How to Make Sweet Treats for Kids That Use Less Sugar
It's good to have a few tricks in your back pocket when you want to satisfy your kids' sweet tooth without causing a total sugar overload. Your kids won't even notice the missing sugar with these nine tips for making kid-friendly treats with less added sugar. And once you get the hang of replacing added sugar with other ingredients to make healthy treats for kids, you can put those tricks to good use by trying out these delicious recipes that are sure to fool even the keenest of taste buds.
9 Ways to Make Kid-Friendly Treats With Less Sugar
1. Swap Dates for Sugar or Corn Syrup
Dates are naturally sweet and super sticky, which makes them a great alternative to corn syrup or sugar in many snacks and desserts. They're great in peanut-butter scotcharoos, no-bake cookies, and granola bars that call for a sweet taste and/or an ingredient that holds everything together.
To make a naturally sweet paste, pit dates, then roughly chop and transfer to a blender or food processor with a tablespoon or two of water. Blend dates until a smooth, creamy consistency forms.
Jane Wickersham Plank says this Vegan Date and Cashew Dessert is, "so easy to make and very tasty. I look forward to one of these satisfying my afternoon sweet craving!"
Chef John explains the power of his energy bars: "If you compare them to similar fruit/nut bars sold at the store, I think they taste better, are nutritionally superior, and probably cheaper to make at home."
2. Use Maple Syrup or Honey Instead of Sugar
For recipes that call for granulated sugar or brown sugar, try using honey or pure maple syrup instead (the real stuff, not the imitation!). As a general rule of thumb, use ⅔ cup honey or ¾ cup pure maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar called for in a recipe. And since both honey and maple have a higher moisture content than sugar, be sure to reduce liquid ingredients by one-quarter when using either ingredient in place of sugar in a recipe.
Allrecipes community member Carolynn loves this Nutty Apple Crisp, saying, "made this for an early morning football tailgate and it was a HUGE hit! Super easy and delicious—I did peel the apples, and I tripled the recipe for our big crowd. Will definitely be making this again soon."
3. Use Nut Butters Instead of Brown Sugar
Using any type of nut butter—peanut butter, almond butter, sunbutter or even tahini—is a great way to make gooey treats healthier and less sugary. Brown sugar is often used to make sweets soft and chewy, but nut butters can do the same, just with far less sugar. If you're looking to replace all of the refined sugar, use a combination of puréed dates and a nut butter to achieve the right amount of sweetness and stickiness to make healthy treats for kids.
"Easy to make and oh-so-good! I didn't have crunchy peanut butter and used creamy and it was great! My kids (me too) really enjoyed eating these energy balls," says whachagotcooking.
These peanut-butter cookies are gluten-free, kid-approved, and easy to make.
4. Replace Sugar with Vegetables
It might sound like a crazy idea, but you can swap some of the sugar in muffin and quick bread recipes for shredded zucchini, canned pumpkin, or shredded carrots. Many vegetables do add a hint of sweetness to baked goods, but more importantly, they also add a little moisture, which is an essential characteristic of sugar in baked goods. Using vegetables not only cuts down on the total sugar, but also sneaks in a few additional nutrients. Recipe developer goodeatin65 says, "Make a batch or two and freeze them for mornings you're in a hurry or just need a snack!"
Kate Ward's kids gave these muffins their stamp of approval, "Hooray! My kids loved these!"
5. Use Frozen Fruit to Make Healthy Ice Cream
All that's required to whip up some quick and healthy soft-serve ice cream is some frozen fruit and any preferred flavorings. Fruits that work well include bananas, mangoes, and peaches.
To make healthy ice cream, combine frozen fruit with a splash of milk in a food processor or high-powered blender and blend until completely smooth. Add flavor by blending in vanilla or almond extract, cocoa powder, or nut butters. Need more guidance? Try one of these recipes.
Momof3boys loved how creamy this banana-based ice cream turned out, "Surprisingly creamy! I added quite a bit more milk than the 2 tablespoons. This did really well in my Ninja! Definitely a keeper."
So easy! You'll add frozen banana chunks, a little sugar (optional), milk, vanilla extract, and peanut butter to a blender and mix until smooth and creamy.
6. Make Homemade Popsicles with Fresh Fruit
Skip the store-bought, sugar-filled popsicles and make your own instead. Not only are they probably tastier, but they're far healthier, too.
To make a healthy, fruit-filled snack, purée a mix of fruits in a blender with milk or yogurt and a splash of vanilla extract. Freeze mixture in popsicle molds or in small paper cups (with popsicle sticks inserted in the middle) for a healthy frozen treat.
Josephine Roeper's kids even loved these when she added a bit of kale. "Made as is but only have 1 set of 4 popsicle molds. Blended the rest with ice, milk, and kale—and kids loved it."
"The pops were fruity and creamy," says Luis. "They were better than those fruit pops you buy on the street carts."
7. Use Ripe Bananas to Reduce Sugar
Mashed ripe bananas are a great way to decrease—or completely replace—sugar in baked goods. For the best flavor, be sure to use very ripe bananas. The riper the banana, the more sweetness it adds. Recipe developer K.Gailbrath notes, "These cookies are nutritious, as well as delicious."
LHOKANSS loves these cookies as-is, but also likes to experiment with other ingredients. "My children love these cookies! I have made them with other dried fruits, chopped apples, even mini chocolate chips! I've also baked them in a bar pan for quick soft granola bars."
8. Use Dried Fruit Instead of Candy or Chocolate Chips
Swap raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, or chopped dried apricots in place of M&M's or chocolate chips in cookie and trail mix recipes. Using dried fruit instead of candy naturally adds sweetness, chewiness, and fiber.
ThanksgivingTwinsMom and her kids whipped up this trail mix for their family road trip. "Great balance of tastes and textures — not too sweet, not too sticky or crunchy, and my kids loved helping me mix it up. Made a big batch before our road trip and it was a great on-the-go snack."
Nuts, dried fruit, and savory treats create a "very good mix of textures and sweet/salty," says Lissa. "I threw in pistachios. DO NOT pass on the sesame sticks!"
9. Turn Yogurt Into Dessert
Use protein-rich yogurt to your advantage and turn classically sugar-laden desserts into healthy treats. Naturally sweetened yogurt, topped with nuts, seeds, and fruit, then frozen into a thin bark, makes for a healthy alternative to chocolate bark. Or, top yogurt with crushed graham crackers and fresh fruit for a healthy dessert trifle.
Miss_alli_m made this yogurt bark to suit her own preferences. "I used chopped dried mangoes, pistachios, dark chocolate chunks, and coconut flakes. Delish!"
"Lemon yogurt, fresh blueberries, and honey graham crackers make an easy and delicious parfait," says Linda. "Tasty enough too for a light dessert. Eat immediately if you want crisp crunchy graham crackers."
Check out our collection of Healthy Snack Recipes.