We hear a lot about what our children should and shouldn’t be eating and sometimes this advice can be contradictory and downright confusing!  For example, we’re told no sugar, but plenty of fruit – yet fruit contains sugar!! HELP!!

In order to assist confused parents across the country, we have uncovered and addressed the most popular questions regarding children’s’ diets following a live web chat with leading nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker.

Here are the most common questions from parents, and Dr Sarah’s all important answers…

What’s the difference between good and bad sugars?

A – Good sugars, also known as intrinsic sugars, are naturally found in food. These are mostly fructose found in fruit and vegetables as well as lactose found in milk and dairy products. Most other sugars found in food are artificially added such as glucose and dextrose. These are termed free sugars and too much of these types of sugars can cause problems with blood sugar and insulin levels which is linked to obesity and diabetes so these are the ones to watch out for.

Are there any fruits that are bad for us?

A – No there are no fruits that are bad for us. All fruit is a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals and as they all contain different amounts it is eating a variety that is key. All fruits have varying amounts of natural sugar but the fibre helps to slow down the absorption into the bloodstream preventing blood sugar spikes.

How important is 5-a-day for children under 5?

A – 5-a-day is really important for everyone! Don’t worry about the portion size, little ones will eat less just engage them with a variety of fruit and veg so they understand and accept it is a normal part of everyday living.

Is it ok to give my child a sweet treat? If so, how often is ok?

A – A small treat everyday is perfectly acceptable if your child is healthy, has a well balanced diet and is active.

Is fruit juice unhealthy?

A – Fruit juice, whether squeezed or from concentrate, has now been re-classified as a source of free sugars, rather than intrinsic sugars which are found in whole fruit. Try to restrict the amount you offer to your child by diluting it and having it as an occasional treat. Also have it at meal times and not between meals to help protect your child’s teeth.

What are the healthiest snacks to put in children’s lunchboxes?

A – Variety is key when it comes to lunch boxes. Try small portions of cheese, veg sticks with hummus or avocado dip, wholegrain crackers or oatcakes with peanut butter (if your school allows) or soft cheese. Chopped fresh or dried fruit such as a small handful of dried apricots.

How do you avoid sugary food when feeding children?

A – Unless you are making everything yourself you have to start looking at labels. Forget looking at the nutritional panel, the figures are often confusing and misleading as the sugar content stated will be for total sugars not added sugars so will include natural sugars found in fruit, veg and diary products. Instead look at the ingredients list and if you see sugar high up the list then the product probably contains a lot as they have to be listed in order of amount. If you see sugar listed in savoury items that you wouldn’t expect to find it, try an alternative brand.

How can you get children who are fussy eaters to try healthy food?

A – The best way I have found is to get them involved and give them some ownership with the foods they eat. Try taking them to the supermarket where they can see a range of different things and try them if possible. Ask them to pick things and help you to prepare meals or do some baking together using the things you bought. Don’t worry if you’re not a good cook, just try simple recipes and have fun!

Watch Dr Sarah Schenker discuss this topic further and answer even more questions here on their youtube channel.

Dr Sarah Schenker is a registered dietician and nutritionist and is a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society, and The Association for Nutrition and The Guild of Health Writers and has served on both professional and government committees.