern?
Many people were hesitant to give babies chocolate at a young age due to the risk of allergies. In the past, it was recommended to wait to introduce allergenic foods until kids were older, however current recommendations are to introduce the top 9 allergens early and often (If you want a plan to introduce allergens, check out my Introducing Allergens Handbook). While it’s not unheard of to be allergic to cocoa, most allergic reactions were due to other ingredients such as milk, soy, and nuts.
Types of Chocolate
This is the classic type of chocolate. It is made by combining cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. It is generally sweeter and has a softer texture than dark chocolate. Most candies are made with milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate covers a range from semisweet to very dark. It is made from cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. It is generally a richer flavor than milk chocolate and has a firmer texture. Many dark chocolates do not contain any milk so can be a good vegan or milk allergy option. It is also a source of iron.
White chocolate contains no cocoa solids. It is made from cocoa butter, milk, vanilla, and an emulsifier. It tends to be very sweet with a soft, creamy texture. Because it does not have the cocoa solids, it doesn’t have the traditional “chocolate” flavor.
Generally found in the baking aisle, cocoa powder is just crushed cocoa solids. Unsweetened cocoa powder is 100% cocoa. Cocoa powder is generally not eaten alone, as it is not very sweet.
Caffeine in Chocolate
The other concern with chocolate is the caffeine content. 1 tbsp cocoa powder has around 12 mg caffeine. The AAP also recommends against caffeine in children’s diets. Some children may react by acting jittery, anxious, or irritable. Just as with adults, some kids will be far more sensitive to caffeine than others.
A Consumer Reports article in late 2022 showed that dark chocolate often contains cadmium and lead. Cadmium appears to come from the soil while the plants are growing whereas lead seems to accumulate while the beans are drying in the sun from lead filled dust and dirt (1).
While the levels tested in each bar differed, as a general rule, the darker the chocolate, the higher levels of heavy metals. A small serving of chocolate is likely not enough to be a risk to your child. The report lists the levels they found in several of the bars they tested.
So Can You Give Chocolate to Your Baby?
For kids under 2, there’s no reason you NEED to give your child chocolate. If you want to offer your child something with chocolate from time to time, you won’t be doing any lasting harm.
Remember, as the parent, you are in charge of which foods are offered to your baby. If you want to wait until after 2, that’s fine too. For a happy medium, you can make an alternative dessert option with cocoa powder that you sweeten with fruit. It will have the same look as other chocolate desserts, so your baby feels included, but won’t have the added sugars.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.